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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
March 23, 2021

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Fire Safety Bill amendments to protect residents from remediation costs defeated for second time

On the 19th March 2020, The Home Office introduced the new Fire Safety Bill, in an effort to improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales. The Bill has recently passed back to the House of Lords, with House of Commons representatives rejecting amendments to insert a clause into the legislation prohibiting remediation costs from being passed on to residents. 

The original proposals from the House of Lords, the Labour Party and a number of Conservative backbenchers to amend the Fire Safety Bill were rejected after a vote in the Houses of Parliament on 24th February, which included the prohibition of remediation costs being passed on to residents to repair fire safety deficiencies in their buildings, such as dangerous cladding, fire doors and insulation systems.

The motion was then put forward again by the House of Lords in favour of including the clause within the legislation. MPs in the House of Commons debated and voted against the amendments on the evening of Monday 22nd March for the second time. The Bill will now return to the House of Lords.

It has been widely reported that some homeowners are facing bills in the hundreds of thousands as a result of fire safety concerns, while insurance costs are also rising significantly.

Amendments that were also originally defeated also included a proposal to force the Government to implement a recommendation from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, whereby building owners must communicate what materials are used in wall systems to fire brigades, as well as monthly inspections of lifts and yearly inspections of fire doors.

Those who voted down the amendments noted that they were “not sufficiently detailed” and “could delay repairs”, with the question of who should pay for repairs to be dealt with in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, according to a report from The Guardian. Shadow Fire Secretary, Sarah Jones, called the “Gov narrative total nonsense”, when referring to ministers highlighting the need to move the Bill forwards and prevent further delays, saying amendments were simply trying to “ensure leaseholders don’t pay and speed up Grenfell recommendations”.

Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, tweeted his disapproval of the decision shortly after the first amendment defeat in the Commons, calling the decision to vote against putting “vital Grenfell Inquiry recommendations” into law “shameful”.

What is the Fire Safety Bill?

Set to amend the Fire Safety Order 2005, the bill has been designed to “ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again” in England.

The Home Office has set out clarification to who is accountable for reducing the risk of fires – the duty-holder/building owner for multi-occupied, residential buildings. They must manage the risk of fire for:

  • The structure and external walls of the building (e.g. cladding, balconies and windows)
  • Entrance doors to individual flats that open into communal areas

The fire risk assessment for a building/premises will therefore be required to cover both of these two areas. Speaking at a Barbour EHS webinar in March, highlighted the Bill is likely to affect around 1.7m residential properties in England and Wales, with a significant impact on workload for fire risk assessors needing access to balconies, doors etc., as well as the overall construction/refurbishment processes.

The Fire Safety Bill is also designed to provide a foundation for secondary legislation, based upon the recommendations made from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Extra measures may include responsibility for lift inspections, the reviewing of evacuation plans and fire safety instructions to residents.

The story so far…

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Roy Wilsher, who also chaired this year’s Tall Buildings Fire Safety Conference in October, said: “I am pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. We have been calling for additional powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes.

“We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.”

In May, the bill received its second reading in parliament. James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Security, noted that the Government was “resolute in its commitment to ensure that Grenfell is never repeated,” and that the expertise of fire risk assessors would be required to comply with the bill, which will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings.

In September, an amendment to the bill was tabled by the Labour Party, who wanted to see the recommendations from Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s phase one Grenfell inquiry report put into law. The amendments were voted down in the House of Commons by 309 votes to 185, with Felicity Buchan, representing the Kensington constituency (home to the Grenfell Tower), among those who voted against the changes. Conservatives argued that it would delay the implementation of the bill. Supporters of the amendments accused ministers of a “shameful U-turn”, while Grenfell United said that it was “outraged” at the results.

A government spokesperson said: “We are doing everything in our power to implement the phase one recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry in the most practical, proportionate and effective way to ensure such a tragedy can never happen again. Our proposals go further than the inquiry’s recommendations in many ways, such as inspection requirements on equipment, on information for residents and on external walls. We are now seeking the views of those most affected by the inquiry before deciding on our final approach.”

The Fire Safety Bill held its report stage in the House of Lords for additional debate on Tuesday 17 November. A range of topics were discussed, with the House asking the Government to “think again on the building owner and manager duties, public registers of fire risk assessments and prevention of remediation costs being passed from freeholders to tenants”. The three votes on proposed amendments to the bill included:

  1. Amendment to place various duties on owners and managers of buildings containing two or more domestic premises – advised that the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report are implemented
  2. Enable prospective and current renters, leaseholders and owners to check the fire safety status of their home by accessing a public register
  3. Preventing freeholders passing on remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants through demands for one-off payments or increases in service charges

Lord Stephen Greenhalgh

No further changes to the wording of the bill were suggested during the third reading, and the bill was passed back to the Commons for the considerations of the Lords amendments.

In his closing remarks to the House of Lords, Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, The Minister of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The Bill represents a significant step towards delivering meaningful change so that a tragedy like that at Grenfell Tower can never happen again. The Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. The Fire Safety Bill is the first legislative step in this process, and, as I have stated before, we are committed to delivering the Grenfell recommendations through regulations following the fire safety consultation.

“The building safety Bill will also deliver significant change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system. Taken together, the Fire Safety Bill, the building safety Bill and the fire safety consultation will create fundamental improvements to building and fire safety standards and ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.

“Although this is a short, technical Bill, it is important to ensure we get the legislative sequencing right. I am therefore committed to delivering this Bill, which will pave the way for the Government to introduce regulations that will deliver on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. We received 200 responses to our consultation, and I thank everyone who responded.”

The amendments tabled by the House of Lords, alongside the Labour Party and several Conservative backbenchers were defeated on the evening of 24th February. After further debate in the House of Lords, the motion to protect residents from remediation costs of fire safety deficiencies was once again put forward, but was rejected for the second time in the House of Commons on the 22nd March.

The Bill will now go back to the House of Lords.

Follow the latest on the Fire Safety Bill.

Alongside the bill, the Government has highlighted a number of other measures it is taking to improve building and fire safety:

Free download: Fire Safety Guide

Know your fire safety responsibilities.

Business owners have many responsibilities, but the consequences of neglecting your fire safety responsibilities are potentially unthinkable.

Download this guide to get:

  • A beginner’s guide to the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order
  • Your guide to fire risk assessments
  • Further guides covering fire doors, fire alarm systems, smoke detectors, fire escape signs, sprinklers, water-mist systems and fire safety training

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