By Hannah Eales
The Fire Safety Bill is currently in the ping-pong stage of the parliamentary legislative process, the House of Commons on Wednesday having debated the Lords amendments.
There were five proposed amendments, most notably amendment 4 which looked to impose a prohibition on building owners passing the cost of any remedial work in respect of fire safety onto leaseholders and tenants. Following a three hour debate, the Government defeated attempts by Labour and rebel MPs to force the Government to protect leaseholders with MPs voting 340 to 225 against backing the amendment.
Kit Malthouse, Minister for Crime and Policing and former Housing Minister stated ‘Government funding does not absolve building owners of their responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe. We have been clear that building owners and the industry…should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders. They should consider all routes to meet costs including, for example, through warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.’
However, he went on ‘I am afraid the Bill is not the correct place for remediation costs to be addressed. It is a short but critical Bill to clarify that the fire safety order applies to the external walls, including cladding, and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. That means that the responsible person must include those parts of the building in their fire risk assessment. That does not include the remediation of historical defects…The Building Safety Bill is the appropriate legislative mechanism for addressing these issues, and it will be introduced in the spring. It will contain the detailed and complex legislation that is needed to address remediation costs.’
Conservative MP Royston Smith, called the treatment of leaseholders ‘wrong’ and described the issue as a moral one asking ‘Who, in good conscience, could leave these people to pay huge insurance premiums, sometime increased by over 1000%, huge waking watch charges and crippling costs of remediation if we could do something to help? Who would do that?’ Smith went on to cite the economic issues, pointing out that the housing market is heading for collapse and thousands of leaseholders are heading for bankruptcy.
Amendment 2, which proposed imposing requirements on owners or managers of buildings to share information with their local Fire and Rescue Services, was also defeated. The information to be shared included the design of the external walls and details of the materials of which those external walls are constructed. The amendment proposed owners and managers be required to undertake annual inspections of individual flat entrance doors, undertake monthly inspections of lifts and share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents.
Kit Malthouse stated such an amendment was unnecessary as the Government intend to implement these areas through regulations. Labour MP Sarah Jones argued that amendment 2 would place ‘robust requirements on buildings owners or managers and implement the key recommendations from phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry.’ She described the measures proposed as straightforward and supported by key stakeholders. Amendment 2 was defeated 345 to 226.
The Bill will return to the House of Lords for further consideration.
About the author
Hannah Eales is a barrister in the Regulatory team. She is an experienced advocate and a regulatory, health & safety and criminal law specialist. Hannah has a particular expertise in fire safety law having prosecuted on behalf of fire and rescue authorities nationally as well as representing individuals and corporates facing prosecution for breaches of the Fire Safety Order in the criminal courts. Hannah is experienced in advising property owners and managers on compliance with fire safety legislation and regulations. She has a broad practice, also acting both for regulatory bodies and representing those who appear before them, as well as prosecuting and defending in the criminal courts. She regularly advises on all aspects of criminal, health & safety and regulatory law.