1.1. The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 were placed on the statute book on 18 May 2022, and came into force on 23 January 2023. The regulations implement the majority of those recommendations made to government in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report which require a change in the law.
The Building Safety Act has created yet another opportunity for dubious jobsworths to take over our buildings.
Agents are now adding additional clauses to their management contracts that can give them the right to appoint fire safety experts – at their discretion – without asking or consulting the directors who appoint them.
In self-managed blocks it is particularly important to watch out for attempts to erode directors’ authority.
If leaseholder-controlled blocks agree to this type of clause, then your directors could lose all control over who, when and how much the agent commits to in terms of fire safety, paid from the service charges.
The explanation will be complaince with the Building Safety Act, but that is not something that need be addressed in the management contract.
Management Contracts are often presented to RTMs and RMCs as a fait accompli: they should not be, and directors need to strike these clauses out and make sure that the managing agent notes the amendment.
The fact that this issue exists should hopefully act as a spur for leaseholder directors carefully to scrutinise management contracts, at the outset and on renewal. Otherwise they could sign up to powers giving agents a licence to act without specific authority.
Martin Boyd, chair of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, adds:
As the impact of the Building and Fire Safety Acts begin to take effect and the role of the Health and Safety Executive imposed building regulator starts to role out, we are in a period of huge instability. All this comes as the result of government absenting itself from reliance on its own regulations.
Now nobody can be certain what they should and should not be doing while new standards and rules bed in.
On an almost monthly basis, these are rules that keep changing with new guidance emerging from different departments with a worrying lack of awareness of what may have happened in other parts of government.
Some of the worst aspects of civil service “ivory tower thinking” still dominate.
Even within departments, those responsible for one set of issues do not appear to be checking with other officials and groups whether their decisions create what they call “unintended consequences”, or what might be more correctly described cockups.
Very obviously many managing agents are nervous and, unfortunately, some providers are seeing the changes as a money-making opportunity.
All RMC and RTM sites need to work constructively with their agents. Managing agents should not be asking their customers to sign a blank cheque on safety issues and RMC and RTM’s must take notice of the professional advice they get from the agent and their technical advisors. We have to get back to having proportionate and pragmatic solutions going forward.
It is also critical at this time that all RMC/RTM boards understand that they operate as “Non-Executive Directors”, or NEDs. Even if a director holds a relevant skill set s/he should not be taking executive decisions alone. The role of the RMC/RTM directors is to have strategic oversight of the managing agent.
At best, it will take at least two and possibly five years before things settle down. We are still seeing too many providers protect their own back first, and worry about the consequences second. Too many government agencies throw out rules without understanding how they interact with the new rules created by other agencies.
Before your managing agent insists that you have to pay to have someone inspect your flat front door, ask where in the guidance it says that the leaseholder is not qualified to self inspect.
The fire door industry seems to be seeing the legislation as its way to print money.
In 2019, the Fire Door Inspection Scheme found that 76% of the fire doors it inspected were “condemned” as not fit for purpose. Somehow most of these doors could be resurrected, so lets hope FDIS use slightly more moderate language. For many fire doors in modern blocks a door may need a slight adjustment not replacement. However, some social landlords seem to think differently and replace everything at huge expense.
After nearly two months, we are still waiting for Southwark Council to respond to a query about replacing a front door at a cost of £2,267 which was then shared among the seven flats in the block. Southwark argued to the leaseholder it felt it was cheaper to spend £2,267 rather than to replace a single piece of broken glazing on the existing front door.
Southwark council wrote:
“It is believed that this [replacing the door] is a more economical option that than replacing the damaged glazing, which would entail sourcing the glazing, cutting it and fitting it in accordance with current standards by a suitably qualified person.”