30 Apr 2021
The Fire Safety Bill has now passed into Law without amendment following Royal Assent. The troubled passage of this piece of legislation through Parliament has highlighted the serious nature of the problems faced by leaseholders in remediating fire safety defects. We and other industry bodies, cladding campaigners and stakeholders will continue to express our view to government that leaseholders are not the ones to cover fire safety and related costs.
The new legislation provides clarity over the interpretation of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which determines how fire risk assessments are carried out. That order brought together different pieces of fire legislation and designates those in control of premises as the responsible person for fire safety. It requires the responsible person to undertake assessments and manage risks. The new Fire Safety Act amends the Fire Safety Order.
The Fire Safety Act clarifies that for any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises the Order applies to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts, including the front doors of residential areas. It also clarifies that references to external walls in the Order include “doors or windows in those walls” and “anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies).”
Our concern was not so much what was in the Lords’ amendments, but what was not. If the amendment ruled leaseholders should not pay, then it needed to say who would pay, otherwise there would be no money for, say, waking watches, which would have to end immediately and inevitably that would mean evacuating some buildings. Also, some remediation works would suddenly stop.
The Lords could not put such a provision into the amendment but by forcing the issue down to the last moment, they sent a clear signal to government to find a solution that does not involve leaseholders paying to fix bad buildings bought in good faith. The Lords’ view is government should pay to fix and then recover as much as possible from the developers/contractors/materials suppliers who caused the problem. Chasing down and litigating against this complex supply chain is something the State is best placed to do, so we agree with the Lords on that point.
The government has announced on 10 February 2021 that it would introduce a new Residential Property Developer Tax as part of its Building Safety Package. The tax is one of the government’s measures to bring an end to unsafe cladding, provide reassurance to homeowners and support confidence in the housing market. The government is consulting on the design of that tax ahead of its inclusion in the 2021-22 Finance Bill. The consultation runs until 22 July 2021.