Building Safety: Changes to fire safety responsibilities under Section 156

10 minute read
02 August 2023

Section 156 of the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) will come into force in England on 1 October 2023.[1] It amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Fire Safety Order) by adding to the existing duties of Responsible Persons under the Order.

In its recent response to a consultation on the BSA's changes to fire safety duties, the Welsh Government has also indicated its intention to bring section 156 into force in Wales on 1 October 2023, in line with the commencement date in England.

We consider below the background to section 156 of the BSA and the changes to the Fire Safety Order, as well as describing each of the changes being made and the rationale behind them.

Background to the Fire Safety Order

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 regulates fire safety in non-domestic premises, including workplaces, and the non-domestic parts of multi-occupied residential buildings such as communal corridors, stairs and plant rooms.

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the recommendations in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, the Fire Safety Act 2021 was passed. This clarified that the scope of the Fire Safety Order includes the structure, external walls, and individual flat entrance doors of multi-occupied residential buildings.

Subsequently, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations came into force on 23 January 2023. These expanded the duties of Responsible Persons for multi-occupied residential buildings (with the majority of the additional duties relating to "high-rise residential buildings" which are defined to align with higher-risk buildings under the BSA).

Who is the Responsible Person?

The "Responsible Person" under the Fire Safety Order is the person who has control of the premises as occupier or otherwise. Thus, the Responsible Person could be a building owner, leaseholder or tenant, or an employer in relation to a workplace (provided the workplace is "to any extent" under its control). In some cases, there will be more than one Responsible Person in respect of a building.

What are the changes made by section 156 of the BSA?

Section 156 of the BSA, when commenced, will make changes to the Fire Safety Order imposing additional duties on Responsible Persons in respect of non-domestic premises and multi-occupied residential buildings (i.e. those containing two or more domestic dwellings). This Government guidance note explains what Responsible Persons need to do as a result of these changes.

In summary:

  • All Responsible Persons must record their completed fire risk assessment. This replaces the previous requirement only to record the significant findings of that assessment where they are an employer of five or more employees, where there is a license in place, or where an FSO notice is required. If the full fire risk assessment is not recorded, it is difficult for enforcing authorities to evidence a breach and for the Responsible Person to demonstrate compliance where required.
  • All Responsible Persons must record their fire safety arrangements, i.e. demonstrate how fire safety is managed in their premises.
  • Responsible Persons in buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises must provide residents with specific information about "relevant fire safety matters". The information must be comprehensible and must include the risks that have been identified in the risk assessment, the preventive and protective measures and the name and UK address of the Responsible Person.
  • Responsible Persons must ascertain whether any other Responsible Person shares or has duties regarding the premises, and identify themselves to any other Responsible Person(s) identified by providing their name and UK address. This might arise, for example, in multi-occupied commercial buildings, where other Responsible Persons would include the different businesses but also the landlord (and potentially managing agents) with overall responsibility for safety within the building. This change addresses concerns about Responsible Persons' compliance with the existing duty in Article 22 of the Fire Safety Order to cooperate and coordinate with other Responsible Persons in multi-occupied premises. Requiring Responsible Persons to inform each other of their name and UK address and provide a view on the parts of the premises they consider themselves responsible for will enable enforcing authorities to ensure the duty is complied with and encourage cooperation.
  • Departing Responsible Persons must take reasonable steps to share all relevant fire safety information with incoming Responsible Persons. The rationale for this change is to maintain a clear thread of information central to ensuring fire safety between successive Responsible Persons across the entirety of a building's lifetime – complementing the "Golden Thread" provision for Accountable Persons in the BSA.
  • Responsible Persons for premises in a higher-risk building must identify and co-operate with the Accountable Person(s).  This new provision applies to Responsible Persons in a higher-risk building as defined in the BSA and related secondary legislation. As we explained in a recent article, this refers in England to a building that is (a) at least 18 metres in height or has at least seven storeys, and (b) contains at least two residential units.[2] The Responsible Person(s) must share the fire risk assessment for the common parts of the building with the Accountable Person(s) – this will be relevant, amongst other things, to the safety case report which the Principal Accountable Person is required to prepare under section 85 of the BSA. The intention is to ensure that  Responsible Persons and Accountable Persons take a "whole building approach" to building and fire safety.

There is a reciprocal duty of cooperation in section 109 of the BSA, which requires Accountable Persons to cooperate with (a) any other Accountable Persons, and (b) any Responsible Persons in relation to a building.


Whilst the role of Responsible Person for the purposes of the Fire Safety Order is separate from and stems from different legislation to the role of "Accountable Person"/"Principal Accountable Person" under the BSA), the same person/entity may in certain circumstances fulfil both roles. In such cases, the Responsible Person/Accountable Person must comply with the requirements of the Fire Safety Order for the common parts of the building whilst also ensuring the management of safety for the whole building. As noted above, these duties may, in some cases, complement each other, e.g.:

  • The fire risk assessment may contribute to the safety case report;
  • The requirement to provide residents with specific information about "relevant fire safety matters" may support the residents' engagement strategy that the PAP must prepare under section 91 of the BSA.

There is also a requirement in Section 156 of the BSA that a Responsible Person must not appoint a person to assist them in the undertaking or reviewing of a fire risk assessment unless that person is competent (Section 156(4)). As noted above, this sub-section is not being brought into force on 1 October 2023 alongside the remainder of section 156 but will be brought into force at a later date.

This is not surprising since – as noted by the Welsh Government in its consultation response – work to develop the detailed requirements regarding competency set out in the BSA is still ongoing, and the regulations governing duty holders and competency have not yet been published. Accordingly, their recommendation to Responsible Persons in the meantime remains that they should make "a suitable and sufficient assessment of the fire risks in their buildings and should continue to ensure that to the best of their knowledge, any person who they appoint to undertake a fire risk assessment of their building, can do so competently. Ideally, that would mean someone who held formal qualifications and/or a company which was suitably accredited."

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Sue Ryan, Gemma Whittaker or Sean Garbutt.


[1] Except for Section 156(4) which is not being brought into force on 1 October 2023.
[2] The proposed definition of a higher-risk building in Wales differs from that in England, as there is a suggested reduction in the definition for the requirement of two residential units to one – see our recent article on the safety of higher-risk buildings in Wales.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.