Meaning of responsible person

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 25 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 3:30, 25 Mehefin 2020

The fire safety order places the onus on the responsible person to identify and mitigate fire risks. For the most part, it engages responsibility for fire safety in line with the extent of control over a premises or part of a premises. That is the underlying principle.

In multi-occupied residential buildings, the leaseholder of a flat is unlikely to be a responsible person for the non-domestic premises. The exceptions to this would be where they own or share ownership of the freehold, as is acknowledged in new clause 4. However, the leaseholder can be a duty holder under article 5 of the order. This will be determined according to the circumstances in any particular case. This Bill does not change that arrangement; it does, of course, clarify that the order applies to the flat entrance doors. Depending on the terms of a lease or tenancy agreement, responsibility to ensure the door complies with the requirements of the order could therefore fall to the responsible person for the building, having retained ownership of the doors, or the tenant or leaseholder as a duty holder. The lease can also be silent.

Legislating for the removal of the leaseholder as a responsible person, or indeed duty holder, would undermine the principles of the order. It could leave a vacuum when it comes to responsibilities under the order, and therefore compromise fire safety. However, as part of our intention to strengthen the fire safety order, we will test further some of the relevant current provisions of the order with regards to flat entrance doors in order to support compliance, co-operation and, if necessary, enforcement actions. The NFCC has offered to support these considerations; again, the fire safety consultation is the right place for us to take such matters further. The Government are committed to ensuring that sufficient guidance and support is given to those regulated by the order. That is why the Home Office, working alongside our stakeholders, has established a guidance steering group that will be responsible for recommending, co-ordinating and delivering a robust and effective review of all the guidance provided under the order.

Article 9 of the fire safety order currently requires all responsible persons or duty holders to complete a “suitable and sufficient” fire risk assessment to ensure the fire safety of the premises for which they are responsible. Where there are multiple responsible persons in one premises, the order requires them to co-operate and co-ordinate with all other persons in order to enable compliance

“with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on them by or under” the fire safety order. A responsible person is also required to

“take all reasonable steps to inform the other responsible persons concerned of the risks to relevant persons arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.”

I wish I could extemporise the technical detail for the hon. Member for Hammersmith; sadly, even that is beyond me. The intention of the articles is to ensure a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is completed that considers and accounts for the impact that other parts of the premises may have on the fire safety of the building as a whole. From the responses to the 2019 call for evidence, we acknowledge the difficulties faced by responsible persons in complying with the duty to co-operate. We have considered in much detail the responses provided in the call for evidence on co-operation, and we have developed proposals to address these issues.

The fire safety consultation will set out specific proposals to address those and other issues raised in the 2019 call for evidence, and it is of the utmost importance that the fire risk assessments provide robust and accurate assessments of the fire safety of a premises as a whole, regulated by the order. That is why we want to ensure that the steps we take are informed by the people they will impact, and that they can have a say on how best we can address the issues raised from the call for evidence. I will, however, ask officials to reflect on the comments that have been made this afternoon, and to ensure that they and any additional issues that have been raised are incorporated in the consultation. On that basis, I hope the new clause will be withdrawn.