Updated fire safety guidance

There is new fire safety guidance which comes into force on 1 October 2023 and among other things, increases requirements in relation to the recording and sharing of fire safety information.

A copy of the guidance is available on the following link – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1147723/A_guide_to_making_your_small_paying-guest-accommodation_safe_from_fire.pdf

In reading the new guidance, the most important thing to remember is that the underlying legislation – the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) – has not fundamentally changed. As such, the new guidance is not a radical departure from the existing guidance – Do You Have Paying Guests?  But the new guidance updates the old guidance to take into account new technology, provides much more detail and is much more prescriptive on how to undertake a Fire Safety Risk Assessment and makes suggestions as to what mitigation measures are appropriate in different accommodation types, while also clarifying some issues and tightening some requirements.

Isn’t it only guidance not law?

The ‘Guide to making your small paying-guest-accommodation safe from fire’ (The Guide) has been published by the Home Office  as ‘Article 50 guidance’, to assist businesses and responsible persons in complying with their duties (and requirements) of the FSO.  Article 50 guidance has legal status and Section 2 of the Fire Safety Act 2021 adds an amendment to the FSO stating that a failure to follow the guidance issued under Article 50 of the FSO may be relied on [by Enforcing Authorities as] tending to establish a contravention of the duties contained within the Articles 8-22 (of the FSO).

So the “guidance” has more teeth than the word may imply – a reasonable interpretation could indicate that there is room for flexibility and innovation, providing safety of relevant person was not put at risk by fire.  But if there is any doubt about compliance with Articles 8-22 of the FSO, it is suggested that the Responsible Person should seek approval from the appropriate Enforcing Authorities. – which in most cases in the local Fire & Rescue Service.

Main Points Identified

Some of the main points it identifies for us all include:

1) Recording Fire Risk Assessments: The new guidance is that you MUST record your Fire Risk Assessment. Previously you only had to record the assessment if you had 5 or more staff.

2) Undertaking Electrical Inspections: Previous guidance recommended checking electrical equipment but did not mention the electrical installation in your premises. The new guidance states that your electrical installation (ie., the distribution board and wiring of the property) should be subject to inspection and test at least every five years. In addition, for self-catering properties, all appliances should be visually checked between lettings.

3) Heating System Inspections: The new guidance states that heating and hot water systems should be inspected annually by a qualified contractor to ensure they are maintained in good condition. Previously this requirement applied to just gas systems (annual Gas Safe inspections) but it is now extended to all heating and hot water systems.

4) Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Any property with a gas appliance, fire or wood burner should have a carbon monoxide detector installed. This requirement was missing from the previous guidance.

5) Sweeping Chimneys and Flues: Any property with a chimney or flue needs to have it swept at least annually. Again, this was missing from the previous guidance.

6) Candles: The new guidance states that owners should not provide candles, tea lights or ethanol burners for use by guests, and there should be a policy in place prohibiting their use. This is important as many owners use candles as decorative features or supply tealights/tealight holders so that customers can have romantic breaks.

7) Inner Rooms: Inner rooms (which are rooms where the only escape route is through another room) should not be used for sleeping accommodation unless the rooms are on the ground floor and the rooms have direct access to a door or “escape window” that can be used by the occupants to reach a place of safety clear of the accommodation. Escape windows for rooms on the first floor are not considered a safe means of escape for paying guests. This will impact many older buildings and cottages where an upstairs bedroom is accessed via another bedroom and owners are advised to contact a fire safety expert to determine what should be done to ensure the safety of people using an inner room.

8) Exit Doors: Exit doors, such as the front or back door, should always be easy to unlock and must not need a key to unlock them from the inside. A simple latch or thumb turn is usually good enough. However, you may need to consider whether all guests are able to open these doors. A simple single action turn handle or lever will often be more appropriate.

9) Emergency Escape Lighting: While the need to provide emergency escape lighting was included in the previous guidance, the new guidance provides much more detail on what is considered to be appropriate for different sized premises.

10) Fire Detectors/Alarms: The new guidance takes into account the revised grading system for fire detection and alarm systems that was introduced in 2021. The Guidance recommends the installation of a D1 system which consists of one or more mains powered detectors, each with a tamper proof standby supply consisting of a battery or batteries.  It is now very clear that inter-linked detectors should be in every habitable room (eg including every bedroom, sitting room, Kitchen, hallway/corridor etc)  and not just in corridors or hallways as is often the case

11) Fire Extinguishers:  Many cottages have provided powder extinguishers for use by guests. The guidance is now clear that powder fire extinguishers should not be provided, as they are not suitable for use in enclosed spaces. Alternative muti-purpose extinguishers should be provided, if necessary.

12) Regular Checks: The new guidance provides a list of how often various fire prevention/detection measures should be checked – From daily checks that escape routes are clear (for staffed premises) through to weekly tests of detection/alarm systems, six monthly services on detection/alarm systems by a competent person through to annual checks on emergency lighting systems. All checks and testing should be recorded.

We anticipate that many cottages will require work to be completed to meet the requirements outlined in the new guidance document.  October may seem a long way off,  but we would suggest you start work on this as soon as you can.

If you need any help with getting your cottage assessed and any improvement work completed, please contact us to discuss the next steps.

As business owner or Responsible Person, you have a duty to comply with the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (As amended) (the FSO). The information contained in this page is based on the author’s interpretation of the guidance ‘A guide to
making your small paying-guest-accommodation safe from fire’ (‘the Guide’) and how it can be applied to holiday or short term let accommodation as listed on page 8 of the Guide. This guidance document is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Nothing within this page should be deemed to overrule the Guide or requirements of the FSO, and the author accepts no responsibility or liability for actions taken against businesses or responsible persons by reliance on the information in this document. This includes whether or not advice has been sought from the relevant authorities, such as local Fire and Rescue Services, Building Control Bodies and Planning Authorities. Responsible persons are therefore recommended to refer to the Guide and seek consent from relevant authorities before embarking on any project to start or extend a small holiday let business