In June of this year, the Fire Safety Act 2021 became law. This amended the regulations previously contained in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and meant that fire risk assessments, which previously only covered the internal communal parts of the building, must now include an assessment of the suitability of the external wall system and the flat front doors. Consequently, in many cases, risk assessments have identified that flat front doors do not provide sufficient protection in the event of a fire and so recommend that they should be altered or replaced.
Fire safety in flats
Each year there are around 40,000 fires in residential dwellings in the United Kingdom, causing around 8,000 casualties and about 250 deaths. Fires happen more often in flats and apartments than in houses and bungalows (perhaps due to the lifestyles of flat dwellers), but when a fire does occur, the incidence of death or injury is less in flats than for houses and bungalows. Recent major fires in blocks of flats such as Grenfell Tower have highlighted the need to always be vigilant and to take whatever precautions are necessary to reduce the risks so as to avoid the devastating loss of life and the damage and destruction to the building and possessions that a fire causes.
In blocks of flats, the lobby areas and stairway are the route for an evacuation, so should be compartmented from the flats so that smoke and fire from a flat can never spread to the stairs. For this to be assured, not only must every flat entrance door be an effective fire and smoke barrier, but it must also be kept properly shut at all times, other than when someone is passing through the door or at least is physically present. If a flat entrance door was left not properly shut tight with a fire developing inside a flat, the stairway would quickly fill with smoke and fumes, very easily rendering the stairs a deadly place, both for people escaping from the flat on fire, and for the occupants of all the other flats.
Where possible, blocks of flats operate a ‘Stay Put’ policy meaning that in the event of a fire you remain safe in your flat until the Fire Brigade arrive to either extinguish the fire or evacuate the building under their control. Where the compartmentation of the building does not provide sufficient protection to residents then an ‘Evacuate’ policy will be needed.
To achieve compartmentation, all flat front doors should comply with British Standards BSEN 1634-1:2008 so must have automatic closer springs, which must be effective in shutting the door properly under all conditions and circumstances. Additionally, the doors must be FD30S standard, which means that they have a minimum 30-minute fire rating and include intumescent strips and cold smoke seals at the edges with suitable fire proof door furniture, including hinges, locks and letter boxes.
At a glance
How will this affect me?
Under The Housing Act 2004, homeowners have a legal duty to reduce the risk from fire within their home, particularly if the property is rented. The Building Regulations 2000 require all homeowners to comply with building control requirements whenever they make alterations to their homes meaning that if a flat front door is being changed, it must meet current building standards for fire protection.
Your flat front door may already be a compliant door, particularly if your building is quite modern. If you want to check this yourself, please see our Tenant Advice Note: Checking your Flat Door which provides a checklist to test if your door is likely to meet the standard. If your door is compliant, the Fire Risk Assessment will identify that no further action is needed.
If your door was fitted before 2000 then it may not meet current building regulations and you would be advised to consider upgrading it for one that does. Your lease may require that you obtain the Freeholder’s written permission to change your door. Please contact your property manager to ask for details of how to apply for consent. Even if your lease does not require the Freeholder’s permission, we would recommend that you use a properly certified contractor who will issue you with a certificate of compliance. You may need to prove the door meets the regulations, either if the Freeholder decides to change the doors at a later date, or if you choose to sell your flat sometime in the future.
In the majority of cases it will be the Freeholder of your block (or the Residents Management Company or Right to Manage Company as appropriate) who will have received the Fire Risk Assessment for the Building as a whole and who will have been advised that the doors to the flats are not adequate and need to be changed. They will likely therefore, consider implementing a major works project to include changing the front doors to all flats and you will need to pay your share of that cost.
Although it is not yet mandatory to change your flat front door, it is possible that future legislation will impose this requirement. If this happens, we may find that costs increase significantly as the demand across the UK outstrips supply in both materials and contractors’ availability. Many Residents Management Companies and Freehold Companies are considering altering all flat doors now. Firstly, it reduces the risk in the building making it safer in the event of a fire; secondly, larger bulk orders of doors can be cheaper; and finally, it can ensure the uniformity of design and colour of doors in the building which may be difficult to guarantee if alterations are carried out over a period of many years.
What should I do now?
Use the checklist in our Tenant Advice Note: Checking your Flat Door to see whether your door meets the Building Regulations.
If you were planning to change your flat front door anyway, then please speak to your property manager and provide us with all the relevant information to ensure you will be fitting a fully compliant front door.
If your Management Company is considering changing the doors following a recent risk assessment we will contact you about the planned arrangements. This may be through a consultation process or a residents meeting but please do participate and let us know your views.
If you feel that your property would benefit from a more professional managing agent, get in touch with us today to discuss your property.