Following the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017 the Government established the Building Safety Programme and the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Hackitt Report) as part of their response. The Building Safety Programme has meant remediation work has been required across thousands of high-rise residential buildings, while the Independent Review has led to legislation to reform building safety. Key Library briefing papers which provide information for this debate include:

Second reading of the Building Safety Bill took place on 21 July 2021 while an Estimates Day debate on 29 June 2021 focused on building safety.

Fire Safety and Building Regulations in England

Any new-build or refurbished building must comply with the Building Regulations 2010 (as amended). The technical requirements for new construction that must be met under the regulations are set out in Approved Documents. Approved Document B deals with fire safety.

Fire safety law and responsibilities are governed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The 2005 Order applies to all non-domestic premises, including communal areas of flats. The Order designates those in control of premises as the responsible person for fire safety and this duty normally falls on landlords, building owners or building managers. They have a duty to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out to identify hazards and risks, and remove and reduce these as far as possible. The responsible person then ensures a set of appropriate measures are in place to achieve fire safety. Government Guidance sets out how fire risk can be assessed. The fire risk assessment may be affected by any new issues that arise during the building’s lifetime. The order is enforced by the local fire authority. Compliance with the fire safety order is ongoing whereas compliance with building regulations relates to new or refurbished buildings at the time of the work (or when approval was granted).

Other pieces of legislation are relevant to fire safety, including:

Fire Safety reforms in England

Fire Safety is the responsibility of the Home Office. The Fire Safety Act 2021 was introduced in Parliament in March 2020 and received Royal Assent in April 2021. It amended the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The Act clarifies that the Order, which is the main part of fire safety law applying to any building with two or more sets of domestic premises, applies to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts, including the front doors of residential areas. It also clarifies that references to external walls in the Order include “doors or windows in those walls” and “anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies).”

These amendments to the Order aim to increase enforcement action in these areas, particularly where remediation of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding is not taking place. Further detail is given in the Library’s briefing on the Fire Safety Bill 2019-2021.

While the Bill was passed at the end of April, it requires secondary legislation to come into force. This will happen at the same time as risk-based guidance on buildings is issued by the Secretary of State. This has not yet happened.

Electrical safety checks

In a debate on building safety in June 2021 one of the issues raised by Mr Slaughter was fire risk relating to ‘cheap and unsafe electrical products’.

Electrical safety checks and a register of white goods as part of fire safety checks in residential buildings were raised by Electrical Safety First (an Electrical Safety Charity) as an issue for consideration in the Fire Safety Bill. They have also published a briefing for the Building Safety Bill, including an ‘ask’ for mandatory electrical safety checks in High Rise Residential Buildings. The organisation has been referred to in debates on building safety and relevant briefings are available from their website.

In pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill in November 2020, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee recommended that the Building Safety Bill should include “supplementary provisions in the Bill for mandating regular electrical safety checks in higher-risk buildings”. The Government response in July 2021 noted:

140. In June 2020, Government bought forward legislation to require private landlords to require electrical installations to be inspected by a competent person every five years. This legislation was based on a recommendation of the Electrical Standards Working Group, established by MHCLG to review electrical safety standards in the private rented sector. The remit of the group did not extend to the social rented sector where standards were higher.

141. The Social Housing White Paper published in November 2020, committed Government to undertake a consultation on keeping social housing residents safe from electrical harm. This will consider the issue of extending safety measures in private rented sector to social housing. We will engage with other key stakeholders in an official led working group to inform the content of our consultation.

142. Government will publish guidance clarifying that the Accountable Person must take all reasonable steps to mitigate or control the building safety risks, the spread of fire and structural failure, regardless of the cause.

Amendments relating to electrical safety were considered at Report Stage of the Fire Safety Bill in the Commons and both Committee and Report stages in the Lords.

Consultation on the Fire Safety Order

On 20 July 2020, a consultation on changes to the Fire Safety Order was launched. The consultation closed on 12 October 2020. A Government response was published on 17 March 2021 and noted the changes would be implemented in three ways:

  • legislating through the Building Safety Bill to strengthen the Fire Safety Order in a number of areas.
  • delivering new regulations through Article 24 of the Fire Safety Order in response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations.
  • implementing changes to improve engagement between building control bodies and fire and rescue services.

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