Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, the Government have proposed the Fire Safety Bill in order to amend the existing legislation, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, so that they ensure a similar tragedy does not recur.
Particularly the Bill aims to make clear that the responsible person (i.e. the freeholder, RMC) for multi-occupied, residential buildings must be held accountable for the management and reduction of the risk of fire, not only for the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows, but also for the entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts. The Bill is still making its way through various stages in Parliament, while further secondary legislation is expected to follow which will hold building owners and managers responsible for different tasks such as ensuring the regular inspection of the lifts, confirming that evacuation plans are reviewed and updated, checking that fire safety instructions are provided to all residents and making sure that flat entrance doors in buildings, particularly those with unsafe cladding, comply with existing regulations. This proposed legislation can empower fire and rescue authorities to enforce action and hold accountable the homeowners who fail to comply.
How the Fire Safety Bill may affect flat entrance doors?
The Fire Safety Bill brings flat entrance doors within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which at the moment is only applicable to non-domestic premises such as the communal areas of multi-occupied residential buildings. This means that flat entrance doors would be required to be inspected and maintained, as with all other fire safety equipment or passive fire protection regardless if they serve just one apartment. In this way, it is ensured that should a fire occur inside a flat, the flat front door will prevent smoke and fire from spreading into the common parts of the building. Flat entrance doors should be self-closing and provide fire resistance for at least 30 minutes.
A typical fire door inspection will usually cover the following points:
- Is the door a fire door, and of an appropriate grade?
- Has the door been damaged or breached in anyway?
- Is a suitable self-closing device fitted?
- Does it shut fully into frame from every angle?
- Are hinges correct in type and number?
- Are suitable smoke seals/intumescent strips fitted?
- Are all door furnishings (letter box etc.) adequately fire resistant?
- Is any glazing fitted within the door of an adequate level of fire resistance (e.g. Georgian wired, or bearing suitable kite marks)?
- Is the frame of the door of an adequate level of fire resistance?
- Does the surround of the door, including any fan lights or adjacent boarding adequately fire resistant?
- Does the door meet current standards, or standards at the time of construction/conversion?
In case that the flat entrance doors do not meet the fire safety standards mentioned above, it is essential that they are replaced.
How often should flat entrance doors be checked?
Under the Regulatory Reform Order, there is no statutory frequency to the inspections of fire doors that are placed in communal areas. However, their maintenance is a legal requirement and it is strongly suggested that they are routinely checked every six months or at least annually.
In particular, the maintenance requirements of the Order are the following:
17.—(1) Where necessary in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons the responsible person must ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises under this Order ‘…’ are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.
Although the order does not set specific timeframes, it holds the responsible person accountable to arrange the assessments as well as any maintenance works that might be required.
The Government through the Fire Safety Bill suggest that flat entrance doors should be included in routine fire risk assessments. The frequency of how often the flat entrance doors should be inspected though is still up for debate. The initial suggestion was that domestic fire doors should be subjected to inspections every 3 months but that was largely rejected as infeasible and unnecessary. As a result, the Government’s current proposal is that inspections should be performed on an annual basis.
Who is going to carry out the inspections and who is going to pay for them or for any maintenance works that may be required?
The Fire Safety Bill suggests that all fire door inspections should be carried out by a competent professional who obtains a recognised qualification (e.g. the FDIS Fire Door Inspectors Diploma) and has experience in carrying out fire door inspections.
In most cases, the cost of inspection will be covered from the service charge. As for the cost of any remedial works that might be required, this will depend on who, according to the lease, has maintenance responsibility for the flat entrance door. In most instances, this will be the leaseholder. There may be some cases, however, where the freeholder retains maintenance responsibility for the flat entrance doors.
In some circumstances, it might be beneficial for leaseholders to team together and have all remedial works done as part of one job. This, however, will be highly affected by the type of works that need to be carried out (i.e. some doors might just need a tweak to the self-closers, whilst others might warrant a full replacement of the door set).
In February 2021, a proposed amendment to the Fire Safety Bill was voted down by the parliament. The key point of the amendment are listed below:
- Increasing the duties of owners and managers of buildings containing two or more domestic premises
- Letting potential and current renters, leaseholders and owners to check the fire safety status of their home by accessing a public register
- Protecting leaseholders from the remedial costs of fire safety deficiencies in their buildings
It was claimed that the proposed amendments were not detailed enough and could delay the pace of repairs. Moreover, the Building Safety Bill which is going to be introduced in late 2021 or early 2022 is expected to address the remediation costs of fire safety deficiencies too.
Although the Fire Safety Bill has not been finalised yet, it is evident that it aims to bring the maintenance of flat entrance doors under homeowner’s or manager’s responsibility in order to minimise the risk of fire in multi-occupied residential properties. At HML, having years of experience in managing fire risk assessments, we can have your fire doors and flat entrance doors inspected by qualified professionals. If you have any questions regarding fire door inspections or any other fire safety issue, please get in touch with your Property Manager or a member of HML’s Health and Safety service provision.