The Fire Safety Act 2021 received Royal Assent  on 29th April 2021, having been introduced to parliament in the spring of 2020. This important piece of legislation has significant ramifications for those people or organisations considered ‘Responsible Persons’ under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
This update stems from the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in 2017. The shocking loss of 72 lives in the country’s capital has stimulated deepening concern surrounding the fire safety of multi-occupied residential buildings and intends to clarify who is responsible for managing and reducing fire risks in similar buildings, to prevent future tragedies and to end decades of avoidance and non-compliance.
The Fire Safety Act 2021 is expected by the end of the year, and is another essential, necessary step for astrengthened fire safety regime for buildings containing multiple residential properties, such as a block of flats.
Who are the Responsible Person(s)?
The incoming legislation placesfurther accountability on businesses Responsible Person(s). But who are they?
The FSO 2005 stipulates that the Responsible Person(s) is:
(a) in relationto a workplace, the employer, if the workplace is to any extent under hiscontrol;
(b) in relationto any premises not falling within paragraph (a)—
(i) the person who has control of the premises (asoccupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by him of a trade,business, or other undertaking (for profit or not); or
(ii) the owner, where the person in control of thepremises does not have control in connection with the carrying on by thatperson of a trade, business, or other undertaking.
The act applies to all multi-occupied residential and commercial buildings and requires all Responsible Person(s) to assess, manage, and reduce the risk of fire posed by the structure and any common parts of buildings. By placing responsibility for features such as cladding, at the door of the Responsible Person(s), it also negates further doubt around who is likely to be responsible for ensuring the removal of, and replacement of external cladding, among other features.
What is Covered by the Legislation?
Clarification was considered necessary as the Fire Safety Order 2005 was unclear. It was not known if the previous act covered the structure and external walls of buildings within its remit, meaning responsibility for potentially dangerous external wall systems and structural issues in multi-occupancy residential buildings was not taken, due to increased confusion about who was responsible for it.
Areas of the building covered by the updated legislation include:
- the building's structure, external walls, and any common parts.
- The external walls include doors or windows in those walls, and anything attached to the exterior of those walls, e.g., balconies and cladding.
- All doors between the domestic premises and common parts.
What Changes are Expected?
With the newly introduced Act likely to be enshrined in law in early 2022, the Responsible Person(s) will be expected to prioritise safety and security throughout their fire prevention strategy, including:
- updating any fire risk assessments and acting upon any risk-based guidance to alleviate or remove potential fire hazards.
- Liaising with competent fire safety professionals to make sure any steps necessary are suitable and sufficient to deal with the risks posed- as outlined in the fire risk assessment.
- Performing regular fire alarm checks.
- Remaining up to date with future government guidance that is relevant to their building, and the management or maintenance of it.
What Issues Might Occur when the Act is Implemented?
Issues relating to ‘insurance in relation to the Responsible Person and those who are qualified to carry out fire risk assessments’ are more than likely to emerge. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is already in the process of trying to resolve the problems surveyors face in this area with further training becoming available for those qualified to carry out the risk assessments.
With the employment of the 2021 Act, there is also a simplified path for enforcement action against and/or prosecution of any Responsible Person(s) who fails to comply with the FSO, which could lead to unlimited fines and/or criminal prosecutions. This clarity may provide comfort to families of those affected by fires, such as those at Lakanal House (2009) or Grenfell Tower (2017) and go some way to stop horrific events such as these occurring again.
In the view of some, this cannot come in a timelier manner, as the general media has unmasked Robert Black, former boss of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and others, for their culpability in the tragedy. What outrages bereaved families and campaigners is that the litany of failure and irresponsibility in the years running up to the Grenfell fire , and it can be hoped that the increased stringency of the new The Fire Safety Act 2021 goes on to rectify an era of non-compliance.
Once a bill has completed all the parliamentary stages in both Houses, it is ready to receive royal assent. This is when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament (law). There is no set time period between the conclusion of consideration of amendments/ping pong and royal assent.
 Kennedyslaw.com 'Fire Safety Act 2021 and the “Responsible Person,” by Andrew Swarbrick and Danny McShee, published 06.09.2021, <https://kennedyslaw.com/thought-leadership/article/fire-safety-act-2021-and-the-responsible-person/>29.11.2021
 RPC, ‘Fire Safety Act 2021: Clarification for the Responsible Person,’ by Alexandra Anderson and Katharine Cusack, published 09.08.2021, <https://www.rpc.co.uk/perspectives/construction/fire-safety-act-2021-clarification-for-the-responsible-person/>03.12.2021
 The Guardian, ‘From Grenfell Tower to the Met police, shirking responsibility has become endemic,’ by Kenan Malik, published 27.06.2021, ttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/27/from-grenfell-tower-to-the-met-police-shirking-responsibility-has-become-endemic> 03.12.2021