In January, Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 9980:2022 came into effect, a standard clarifying the regulations relating to fire risk assessments of the external walls and doors (FRAEWs) of multi-occupancy, multi-storey properties.
FRAEWs inform overall fire risk assessments, which are obligatory under the Fire Safety Act to identify fire risks in existing buildings. These are distinct from assessments under an EWS1 form, which are not mandatory but inform lenders for valuation purposes.
FRAEWs are the duty of whoever is responsible for a building and consider the fire precautions that must protect those in or near a building.
The available guidance for assessors has historically lacked clarity and proportionality, sometimes resulting in assessors creating unnecessary costs for leaseholders and property owners by recommending remedial action that is disproportionate to risks posed by, for example, external cladding.
This new PAS aims to clarify existing guidance and standardise FRAEWs to avoid this heavy-handedness by detailing the proportionate response where a FRAEW identifies a fire risk. The government hopes it will “restore common sense to the assessment of building safety” and address the concerns of leaseholders billed for removal of unsafe cladding.
However, the PAS does not fully guarantee reduced costs for leaseholders or property owners. Rightly, action is still required where external walls fail to meet fire safety standards, requiring those responsible to remedy these shortcomings. This can result in crippling costs for leaseholders, even though these bills now look set to be capped. Even if the guidance leads to a general reduction in the cost of remedial works, savings may not be passed on to leaseholders, particularly those already saddled with increased service charges.
The PAS aims to simplify the FRAEW process. However, at 193 pages long, its length may disincentivise assessors from applying up-to-date, cost-efficient guidance.
It is essential that these issues are resolved quickly. With many leaseholders trapped in potentially unsafe accommodation and facing astronomical bills for remedial works, delays in resolution could be disastrous. Safety is the priority, but five years on from the Grenfell tragedy, who pays for it?
Sarah Rock is a senior associate at law firm Fladgate