NEW FIRE PRECAUTIONS REGIME from 1st October 2006
threatened B&Bs with an unnecessary £428 million cost burden
Many thousands of small B&Bs and Guest Houses in England and Wales have NOT since 1971 (when the Fire Precautions Act came in) been required to have a Fire Certificate, having under 6 bed spaces and no rooms above the first floor or below the ground floor. We would estimate that a very significant proportion - possibly the majority - of the 30,000 or so UK B&Bs must come into this category.
The new fire regulations (the RRFSO, or "Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order") came into force on 1 October 2006.
This new regime effectively brings ALL B&Bs into the ambit of the new fire regulations, with the onus on every owner to assess his/her own risk and responsibility, by carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA).
It quickly became clear that different Fire and Rescue Services throughout the country have different interpretations, and very different ideas about standards and enforcement.
As the explicit purpose of the RRFSO is "to make the law easier to understand and comply with" and reduce the burden of regulations on business, it was clearly not intended that the results would be more onerous for small businesses and householders than the previous regime - but in fact this did not prove to be the case in practice.
Many B&B owners were told by their local Fire Authority that they "must" instal fire precautions of the sort that would have been required under a current Fire Certificate, even though they would not have had to have a Fire Certificate before October 2006.
Many owners were finding in the first year or two of the new regime that:
the precautions demanded by fire inspectors in many areas are disproportionate to the risks posed by the premises and their use
the financial cost of compliance is disproportionate to their turnover and profits
the changes required by their fire department would compromise the character of their premises
the changes may be difficult to obtain planning/listed building consent for, and
they are told that the less costly precautions their own FRA indicated are not sufficient, and
the precautions required by their fire department are those designed for large commercial premises such as hotels
As a consequence, many B&Bs were closing or contemplating closure rather than complying, and (no doubt) still more were simply trading illegally, either by choice or (in most cases) out of ignorance of the new law. This situation was also a powerful disincentive to join a quality-assessment scheme, and indeed many are dropping out of such schemes, undermining the industry's objectives (shared by the Government) of increasing its quality standards.
Any wave of B&B closures would have an extremely negative effect on tourism, as much of the accommodation most in demand is the high quality, individual accommodation with personal service found in the "new generation" of small B&Bs.
The potential threat posed by the 2006 Fire Precautions regime - and the lack of awareness of the changes amongst B&B owners - was one of the reasons behind the moves to set up the Bed and Breakfast Association originally.
Figures released by the Scottish Government last November, when they published their revised Guidance for B&Bs (responding to industry concerns highlighted by our campaign), put the total additional "unnecessary" cost burden in Scotland alone at an average £14,286 per B&B business, which equates to a total unnecessary cost burden of £100 million in Scotland on the Scottish Government's own figures as a result of disproportionate enforcement of fire regulations on small B&Bs.
If the Scottish Government's figures (the only cost burden estimates released by any national Government) are a reasonable estimate for England & Wales too, the total unnecessary additional cost burden on our sector of 30,000 B&B businesses after 2006 has been £428 million, or one-fifth of the total gross turnover of our sector. If anything vindicates our urgent message to both Governments since 2006 that the burden we were faced with was disproportionate, these figures certainly do.
The BBA informs our members about this and other issues affecting them, and campaigns on behalf of B&B owners with the regulatory bodies and Government.
The BBA has been lobbying hard, on behalf of B&B owners, with the Government, local authorities and fire services to ensure that the original aims of making the regulations "easier to understand and comply with", risk-based, and proportionately, consistently and reasonably implemented, are delivered in practice. We have taken this up directly with the Fire Minister and his Department (the Department of Communities and Local Government), as well as the Tourism Minister and her Department (the Department of Culture, Media and Sport).
The Association launched and is a key backer of the "Fire Safety SENSE" campaign, which during 2009 started to show some real results in changing the way local fire authorities are interpreting and enforcing the RRFSO.
The Government distributed new official guidance in 2009 (produced with the input of the Bed & Breakfast Association and after pressure from the Fire Safety SENSE campaign's launch), and some Fire Authorities were already revising their practices and reviewing and withdrawing Enforcement Orders in the first quarter of 2009.
The Association is monitoring the situation and keeping up the pressure - and the Chief Fire Officers' Association called together all the Fire & Rescue Authorities in England & Wales on 21st October 2009 to address "consistency, proportionality and the status of guidance".
Scotland: new guidance set to save B&Bs "£100 million" in unnecessary cost
New fire safety guidance is set to reduce the financial and administrative burden on Scotland's estimated 7,000 bed and breakfast and self catering businesses by an average of £14,286 each - a total reduction in the cost burden on small accommodation businesses in Scotland of £100 million, on the Scottish Government's own figures.
The Fire Safety SENSE Campaign had highlighted concerns that previous fire safety requirements were complex and prohibitively expensive. The new guidance has been developed by the Scottish Government to "directly address these concerns" and will "maintain fire safety levels while reducing the average investment in safety equipment by over 90 per cent".
The new guidance will also ensure that all fire safety requirements are now applied "consistently as well as proportionately to the size of property".
B&B Association subscribing members have free access to information on the latest situation regarding the regulations, and to downloadable copies of the Government's various guidance booklets; these include the new booklet for B&Bs published on 18 November 2008, and the 147 page official "full guide" to Fire Risk Assessments - and subscribing members will receive information about the Association's discussions with the Government on the consisent and proportionate enforcement of the new regulations, including compliance guidance.
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