Scotland fire alarm switchover branded 'farce' as over 30,000 council homes breach new law

Local authorities across Scotland are falling foul of the new fire alarm legislation they are tasked with enforcing, with tens of thousands of council-owned properties yet to have the interlinked alarm systems installed.

At least 31,000 socially rented homes across the country are in breach of the new standards, which came into force last week, prompting calls for the Scottish Government to either suspend the changeover or urgently ramp up support.

Amid criticism the new law was proving costly and confusing, opposition parties accused the SNP of presiding over a “botched policy” and a “farce” in its attempts to improve fire safety.

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Some 31,080 properties across 19 local authorities areas are still without the interlinked alarms, which became a legal requirement on February 1. The biggest backlog is in Edinburgh, where around 7,700 properties have yet to have them installed.

The government has made over £15 million of loan funding available for social landlords to help cover costs. Only last month, housing secretary Shona Robison told Holyrood the work to install the alarms across the social rented sector was “well progressed.”

But the sizable to-do list nationwide points to wide-ranging problems with its implementation. Multiple local authorities said installations had been waylaid by access issues, with staff absences and supply shortages also problematic.

Ironically, it is those very local authorities which have a duty to ensure compliance with the changes in the law, brought in as a result of the Grenfell tower disaster.

In Edinburgh, the city council has only installed 12,410 of the so-called LD2 smoke detection systems to date, accounting for about 61.6 per cent of its housing stock.

The interlinked alarm systems became a legal requirement as of the beginning of February.The interlinked alarm systems became a legal requirement as of the beginning of February.
The interlinked alarm systems became a legal requirement as of the beginning of February.

A council spokeswoman said the access had been exacerbated by Covid-19, with delays in procuring contracts “due to market forces”.

There are 6,491 local authority properties still to undergo the installations in Aberdeen, followed by 3,800 and 3,200 homes in North and South Lanarkshire respectively.

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North Lanarkshire Council said the tenants of the properties in question had either been contacted, with no access provided, had refused a first appointment, or were having alarms installed as part of a larger project or programme.

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There are 1,241 properties in Shetland yet to meet the new legal standard, followed by Fife Council with 1,220 homes. The latter said Covd-19 related access was largely to blame. John Mills, its head of housing services, said staff were continuing to try and gain access to those properties.

The backlog stands at 1,136 properties in East Lothian, which the council vowed to clear as soon as practicable, pointing to the “extreme challenges” of the pandemic.

Installations are outstanding in 1,102 homes in Perth and Kinross. A council spokesman said staff had visited most of those homes on more than one occasion, but had been unable to gain access. In Moray, where 1,062 homes are without interlinked alarms, the council said “forced entry” may be used where tenants do not grant access.

Elsewhere, the number of properties where work has yet to be carried out stands at: 1,000 in North Ayrshire; 715 in the Highlands; 625 in West Dunbartonshire; 596 in West Lothian; 432 in South Ayrshire; 260 in Aberdeenshire; 236 in East Dunbartonshire; 218 in Orkney; 41 in Dundee, and five in East Ayrshire.

The 31,080 nationwide figure excludes those areas where stock has been transferred to housing associations, such as Glasgow, Inverclyde, the Scottish Borders, and Dumfries and Galloway.

Renfrewshire Council did not respond to The Scotsman’s enquiries.

Miles Briggs, housing spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “It shows how shambolic the SNP’s rollout of this new law is when even local authorities responsible for enforcement are unable to comply with it.

“It beggars belief that the Scottish Government stubbornly pressed on with their February deadline when it was clear for all to see that hundreds of thousands of homes – both privately and publicly-owned – could not hope to meet it.

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“The massive shortage of compliant fire alarms in shops, coming on the back of a dismal public-awareness campaign, meant that almost half of the population, according to a poll this week, have been turned into law-breakers through no fault of their own.

“I repeatedly urged the SNP to delay the introduction of the new law and would urge them to temporarily suspend it now, as it is causing avoidable anxiety among the public.”

Scottish Labour’s housing spokesman Mark Griffin said: “These figures lay bare what a farce this policy has become. It is little wonder so many homeowners are struggling when even the councils enforcing the rules can’t follow them.

“This was supposed to be a chance to improve safety in homes across Scotland, but this shambles fails on all fronts.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, said: “The Scottish Government hasn't even been able to ensure that council-owned homes are compliant. What is the point of this legislation if tens of thousands of properties can slip through the net?

"The Government needs to provide more active and urgent support for households who have not been able to install the correct systems and an estimate of how much of the installation work remains outstanding."

The Scottish Housing Regulator requires all councils to report compliance figures by May, based on the state play at the end of March. A spokeswoman said it would monitor their progress and take further action if necessary.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know social landlords including councils are working hard to reach the new fire safety standards, and the vast majority of homes now meet these.

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“Councils have so far achieved compliance with the new standards across 90 per cent of their housing stock, which accounts for 314,000 homes in the social housing sector.”

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