Following prolonged parliamentary ping-pong in relation to the Fire Safety Bill, with proposed amendments bouncing back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Bill was given Royal Assent yesterday, with no amendments. None of the proposed provisions to protect leaseholders from the costs of the remediation works have been included.
Fire Safety Act
The Fire Safety Act amends the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO), and its purpose is to ensure that FSO applies to external walls (and anything attached to them including cladding and balconies) and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. It is intended to resolve any ambiguities in the FSO, by stating explicitly what is included.
The FSO requires those responsible to carry out a fire risk assessment and to put in place measures to address risk from fire or the spread of fire so that anyone lawfully on the premises is protected from that risk. The assessment has to be regularly reviewed, and updated where necessary. There will be a public register of fire risk assessments.
What happened to the amendments to protect leaseholders?
The final debates on the proposed amendments took place in the House of Commons earlier this week. The latest set of provisions from the House of Lords aimed at protecting leaseholders from the costs of the remediation works were rejected. The stated reason given by the Commons is "because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed".
During the debate, the Minister for Housing, Chris Pincher, stated that the Fire Safety Bill is "an important first step" and emphasised that the draft Building Safety Bill (expected to come into force towards the end of 2021, although we expect it to be much later than that) would include measures to provide leaseholders with "stronger avenues for redress". The commitment given by the Minister was that "the Government are [sic] committed to protecting leaseholders and tenants from the costs of remediation as far as possible".
Those unsure about how far the Government is prepared to go in terms of protection for leaseholders will note that there may be uncertainty as to whether leaseholders may be obliged to pay for costs up front and then seek to claim them back (via "avenues of redress"), which in itself creates a huge difficulty for those affected. Additionally, the proviso in the Minister's commitment is clear - leaseholders will be protected "as far as possible".
Focus will now return to the Building Safety Bill and how the Government proposes to deliver on its commitment. We will keep you updated on developments in this area.
If you have queries on this insight or any construction issue, please contact Sue Ryan.