New rules for fire safety compliance in holiday let property come into effect from 1st October 2023, which include home owners and landlords letting out a spare room. The rules follow government guidance on fire safety issued in March by the Home Office, and affect all “small paying guest accommodation” properties, including those promoted through AirBnB and other booking platforms.
The penalty for breaking the rules is an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years, and the landlord will be forced to cease letting the property.
Prior to 1st October, “smaller” holiday let businesses (those employing fewer than five staff) were required to have a fire assessment but were not required to have one in writing. From 1st October 2023, anyone who lets a property for even one night or more must have a written fire safety risk assessment, either written by themselves or by someone on their behalf.
What is a risk assessment?
The risk assessment should include an action plan which details any necessary measure to improve fire protection and prevention, and be regularly reviewed to make sure it is up to date.
There are basically two aspects of fire protection: passive and active. Passive fire measures are the physical factors that contain or compartmentalise the fire, providing sufficient time for occupants to escape. Active fire measures include occupants having to hand fire extinguishers and fire blankets, and ensuring stairwells and fire doors are not restricted.
For those taking the DIY approach, government issued, step by step guidance is available: making your small paying guest accommodation safe from fire. The guidance includes illustrated examples and a template to help property owners create their own risk assessment.
However, the person carrying out the assessment should be a “competent person”, and it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure this is the case. This person does not need any formal qualification but they must understand the relevant legislation to be sufficiently competent to carry out the assessment and have undergone appropriate training in the general principles of fire safety and people’s natural instinctive reaction to fires.
Fire safety consulting is not a regulated industry, so property owners should be careful to appoint someone with proper experience of the type of property they are assessing. If you have a larger property, appointing a third party is recommended. Whatever the size of your property, if you do appoint a third party, keep appropriate records of any inspections and evidence of the recommendations being carried out.
Fire safety experts are keen to point out that a risk assessment is not simply a box-ticking exercise, but designed to protect the building and its inhabitants from the risks associated with fire.
What is the guidance?
In essence, the principle of the guidance is to identify the route of safe escape for guests in the case of a fire. The route must be kept clear and be checked on a daily basis. In addition:
- Paying guests should not be given candles;
- Smoke detectors are required in all bedrooms, corridors, staircases, lounges and dining rooms;
- Heat detectors, fire blankets and extinguishers are required in kitchens;
- Alarms must be supplied by mains electricity and have tamper-proof batteries;
- Alarms must be sufficiently loud as to awaken someone;
- Alarms must be tested weekly;
- Alarms and detection systems should be serviced every six months;
- Doors must not require a key to open from the inside;
- All doors along the route of escape should be fire doors that take over 30 minutes to burn, with the exception of bathrooms, toilets and cupboards;
- Front doors should be installed with an automatic door closer;
- Guests should be told to close doors when asleep;
- Doors and door closers must be tested weekly to ensure they open and close correctly;
- Night lights should be provided on stairs or rechargeable torches provided;
- Escape lighting should be tested annually;
- Furniture should comply with Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 as amended. Compliance will usually be included on furniture labels;
- Electrical installations should be inspected every five years and regularly tested;
- Gas appliances should be checked annually;
- Portable heaters should be checked regularly;
- Stairway walls in a multi-storey home should be fire resistant;
- Escape routes should be lit with artificial lighting, particularly on staircases.
Further detailed guidance is expected to follow once the rules come into force.