The new Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (‘FSR’) are now in force.
What do the regulations say about fire doors?
Amongst a whole host of new legal obligations, the FSR include the requirement for all responsible persons of multi-occupied residential buildings in England with storeys over 11 metres in height to:
- undertake quarterly checks of all fire doors (including self-closing devices) in the common parts; and
- undertake annual checks of all flat entrance doors (including self-closing devices) that lead onto a building’s common parts.
When will they need to be completed?
The first checks under the FSR will need to take place by 23 April 2023 in relation to common parts (and quarterly thereafter) and 23 January 2024 in relation to flat entrance doors (and annually thereafter).
What does a check need to include?
The guidance documents indicate that it is not the Government’s intention to make the checks technical or to be carried out by specialists. It states that:
“It is expected that the responsible person, or their staff, should, with simple instruction, be able to carry out the checks”.
The guidance goes on to detail exactly what doors should be included within the checks and how to perform them. There is a particular emphasis on ensuring that “doors are effectively self-closing (or, in the case of cupboard and riser doors, are kept locked shut).”
The Guidance sets out how to do a check:
“A simple way to check this is to:
- firstly, open the door fully, then let it go
- then open the door to around 15 degrees and let it go
In both cases, the door should fully close into the frame, overcoming the resistance of any latch or friction with the floor.”
The factsheet relating to fire doors also sets out the minimum requirements for inspections of fire doors:
“The minimum requirement is for the responsible person to undertake an inspection of the doors to identify any obvious damage or issues. It should not be necessary to engage a specialist for these checks as the responsible person should be able to carry out these checks themselves. There are several useful guides available online which can support a responsible person in undertaking checks”.
There is specific emphasis that the checks must include ensuring that the self-closing devices for the doors are working.
If any issues are identified from these checks, responsible persons will need to undertake more detailed checks of the doors (or the self-closing device). This could include engaging a specialist. The guidance stipulates that, where inspections identify that a door (whether a flat entrance door or a communal door) needs to be repaired or replaced, the work must be undertaken by a competent contractor as soon as reasonably practicable. It will of course be necessary, in the case of leaseholders, to consider who is required to take that action and pay the costs of it, which will depend on the terms of the lease.
The Government has included a checklist to be used for undertaking the checks which can be found here.
What if access cannot be obtained?
The new regulations require providers to check flat entrance doors on a ‘best endeavours’ basis, which means that they will be similar, in terms of process and procedure, to the way that annual gas safety checks are undertaken.
It is likely that ‘best endeavours’ requires more steps to be taken to ensure compliance than if the term ‘reasonable endeavours’ had been used. While this will require the interpretation of the courts, the Government’s recent guidance suggests that the responsible person will need to get an injunction order to compel an inspection where they can’t get access.
The Government’s factsheet explains:
‘It will be for responsible persons to determine the best approach to engage with residents in order to get access to undertake the annual checks of flat entrance doors. This could include the responsible person agreeing with residents a date, so access can be granted’.
It goes on to say:
“Residents should be encouraged to allow responsible persons access to check their flat entrance doors. Use can be made of the information to residents required by these regulations, or other resident engagement strategies. If access cannot be achieved, the responsible person should gather evidence of the steps they have taken to discharge this duty. This could include correspondence between the responsible person and resident seeking permission to gain access”.
It also states, on the question of how to deal with a tenant who does not allow or ignores requests for access; “Ultimately, you might need to consider legal action if a resident persistently refuses to cooperate with these checks”.
The guidance goes further and provides that arrangements relating to access to flats for checking front entrance doors will need to be made with the leaseholders and “In the event of an impasse, a court order can be obtained for this purpose. It is recommended that any new leases include this right of access”.
What records should be kept?
A log should be made and maintained of all instances that access is requested for an inspection and what the outcome was.
The FSR contains a specific requirement to keep a record of the steps taken to comply with the obligations including occasions where access is not obtained and the steps taken by the responsible person to try and gain access.
Record keeping will be vital if you need to try and obtain a court order to comply with the FSR. Advice should be sought in relation to this process on a case by case basis. The FSR also includes obligations relating to specific information that needs to be given to residents – it is therefore important that records are kept to show compliance with those duties too.
The key documents can be found below:
- The regulations themselves which can be accessed here;
- An explanatory memorandum which can be accessed here;
- Fact sheets, Home Office, which can be accessed here;
- ‘Guidance: Check your fire safety responsibilities under the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022’, Home Office, dated 13 December 2022 which can be accessed here; and
- ‘Guidance: Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022: fire door guidance’, Home Office, dated 19 January 2023 which can be accessed here.
How can we help?
Responsible persons will need to ensure that they have sufficiently robust policies and procedures in place, along with sufficient personnel to put them into practice, as soon as possible.