Following many rounds of votes, amendments and controversy, the Fire Safety Act 2021 has finally been granted Royal Assent, although parts of the Act will not come into force immediately but over the coming months. The new Act is an effort on behalf of the Government to improve fire safety in multi-occupancy domestic premises following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower almost 4 years ago.

The Act amends the current Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), clarifying its ambit to include the risks posed by the external façade of buildings and individual entrance doors to flats, thereby implementing the recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick in his Phase 1 report arising out of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

In Summary, the Act:

  • (a) amends the FSO to require all Responsible Persons (i.e. the relevant duty holder under the legislation and note there may be more than one) to assess, manage and reduce the fire risks posed by the structure and external walls of the buildings for which they are responsible (including cladding, balconies and windows) and individual doors opening onto common parts of the building;
  • (b) applies to all multi-occupied residential buildings and is not dependent on the height of the building; and
  • (c) allows the Fire and Rescue Service to enforce against non–compliance in relation to the external walls and the individual doors opening onto the common parts of the premises.
  • (d) it must be noted that the Act does not address remediation costs in relation to cladding or its replacement.

The Act will run alongside the Building Safety Act (BSA) when it comes into force. That Bill is yet to be laid before Parliament and is not expected to come into force until 2023. The new legislation will enhance the existing regulatory regime for building design and construction and will focus on high rise residential premises. A new Building Safety Regulator (sitting within the HSE and already appointed to act in shadow form) will oversee the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings.

Alignment between the two regulatory regimes will be important. The BSA does not have the same focus on the operational response to fire. There is likely to be some overlap between the two regulatory regimes once the BSA is in force. More details are awaited but there is likely to be a duty of co-operation between the duty holders under both regimes in order to ensure that the building as a whole is effectively managed.

In terms of action NOW, Responsible Persons under the FSO should (if they have not already) review their Fire Risk Assessments to ensure that they cover the external façade and individual entrance doors in accordance with the scope of the new Act and implement those changes, where necessary.