In December last year, the government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with both setting out to ‘learn the lessons’ from Grenfell. While the building safety bill would ‘place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products’, both bills aimed strengthen the ‘whole regulatory system’ for both building and fire safety.

The fire safety bill was said to ‘hint’ at supporting the findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase, including ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’.

Main elements were to include a clarification that the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO] ‘includes the external walls of the building, including cladding’ as well as ‘fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy’. ‘Relevant enforcement powers’ to hold owners and managers ‘to account’ would be strengthened, while a ‘transitional periods’ for these roles, the responsible person and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) would ‘assist’ in placing infrastructure.

In January, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

The government is also set to work alongside local authorities and support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. In February, it was revealed that it would include a requirement for fire doors in all flat blocks to be checked every three months, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) asking building owners if quarterly inspections were ‘feasible’.

More recently in late March, the bill was officially introduced, with the government stating it would ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and that it ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’. The bill will amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements.

These include the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats ‘that open into common parts’, with this clarification to ‘empower’ FRSs to take action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’. It will also provide a ‘foundation’ for secondary legislation to ‘take forward’ the inquiry’s recommendations, and outlined these.

The recommendations cover responsibilities of building owners and managers of high rise and multi occupant residential buildings, including ‘regular’ lift inspections and reporting results to FRSs; and ensuring evacuation plans ‘are reviewed and regularly updated’, as well as personal evacuation plans being in place for residents ‘whose ability to evacuate may be compromised’.

Others include ensuring that fire safety instructions ‘are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand’, and ensuring that individual flat entrance doors ‘where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding’ comply with current standards. The bill will also give Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick the power to amend lists of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the FSO ‘by way of secondary legislation’.

Most recently in May, the bill received its second reading in parliament, with Security Minister James Brokenshire stating that the government was ‘resolute’ in its ‘commitment to ensure’ that Grenfell is ‘never repeated’. Mr Brokenshire added that ‘specialist knowledge and the expertise of the fire risk assessor’ would be required to comply with the bill’, and noted that the bill ‘is a clarification’ of the FSO, and will ‘apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings regulated by the order.

‘The current ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. That is unhelpful at best and, at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which can put the lives of people at risk’. Hertfordshire Advertiser has now reported on Ms Cooper’s amendments to the bill, which have been added to ‘help protect leaseholders living in homes with dangerous cladding’, after she joined the fire safety bill committee.

She joined after discussions with constituents ‘who have raised concerns’ about ‘potentially dangerous’ cladding on Opus House in St Albans, ‘as well as the financial implications for them as leaseholders’. The bill was reviewed ‘line by line’ by the committee last week before returning to the House of Commons ‘to be voted into law’.

Ms Cooper’s amendments ‘sought to encourage’ the government to ‘set out who should take financial responsibility for essential fire safety work’, and ‘set up a public register’ of fire risk assessments so that potential renters and owners ‘can check the fire safety status of their potential new home’, much like the one ‘used to register domestic Energy Performance Certificates’.

Her amendments also looked to ‘establish a public register of fire risk assessors’, so that homeowners can ‘verify’ that assessors are ‘qualified to conduct compulsory checks’, as well as ‘enable’ the government and businesses to ‘assess the numbers required to be trained’.

She stated: ‘Thousands of leaseholders and tenants up and down the country are being kept in a permanent state of anxiety while waiting to hear whether their property is safe. On top of that individual leaseholders are facing bills of up to £20,000 per flat for remedial work and hikes in their service charges. Many are unable to sell while the uncertainty persists.

‘The fire safety bill should empower the fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account. I am pleased that by speaking up for leaseholders, I have secured commitments from the government to introduce important fire safety registers, albeit at a later stage, and to provide ministerial-level clarity that big housing owners should not shirk their responsibility and pass the financial buck to leaseholders.’