Comment by: Anthony Williams
Focus area: Fire safety regulation
Regulator concerned: Fire safety (Fire Authority)
Our experience has, like most social housing providers, been mixed. We deal with all three Fire Service Authorities in Wales and find Fire Safety Officers to be polite and professional. However, inconsistency in interpretation of the order from officer to officer can be frustrating, confusing and lead to unnecessary expense and inconvenience. Particular areas of current concern are:
• mobility scooters stored in common parts; some officers are not prepared to accept our assessment of risk and insist on the removal of scooters. It would be helpful to have explicit guidance published on what is permissible as an overly cautious approach by some officers could result in much unnecessary distress, inconvenience and expense to residents.
• residents in sheltered accommodation; some social landlords have had enforcement notices issued because some residents may have restricted mobility. It is vital to recognise that sheltered accommodation is about independent living and is very different to a care home. Whilst some residents in sheltered accommodation will be very elderly and have slow or restricted movement, few are likely to be completely immobile. A general requirement for staff to be available twenty four hours a day to evacuate buildings in case of emergency just because a scheme is designated as sheltered is both excessive and impractical. More regard should be given to the circumstances of individual residents rather than the general nature of a scheme, and there should be a consistent approach to immobile residents, whether they be in general needs or sheltered accommodation, a tenant or an owner occupier. Other factors to consider ought to be the measures in place to contain fire and smoke within a premise, and the location of immobile residents within a building. These points also apply to extra care schemes, which again are independent living schemes rather than care homes, though there will be some care staff presence 24 hours a day. Managers of extra care schemes will generally try and ensure that there are a mix of low and medium dependency requirements amongst residents so that the limited number of care staff can cope. High dependency persons are likely to be few in number pending a transfer to a more appropriate facility such as a care home. Again due consideration needs to be given to the specific occupancy and fire containment measures in place within extra care schemes.
We make real efforts to build relationships with the Fire Safety Officers we deal with, and believe by doing this officers get a better understanding of our premises and their occupancy, and the way we operate, resulting in better outcomes for both our residents and our business.
We have in-house, trained and competent fire risk assessors who are experienced in both building maintenance and risk assessments. Fire Safety advice is also provided by an in-house health and safety team who monitor all relevant sources of information and guidance. We have found the latest LGA guide ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats’ to be extremely helpful though we consider that further clarity is still warranted in the application of the Regulatory Reform Order to sheltered accommodation and extra care schemes.