Homeowners urged to comply with new fire legislation - Shirley Wyles
While the catastrophic blaze that ripped through Grenfell Tower in the early hours of June 14, 2017 with the loss of 72 lives is the subject of an ongoing public inquiry, there have already been legislative responses to the tragedy north and south of the border.
With the issue of cladding the main focus of public attention, significant changes to the legal requirements for fire detection in Scottish homes might have gone unnoticed by some.
Under the Scotland Act 1998, housing and building standards are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. In the aftermath of Grenfell, Scottish Government working groups were set up leading to the passing of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (Tolerable Standard) (Extension of Criteria) Order 2019. New homes, those undergoing renovation and rental properties are already required to meet certain standards for fire and carbon monoxide detection. New legislation means every Scottish home must comply with new standards, with an estimated average cost of installing the required equipment in a three-bed home of £220.
The new requirements include “one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes, one smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways and landings and one heat alarm installed in every kitchen.”
Scottish Government guidance on the type of alarms all homeowners must now install says: “If you choose battery alarms, they must be tamper proof long-life lithium battery powered and must be capable of being interlinked. The carbon monoxide alarm must have a sealed battery for the duration of its operational lifespan, which may be up to 10 years… Once you have chosen which system to install, choose a reputable brand, make sure the packaging clearly displays compliance with BS EN14604:2005 for smoke alarms and BS 5446-2:2003 for heat alarms…”
The guidance also issues a particular warning to homeowners that the Nest Protect System does not meet the standard for the required heat alarm in kitchens.
Concern on the ability of all homeowners to meet the cost of bringing their homes up to the new standard led to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service being allocated £1m to install alarms in homes assessed to be at high risk of fire.
Local authorities will be responsible for requiring homeowners to bring their properties up to the new standard and compliance will form part of the Home Report produced on the sale of properties. Originally, the new standard was due to come into force in February 2021 but because of concern of a lack of public awareness and impact of COVID-19, implementation was extended to February 2022.
Aside from enforcement by local authorities of the new standard, interesting legal questions could arise in Scots civil law if, after February 2022, a fire starts in a Scottish home which is not compliant with the new standard, that fire damages a neighbouring property and the damage might reasonably have been avoided by earlier detection. It could be argued that failure to meet the new standard on fire detection is relevant to the question of negligence on the part of the owner of the non-compliant home where the fire started.
If there is widespread compliance with the new regulations, we should see a reduction in the risk of loss to fire of both life and property in Scotland, but will some homeowners delay incurring the cost of required work until the point of any enforcement by a local authority or even beyond that?
Any homeowner failing to comply with the new standard should be aware of the impact this may have on their buildings and contents home insurance cover. The Scottish Government’s guidance states: “Different home insurance policies provided by different insurers will have varying terms and conditions which a homeowner must comply with in order for their home insurance to be valid. Anyone who is unclear about the terms and conditions of their specific policy in relation to the fire and smoke alarm requirements should get in touch with their home insurer in the first instance, to check whether the new requirements will be specifically included in their policy or not.”
It is certainly to be hoped all Scottish homeowners will have the required new equipment installed beforeFebruary 2022.
Shirley Wyles is a Partner, BLM
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