Updated on 9 February 2022 to include recent announcements by the Scottish Government.
SPICe has received a number of enquiries on changes to the law for smoke and heat alarms in homes. This blog addresses some of the most common questions received, including the types of alarms covered, costings and enforcement.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, the Scottish Government established a Ministerial Working Group to review Scotland’s building and fire safety regulatory frameworks. After a public consultation on fire and smoke alarms in homes, the Scottish Government announced its intention to strengthen the current standards in place for smoke and heat alarms in March 2018.
These measures, set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (Tolerable Standard) (Extension of Criterion) Order 2019, were agreed by the Scottish Parliament in January 2019. The Order extends the definition of the tolerable standard for housing to include:
- satisfactory equipment installed for detecting, and for giving warning of, fire or suspected fire
- satisfactory equipment installed for detecting, and for giving warning of, carbon monoxide present in a concentration that is hazardous to health.
The new standards were initially due to come into force on 1 February 2021. However, the Scottish Government extended the implementation date to 1 February 2022 due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
What is the Tolerable Standard?
The Tolerable Standard is a basic standard of house condition, set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (the ‘1987 Act’), that applies to homes in all tenures. It is the property owner’s responsibility to meet the standard.
A home that falls below the Tolerable Standard is considered to be unfit for human habitation. Local authorities have a duty to close (meaning occupation is not allowed), demolish or bring up to standard all houses which do not meet the tolerable standard within a reasonable time. The 1987 Act does not provide a definition of what a reasonable time period is – this would be for local authorities to decide.
What are the changes?
The Scottish Government’s statutory guidance for fire and smoke alarms defines in more detail the types of alarms that will meet the Tolerable Standard :
- one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes (normally the living room/lounge)
- one smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways and landings
- one heat alarm installed in every kitchen
- a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where there are fixed combustion appliances such as boilers and wood burners.
All heat and smoke alarms must be ceiling mounted and interlinked. Interlinked means that if one alarm goes off, they all go off.
Battery or mains-wired heat and smoke alarms can be used. Mains-wired alarms will require to be installed by an electrician and may also require a building warrant. Battery alarms must be sealed tamper proof units and have long-life lithium batteries. These do not need to be fitted by an electrician.
If a carbon monoxide alarm is needed and it is battery-operated, it must have a sealed battery for the duration of its lifespan.
To support implementation of these changes, the Scottish Government published a factsheet providing guidance for homeowners on the new standards.
How will these standards be enforced?
The extension of the Tolerable Standard does not impose a legal duty on owner-occupiers to comply with the new requirements for smoke and heat alarms. This means that owner-occupiers will not be breaking the law if they don’t comply and there are no penalties for non-compliance.
Instead, the duty rests with local authorities to ensure compliance with the standards in their area.
Local authorities have statutory powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard housing. In some cases, the powers allow local authorities to carry out the necessary work and recharge this to the owner. However, the Scottish Government is expecting local authorities to take a light touch approach to enforcement.
On 21 January 2022, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) published a joint statement on the enforcement of the new requirements.
The statement reads:
“local authorities will be taking a proportionate and measured approach to compliance taking individual circumstances into account as well as reflecting the evolving situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. No one will be criminalised if they need more time and there are no penalties for non-compliance. However, we would encourage everyone to install these alarms, which can help save lives.”
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government Shona Robison provided further clarification in her statement to Parliament on 19 January 2022:
“Through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities have said they will take a light-touch approach to the enforcement of regulations. Local authorities will not be knocking on people’s doors to check whether they have newly installed fire alarms, because we recognise that some people will take a bit longer, and they will have a reasonable period of time to comply.”
Local authority enforcement powers may also be applied to housing in the social or private rented tenures.
Unlike owner-occupiers, private landlords do have a legal duty to ensure that their properties meet the Tolerable Standard as this forms part of the Repairing Standard for privately rented properties.
The Repairing Standard is enforced by the right of tenants to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber). Penalties for non-compliance would be determined by the tribunal.
In the social housing sector, the new standards form part of the Scottish Social Housing Quality standard which is monitored by the Scottish Housing Regulator.
How much will these changes cost for property owners?
The Scottish Government estimates the cost for an average three-bedroom house which requires three smoke alarms, one heat alarm and one carbon monoxide detector to be around £220. This estimate does not include installation costs, as noted in the Scottish Government’s factsheet.
Any costs will be the responsibility of home owners and landlords.
What financial assistance is available for homeowners?
Through the Scheme of Assistance, local authorities have discretionary powers to provide assistance to homeowners (usually those who are unable to cover the cost of repairing and maintaining their homes) which can be in the form of information, advice, guidance or practical assistance. It is for a local authority to decide what kind of help should be provided in different circumstances, and this will be subject to local priorities and budgets.
The Scottish Government has provided £1m to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for fitting of interlinked alarms into owner-occupied homes where the individual or household are assessed as high risk through their Home Fire Safety Visit assessment process.
An additional £1m has been allocated to Care and Repair Scotland – £500,000 of this funding was announced on 31 January 2022.
To be eligible for support from Care and Repair Scotland householders must live in and own their own home, and it must have a council tax banding of A-C. They must also either be:
- of state pension age and in receipt of guaranteed Pension Credit, or
- have a disability and be in a support group for Employment and Support Allowance.
What is the Scottish Government doing to raise awareness of these changes?
The Scottish Government ran a marketing campaign from 19 August to 26 September 2021, with the aim of increasing awareness of the new standards. The campaign ran on TV, radio and various social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, alongside Care and Repair Scotland also featured in two additional videos on YouTube.
An analysis of the effectiveness of the marketing campaign was published by the Scottish Government in January 2022, the results of which were commented on by the Cabinet Secretary in her statement to Parliament:
“Public awareness of the changes to the regulations is now high. Over five weeks in the summer of 2021, the Scottish Government ran an intensive awareness-raising media campaign across television, radio and digital platforms. It reached 95 per cent of all adults across Scotland, with 85 per cent of them seeing the campaign and its vital public information message at least three times. In addition, more than 96,000 printed leaflets have been supplied to libraries across Scotland, we have regularly updated our dedicated website with information and advice, and we distributed an electronic toolkit of resources to key stakeholders.”
Will the new standards impact home insurance?
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government Shona Robison noted concerns on the effect of the new standards on home insurance policies in her statement to Parliament:
“I am aware of concerns about the validity of home insurance policies if compliance with the new legislation is not met, but I assure people that that is not the case. Throughout the legislative process, we have engaged proactively with the Association of British Insurers, which has ensured that its members are aware of the changes. It has stated that, although insurers might ask customers questions about whether their property is fitted with working fire alarms, they are not likely to ask questions about specific standards. Anyone who is unclear on their policy terms and conditions in relation to the new law should speak to their insurer.”
Consumer Advice Scotland’s website provides some further information on the position of insurers:
Will my Home Insurance be affected if my home doesn’t meet the new regulations?
Different home insurance policies will have different terms and conditions which a homeowner must comply with in order for their home insurance to be valid. If you are not sure how the new fire and smoke alarm requirements affect your policy, get in touch with your insurer to find out.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have said –
“We would encourage people to install interlinked alarms so that they can evacuate their home safely in the event of a fire. Our members are aware of the new regulations coming into force and are unlikely to invalidate a home insurance claim for existing customers who haven’t yet complied with the new law in Scotland. Anyone who is unclear on their policy terms and conditions should speak to their insurer.”
Will the new standards affect home reports?
When people market their home for sale they must provide prospective buyers with a Home Report. Buyers can use the information in the Home Report to help make decisions on whether they want to purchase the property and what price to offer.
At the moment, Home Reports don’t have to set out whether a home complies with the new fire and smoke alarm standards.
The Scottish Government’s factsheet states “Most home owners want to make their homes as safe as possible and compliance will in time form part of any Home Report when they come to sell their home.”
It is not yet clear when such a change to the Home Report might be made.
Kate Berry, Senior Researcher and Alisdair Grahame, Enquiries Officer
Blog Image: “Fire Alarm” by espensorvik is licensed under CC BY 2.0