BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

What the Fire Safety Act means in practice

With the recent passage of the Fire Safety Act 2021, owners and managers should be aware of their new formal responsibilities for the external and common parts of buildings

Author: Gary Strong

11 May 2021

Row of fire extinguishers

Long-awaited fire safety legislation has now made its way through Parliament, and gained Royal Assent on 29 April.

The Fire Safety Act 2021 amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales, and along with the draft Building Safety Bill, aims to implement some of the recommendations of the Hackitt review.

The bill went through many rounds of votes during its passage, as Lords and MPs tabled amendments to try to ensure leaseholders would not have to pay for required safety works. As the act takes effect, therefore, it is important that professionals understand the implications for building owners and residents in terms of any additional checks and costs.

External walls and fire doors

The 2021 Act closes a loophole in the 2005 Order by placing a legal obligation on the designated responsible person to commission a fire risk assessment (FRA) that includes the external walls of a building and fire doors to individual flats.

The 2021 Act clarifies that, for any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises, the 2005 Order applies to the structure and external walls and any common parts, including the front doors in 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)'.

This now means that owners or managers of multi-occupancy residential buildings must include an assessment of fire-related risk of these elements, and take precautions to reduce the risk of fire spreading in these parts. As a result, fire and rescue authorities have enforcement powers to hold owners or managers to account.

RICS training

RICS has been working with the government on the impact that this will have on the property industry and building owners. We are currently training up to 2,000 external wall system (EWS) assessors to carry out checks on these long-overlooked parts of a building.

Until such time as all relevant buildings have updated FRAs with EWS assessments, we envisage that there will still be a need for an EWS1 form, to apprise lenders and valuers of whether any likely remediation costs will affect value. RICS recently launched new guidance for valuers on when to call for an EWS1 form.

If under the act's new requirements remedial works are identified, this is likely to have an impact on the value of a home, depending on the cost or the liability for payment for such works. Valuers will have to be aware of any new FRA with an adverse EWS assessment on the subject property, and also the properties being used as comparable evidence. RICS is working with lenders and industry to see how a summary could be developed which lenders and valuers can use.

We have long advocated closing this legal loophole, and the need for an holistic assessment of the fire safety of buildings that fall under the scope of the 2005 Order. Owners now have a clear legal responsibility to ensure that their buildings are safe for occupiers and the public.

Guidance is due to follow from the Home Office on the implementation of the 2021 Act, while the Home Office is to provide a risk prioritisation tool to help building owners and managing agents deal with their new responsibilities. RICS will also continue to work with the government and industry to ensure that the safety of the public is top of the agenda.

'We are currently training up to 2,000 external wall system assessors'

Gary Strong FRICS is RICS global building standards director, and chair of the International Fire Safety Standards Coalition supported by the UN
Contact Gary Strong: Email

Related competencies include: Fire safety

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