The Fire Regulations
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 20,000 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 brought 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 has become 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 had not proved to be the case in practice in the first two years of enforcement after October 2006.
The Association 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 were a key founder member of the Fire Safety SENSE Campaign for those reasons.
We took this up directly with the Fire Minister and his Department (the Department of Communities and Local Government, "DCLG"), as well as the Tourism Minister and her Department (the Department of Culture, Media and Sport), and have worked with DCLG to help them produce a new guidance booklet for small accommodation providers, including small B&Bs. This was finally launched on 18 November 2008 - details are below.
In 2009 we started to hear of instances where Fire & Rescue Authorities were making the changes in their enforcement which the Government requires - for instance, Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service wrote to a B&B owner in January 2009 stating: "The fire safety guidance for small accommodation providers has recently been reviewed and a new guidance document was issued on 18th November 2008 titled 'Do You Have Paying Guests?'...
The impact of this new guidance has let to a review of existing [Enforcement] notices issued under the previous guidance to such premises. In the light of the work [the Suffolk B&B concerned had] already carried out coupled with the reduced standard in the new guidance it is felt that there remains minor deficiencies such that your management approach reduces the risk to a level that does not require any further action from this authority.
The existing [Enforcement] notice is to be withdrawn and replaced by a deficiencies notice that can be managed by [the B&B owner], in line with the new government guidance."
The Association hopes that this and other such recent examples mark a real shift in the way the RRFSO is being Enforced in England - if so, the work done by the Bed and Breakfast Associaton will have achieved a genuine reduction in the disproportionate burden of enforcement seen in the first two years of enforcement.
Latest Government Guidance - England & Wales
'Do You Have Paying Guests?'
The above link is to the Government's web page on the November 2008 guidance booklet about the new regulations, for small accommodation providers (eg B&B owners). This has been produced in consultation with industry bodies (including the Bed and Breakfast Association), and is more user-friendly than previous publications.
It includes a sample "Fire Risk Assessment" and a blank template.
The Fire Safety Minister told the Bed and Breakfast Association on 2nd October 2008 that "the Government expects [Fire and Rescue Authorities] to apply the principles of better regulation by carrying out their duties in an equitable, practical and consistent manner.
In practical terms, this means they are expected to act openly, in proportion to the identified risk and, wherever possible, to allow the [B&B owner] a reasonable timeframe in which to implement any fire safety improvements".
The Minister, referring to the above booket ("Do You Have Paying Guests?"), said: "The booklet has, through CFOA [Chief Fire Officers' Association] involvement, the support of the Chief Fire Officers throughout England. It is our belief that this booklet will help embed a practical, common sense approach to the enforcement of the [RRFSO regulations] by Fire and Rescue Authorities".
After the involvement of the Bed and Breakfast Association and other industry bodies in its drafting, "Do You Have Paying Guests?" is much more helpful to B&B owners than previous official Government guidance.
For instance, it specifically states the following:
"If your premises are similar to a family home, the fire safety precautions you will need to take are likely to be simpler than those needed for larger premises with more complicated layouts and staff."
"In many cases, you should be able to buy fire safety products for use in small premises from local retailers, such as DIY stores. These are likely to be less expensive than fire safety products which have been designed for larger and more complicated premises."
"What you need will depend on your business and your premises. The law does not require any particular measures to be in place. What it does say is that you must adequately manage the overall risk."
"Premises similar to a family home (i.e. two or three storeys) are likely to need an automatic fire detection system that runs from the mains electricity (with battery back-up) and consists of interconnected detectors.
Detectors will be needed in the staircase, corridors and bedrooms. This (technically known as a Grade D LD2 system) has been designed for domestic premises.
In the very smallest accommodation (no more than two storeys) which only has two or three guest bedrooms and short travel distances to a safe place outside, a connected system of detectors with a 10-year battery, or radio
interlinked detectors may be good enough. (Technically, this is known as a Grade F LD2 system). You may be able to fit a Grade F system yourself."
On 'Emergency Lighting', the booklet states: "If a fire knocks out the normal inside lighting, you should think about whether any ‘borrowed lighting’, for example from nearby street lamps, would be enough to allow people on the premises to find their way out.
If not, it may be acceptable, in small premises, to rely on rechargeable torches which come on automatically if the main supply fails. You should have one in each room with a sign that says what they are for."
On 'Fire Fighting Equipment', the booklet states: "One extinguisher on each floor near the stairs and a fire blanket in the kitchen should be enough in most small premises."
On 'Fire Escape Signs', the Government guidance for small B&Bs is "Signs are only required where they are needed. In small premises the escape route and the front door are likely to be obvious, so there may not be a need for emergency exit signs."
On doors, the Guidance is: "You should keep all doors which open on to escape routes closed, especially at night. This is very important in the kitchen. If you leave doors open, it is less likely you will escape safely, even if the room has a fire detector.
Although self-closing devices are a good way to make sure doors are closed, they can impact on the appearance and affect how you use the premises. If you decide these would be unsuitable, ‘in-frame closers’ or rising-butt hinges may be acceptable alternatives.
Doors need to be strong enough to hold back smoke and fire long enough to give you time to escape. For small premises, a reasonably solid timber door that fits well into its frame is likely to be good enough. Any internal hollow ‘egg-box’-type door would not offer adequate protection and should be replaced.
Exit doors, such as the front or back door, should always be easy to unlock and must not need a key to unlock from the inside. A simple Yale-type latch or thumb turn is usually good enough."
We think that you can see from these quotes that the official guidance for small B&Bs is now considerably more sensible and proportionate than the precautions which many fire officers have been demanding of some B&Bs before this new guidance was produced with the involvement of the Bed and Breakfast Association
The above link goes to the UK Government's web page on its official "Circular" of 18 November 2008 to all the Fire & Rescue Authorities, advising them that "Do You Have Paying Guests?" is contains the new benchmarks/guidelines for enforcement of appropriate fire precautions on small B&Bs.
This emphasises that the Government sees the "Do You Have Paying Guests?" leaflet as setting new benchmarks for fire authorities to follow in their enforcement of the regulations on small premises.
Fire Risk assessment Tool
The Government's official guidance on fire safety for small B&Bs is "Do You Have Paying Guests?".
All businesses, regardless of size, need to comply with the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety order 2005. To ensure your business meets this obligation you need to carry out a fire risk assessment.
Although only businesses with 5 or more staff are legally required to keep a written record, we recommend that you keep a record of your fire risk assessment as proof that you have fulfilled your legal obligations.
This Fire Risk Assessment Tool from VisitEngland can be used by all businesses with properties not exceeding three storeys (or 7.5 metres) in height. The tool is designed to give you step-by-step guidance through your assessment, helping you to identify risks, form an action plan and produce your written record.
Your assessment should be regularly updated and you should keep a copy off-site or online in case a fire does occur, as you need this to prove to your local fire brigade and insurance company that you did produce one.
For more information on your legal obligations regarding fire safety and fire risk assessments, read VisitEngland's Fire Safety Guidance.
To get started with VistEngland's online Fire Risk Assessment Tool, click on the "Get Started" button below:
Latest Government Guidance - Scotland
In Scotland, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 applies and although the legislation is different to its England & Wales counterpart, broadly the same issues apply and very similar problems have emerged of disproportional enforcement.
(The "RRFSO" described above is the Westminster (UK) legislation, and applies only to England and Wales.)
New fire safety guidance for Scotland published in June 2010 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 Bed & Breakfast Association's Fire Safety SENSE Campaign had highlighted concerns that previous fire safety requirements were complex and prohibitively expensive. The new guidance was 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".
Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing urged the tourism sector to support the proposals:
"The Scottish Government has listened at length to business owners' concerns and proposed a solution that reduces red tape and reduces cost while ensuring their paying guests are safe from the ever-present risk of fire."
An independent analysis compares the average cost of compliance under the new guidance at £1,090 per B&B, compared with £15,376 under the previous guidance - a saving of over £14,000 in the compliance burden per B&B, according to the figures published by the Scottish Government.
For more detail, see the Scottish Firelaw Website
The new Scottish guidance document can be read, downloaded and/or printed below:
Practical Fire Safety Guidance
(pdf file, 590kb, 14 pages)