RRO & the Fire Safety Act 2021

For building owners and operators, fire protection is a critical service and non-negotiable. It’s integral for the protection of people, building assets and infrastructure.

London’s largest Housing Association (G15) calculated that the fire safety spend will hit £3 billion over the next decade to make buildings safe and ensure compliance with the RRO. However, since the January 2021 announcement, the wider effects of BS 8629:2019, and related life safety legislation to follow, it is likely this figure will be pushed higher. The G15 build a quarter of all London’s new homes and own or manage more than 600,000 homes.

For progressive and forward-thinking organisations, the RRO and Fire Safety Act 2021 represents an opportunity to look beyond the obvious compliance hurdle of the new legislation. They will view reform as a strategic opportunity to more efficiently structure, design, and provide critical life safety, emergency evacuation, and fire protection.

The RRO and Fire Safety Bill 2021 is a genuine ‘game changer’ for it requires organisations to model impact, make strategic choices, and focus on shorter term tactical ‘wins’ to demonstrate compliance and meet heightened fire and life safety expectations. For some, it is a duty of care. For others, it is an associated health and safety cost of operating. But there are some for whom it will still be a confusing picture, which may lead to a decision to opt-out and exit ownership altogether in order to mitigate exposure.

This page is important for:

  • Building owners and managers operating multi-tenant buildings

  • Responsible persons for high-rise residential buildings and social housing

  • Commercial building managers operating assets of 18 metres and above (level will probably be revised down in future guidance)

The issues outlined here serve as a starting point to help you plan a response to fire safety and compliance. Getting it wrong could prove devastating to your organisation’s value, financial performance, and reputational risk.

Background to the RRO

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) has been amended to incorporate new fire safety legislation which rewrites the thinking around fire safety, fire protection, evacuation procedures and more.

The Fire Safety Act became law in April 2021 and imposes new obligations on everyone owning or managing a building containing more than one home. It covers “all non-domestic premises”. This law also applies to any person responsible for common areas of ‘multi-family housing units’ including those in high-rise apartment blocks.

Recent major fire incidents include:

These fires have resulted in a wider rethink of both fire safety and building safety.


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RRO & the Fire Safety Act 2021

The basics – what is the RRO?

The RRO legislates a minimum fire safety standard for all non-domestic buildings and defines who is responsible for compliance.

The RRO legislates a minimum fire safety standard for all non-domestic buildings and defines who is responsible for compliance.

A responsible person needs to take reasonable steps to both reduce the risk of fire in the building (or buildings) they are responsible for and to ensure that people can safely escape a building in the event of fire.

To comply with the legislation, specific fire safety duties should be undertaken including conducting a fire risk assessment and acting on identified risks to minimise potential harm to the occupants of their building.

Failure to comply may result in penalties ranging from fines to a prison sentence.


Prior to 2001, the UK legislation covering fire safety was confusing with around seventy different regulations in existence – the main ones being the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997/1999.

The abundance of laws and the conflicting nature of their application led to the legislation being reviewed and simplified, resulting in the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland were covered by separate legislation).

This is generally known as the RRO (but should not be confused with Rent Repayment Orders – which can also be referred to as RROs).

In April 2021, the Fire Safety Act (“FSA”), which amends elements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to clarify the application of the RRO, and assist in the enforcement of the RRO, passed its final reading in the House of Commons and became law. In summary, the FSA confirms that the RRO:

  • Applies to all non-domestic buildings
  • Includes buildings containing multiple domestic dwellings
  • Covers the building’s structure, external walls and common parts (including doors etc.)

The basics – how is it enforced?

Enforcement of the RRO is the responsibility of the local fire authority. On the ground, it is a Fire Safety Officer working for the Fire Service, reporting to the Chief Fire Officer, who undertakes inspections and recommends actions.

As they have to cover a wide geographical area containing an overwhelming number of premises that fall under the RRO, regular inspections are usually confined to high-risk premises such as care homes and high-rise residential buildings. This is now likely to intensify and broaden to other buildings – both newly constructed and older buildings requiring upgrade and remediation works. If poor fire safety management is reported or complaints are received, then investigations will follow.

If the responsible person has failed to comply, the most likely outcome is that they would work with that person to ensure compliance. This may consist of advice or a formal notice where appropriate.

If there is a genuine danger to life, then a restrictive notice may be issued – which might stop the premises being used for cooking or sleeping for example, or it could go further and ban people from using the building.

It may be possible to negotiate different approaches to compliance with the Fire Safety Officer, but if that is unacceptable, then the only recourse would be to make a formal appeal through the magistrate’s court.

More serious offences where there is a genuine disregard for life, may result in a fine or imprisonment. Fines could vary from £5,000 to an unlimited amount, and a prison sentence could be up to two years. In April 2021, a Derbyshire landlord was sentenced to eight months in prison for three breaches of the RRO.

If you previously had a fire certificate

Fire certificates issued under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 will no longer have legal status as this legislation is superseded by the RRO. You will need to make any necessary improvements to comply with the order and ensure that all physical precautions have been properly adhered to.

New building

If your premises were built to recent building regulations, then it should not be necessary to make major improvements to fire safety systems. However, in all cases you must still carry out a full risk assessment and keep it up to date to ensure that all the fire precautions in your premises remain current and adequate. It is important to keep up to date with Emergency Voice Communication and Fire Emergency Evacuation Plans for high-rise residential and commercial buildings, as guidelines around these are changing.

The basics – what am I expected to do?

The responsible person(s) must:

  • Carry out an annual fire-risk assessment, identifying any possible dangers and risks
  • Consider who may be especially at risk or vulnerable
  • Get rid of or reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left
  • Take other measures to make sure there is protection if flammable or explosive materials are used or stored
  • Create a plan to deal with any emergency and, in most cases, keep a record of your findings
  • Review your findings when necessary

If more than five persons are employed, then the fire risk assessment must be a written document.

Who can help?

It is the duty of the responsible person to organise a risk assessment, but that person is unlikely to possess all the necessary skills and competence to carry out a credible assessment. The responsible person may know the occupants of the building and the way it is being used, but they are likely to need the help of a suitably qualified fire safety expert to complete the assessment.

What buildings & premises are affected?

Even if you have taken steps to comply with building safety regulations over the years, you will need to reassess your response in the light of the amended RRO and new Fire Safety Act 2021.

The following buildings and premises are affected:

  • Offices and shops
  • Premises that provide care, including care homes and hospitals
  • Community halls, places of worship and other community premises
  • The shared areas of properties several households live in
  • Pubs, clubs and restaurants
  • Schools and sports centres
  • Tents and marquees
  • Hotels and hostels
  • Factories and warehouses
  • Commercial buildings 15 metres or taller

It does not apply to people’s private homes including purpose-built blocks of flats.

Who is responsible?

"Under the order, anyone who has control of premises or anyone who has a degree of control over certain areas or systems may be a responsible person."

For example, it could be:

  • The employer for those parts of premises staff could be in
  • The managing agent or owner for shared parts of premises or shared fire safety equipment such as fire-warning systems or sprinklers
  • The occupier, such as self-employed people or voluntary organisations if they have any control
  • A facilities manager, building manager, managing agent, risk assessor, surveyor, contract manager, building services manager, occupant safety and wellbeing officer, or any other person who has some control over a part of the premises and occupant wellbeing.

Although in many premises the responsible person will be obvious, there may be times when several people have some responsibility.

Reading this list, it is clear that responsibility is wide-ranging and comprehensive – even if you were not responsible under previous legislation, you may well be responsible now.

What does it mean for my organisation?

For an organisation that manages a large portfolio of properties, or simply a large complex of buildings, the challenges will be multiplied and a level of strategic thought and planning will be needed to ensure that the duties under the RRO and FSA are not only met effectively and demonstrably, but also efficiently and economically.

Key drivers of potential fire safety expenditure:

Key provisions driving cost
Description Financial impact
1. Size of building portfolio Number of buildings, residents housed and high-rise blocks ££££
2. Exterior construction and finish Type and provision of cladding and ignitable materials on site ££££
3. Height of building(s) 15 or 18 metres or more £ £ £
4. Number of residential and other doors Each residential / dwelling door / access point needs to comply £££
5. Compartmentalisation Extensiveness and multi-layered passive fire protection ££
6. Type of occupants / tenant profile Vulnerable occupants require additional protection and life safety controls £££
7. Fire alarm Type of fire alarm and need for central monitoring £ £ £
8. BS 8629 (Evacuation Alert System) The new standard setting out EAS to be used by Fire and Rescue Services for apartment blocks ££
9. Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP) & Formal Evacuation Alert System (EACIE) Nearly every business and residential block needs a FEEP and some require EACIE ££
10. Smoke Control System or Smoke Ventilation System New “Utmost Safety” obligations require some building systems to be enhanced ££
11. Training Fire safety, fire risk assessment, active fire management, fire protection, passive fire protection and safety management £

Strategic options and courses of action

Ace’s RRO and FSA model uses special criteria to determine the likely impact faced by organisations and their logical responses. Taking into account fire safety decision factors and choices, it is likely each organisation will pursue between one and four typical responses (see below).

Strategic Options Diagram

Modelling the impact of fire safety reform

Ace has developed a Diagnostic Review that enables all organisations to help understand the reform’s total financial impact and inform your life safety and specifically your fire protection strategy to improve financial results.

Potential effects for different industries

Commercial buildings are affected, not just residential. However, different sectors will be affected by varying financial, operating and reputational risk represented by Ace analysis.


The big issues

  • What changes do I need to consider for “utmost safety” and compliance with the RRO and FSA?
  • What is my exposure based on a fit-for-purpose fire risk assessment to post-Grenfell requirements?
  • How will building type, demographics, life safety and risk management factor into my costs?
  • How do I optimise my fire safety strategy to manage cost, compliance and reputational risk?

New choices

Fire protection technology is expanding to include Automist, fire-resistant glass and connected technology (IoT, AI, and Remote Monitoring) all of which may streamline fire prevention. Not only can building owners access new technology, they can also take short-term reactive or holistic responses.

They may choose to:

  • Create a long-term plan for exterior and related issues only
  • Fast-track tactical ‘no regret’ fire alarm communication and emergency evacuation systems
  • Add specific safety and wellbeing upgrades (e.g. contactless door controls) to protect the vulnerable

Better results

A Diagnostic Review will help building managers understand:

  • Impact of doing nothing
  • Impact of existing risk vs new standards
  • Financial modelling (big picture)
  • Impact on occupant safety and wellbeing
  • Advantages of FEEP and EACIE
  • Need to comply with BS 8629
  • Strategic considerations in a changing environment
  • Tactical ‘no-regret’ quick wins

Managing fire safety strategy in a changing environment

Cost increases associated with the RRO and FSA will dramatically impact value and capital expenditure unless organisations develop controlled and strategic game-plans tailored to their business, building types, demographics, life safety, and risk management.

While organisations may tend to focus on components of the strategy (such as compliance or cost containment), these siloed approaches are no-longer sufficient. Without a comprehensive near and longer-term fire safety strategy, organisations could find themselves at a disadvantage. They will be relatively unprepared for the path to implementing and meeting BS 8629 (Evacuation Alert System), Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP), and Formal Evacuation Alert System (EACIE) for example.

Strategic options and courses of action

There are several different approaches and there is no “one size fits all” solution. However, Ace expects most organisations to take one of four primary strategic options.

Pie Chart}

Based on an Ace 2021 survey of 25 Local Authority, Social Housing, Construction, and Building Management organisations, four possible approaches were identified: “Own interpretation and response”, “Tailored solution to comply”, “Wait and see”, or “Probably sale or exit of risk”. Ace advises that each option has its own pros and cons but that real costs and time spent on adherence will be far higher for organisations not taking a holistic view.

Strategic courses and options explained




'Own interpretation and response'

➔ Play by new rules

➔ Focus on exterior mainly

➔ Continue with ‘Stay Put’ advice

➔ Wait for Fire Authority updates

➔ Price what’s in-front of their nose

➔ Measured response

➔ Cautious

➔ Staged and contained £s

➔ Reactive

➔ Might miss bigger picture

‘Tailored solution designed to comply’

➔ Play on a new field

➔ Mixture of primary and secondary legislation considered

➔ Long game with tactical quick wins

➔ Belts and braces

➔ Calculated response

➔ Battle plan

➔ Significant, prioritised £s

➔ Brings occupants along

➔ Enhances reputation

➔ Larger spend

➔ Less control to create custom-designed occupant benefits

‘Wait and see (still deciding)’

➔ Aware of legislation

➔ Considering the options

➔ Applying for Fund contribution

➔ Asking tenants to pay up

➔ Kicks the issue down the road

➔ Preserves cash

➔ Non-compliant?

➔ Life safety could be compromised

➔ Reputational risk

‘Possible sale to exit risk’

➔ Pay and exit

➔ No-longer wish to meet more stringent and costly HSE controls and expenditure

➔ May result in significant savings

➔ Penalties are still payable

Right-sizing behaviours to fire safety and the direction of legislation

Whilst it’s clear there is no single solution, the implementation of BS 8629 (Evacuation Alert System), the requirements for an “utmost care” and Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP) and Formal Evacuation Alert System (EACIE), indicate that ‘stay put’ and other advice may change. Organisations will need to take a holistic approach to fire and life safety.

Simple, tactical ‘no-regret’ moves to demonstrate adherence

There are several tactical ‘no-regret’ moves that building owners and managers can pursue for smart, demonstrable fire safety compliance and to improve the security and wellbeing of occupants.

Building owners need immediate solutions to measurably improve fire and occupant safety, and to off-set negative inspection or reporting coverage. Make sure you discuss your building portfolio with The Fire & Resume Services early on and keep communications open.



Diagnostic Review

The responsible person should carry out a fire risk assessment or employ a trained person to do this work.

This will highlight any areas of non-compliance and provide documented assessment which is to be reviewed annually.

Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan

This should be discussed with stakeholders and The Fire & Rescue Service.

This will provide clear instructions to the relevant people

Emergency Lighting

To provide exit routes with battery backed up lighting if the Electricity supply fails

Easy exit from a building


To clearly identify exits, firefighting equipment and doors

For ease of exit from the building and an early warning

Fire Doors

These should have a good fire rating and close accordingly in the event of a fire.

This will highlight any areas of non-compliance and provide documented assessment which is to be reviewed annually.

BS 8629 (Evacuation Alert System)

Installed for the use of The Fire & Rescue Service in a fire event

Better evacuation for a building fire

Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP)

To be drawn up in conjunction with The Fire & Rescue Service to make a clear evacuation exit plan from the building

Easy evacuation and understanding of the plan in the event of a fire

Formal Evacuation Alert System (EACIE)

Must be installed in building higher than 18m by a competent company such as Ace

For ease of exit from the building and an early warning

Centralised Monitoring 24/7/365

Monitoring of a fire alarm & detection system at an ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre) to alert The Fire & Rescue Service and keyholders

Immediate response

When are these tactical ‘no-regrets’ solutions appropriate?

  • For organisations pursuing ‘Own interpretation and response’, ‘Tailored solution designed to comply’, ‘Wait and see’ or ‘Probable sale to exit risk’ options
  • At any stage of long or short-term strategic fire safety planning
  • For organisations under acute pressure to demonstrate actionable compliance and intent towards
  • improving and upgrading fire safety beyond exterior walls and adjoining structures
  • Where upgrades and remedial works are identified in fit-for-purpose fire risk assessments
  • While organisations await multi-year capital intensive funding for construction and infrastructure major works

How do ‘no-regret’ moves work to your advantage?

  • Non-disruptive – not based on lengthy finance multi-year plans
  • Consistent with primary and planned secondary legislation and intent within Draft Building Safety Bill
  • Flexible and scalable designed to meet precise building, occupant and compliance needs
  • Attractive pricing, terms, and conditions
  • Can help off-set negative feedback from occupants
  • Demonstrable investment in assets, occupant wellbeing and reputation

Five-stage process to compliance

In basic terms, there are five stages to RRO and FSA compliance.

1. Identify fire hazards

  • Sources of ignition
  • Sources of fuel
  • Sources of oxygen

2. Identify people at risk

  • People in and around the premises
  • People who are especially at risk

 3. Evaluate, remove or reduce, and protect from risk

  • Evaluate the risk of a fire starting
  • Evaluate the risk to people from a fire
  • Remove or reduce fire hazards
  • Remove or reduce the risks to people from a fire
  • Protect people by providing
  • fire precautions

4. Record, plan, inform, instruct, and train

  • Record any major findings and action you have taken
  • Discuss and work with other
  • responsible people
  • Prepare an emergency plan
  • Inform and instruct relevant people
  • Provide training

5. Review

  • Review your fire-risk assessment regularly
  • Make changes where necessary

Note: there are several steps that require action and that have cost implications. In the case of a large organisation, these are likely to be significant. If there are hazardous materials stored or used at any location covered by the risk assessment, then there is additional legislation that applies.

What’s the Timescale?

The legislation has been in the pipeline for some time and is now in place, so, in theory at least, businesses should have been prepared for this and be working on steps to demonstrate compliance. You could find yourself in trouble if you ignore the legislation and do nothing. So, it is important that you are able to show progress towards compliance. A good approach would be to create a response plan that divides a pathway to compliance into 

(A) Tactical no-regret moves (next 12 months)

(B) Strategic remedial and upgrade programme (1-3 years)

(C) Significant, structural, high-cost long term programme

How often?

A review must be undertaken annually or when a significant change to the building or its use takes place. Action should be taken where necessary.


Wait and see is not an attractive option

  • Sitting on the side-lines could leave an organisation behind, result in significant added costs, and, ultimately, risk occupant security, safety, and wellbeing as well as add financial and reputational risk. The safe bet is to adopt a proactive strategy now.

Reform offers a wider life safety reset for many organisations

  • Given the rolling up and amendment of the RRO, the FSA, the implementation of BS 8629:2019 and the Draft Building Safety Bill, it is clear what the direction of travel is. Organisations can get ‘stuck’ on exterior and associated works, and there is no escaping large-scale cladding issues. However, these are the tip of the iceberg. Just as pressing and important, are fire door inspections and upgrades, compartmentalisation and effective passive fire protection, connected fire alarms and 24/7 monitoring that reduce reliance on human decision-making, fit-for-purpose Evacuation Alert Systems, Fire Emergency Evacuation Plans and Formal Evacuation Alert Systems, together with appropriate remedials and training.

Building owners face a new reality from occupant expectations towards safety

  • ​​The Grenfell inquiry, Local Authorities and Local Fire Authorities are under intense pressure to improve advice, safety and systems that lead to better life expectancy and outcomes. ‘Stay put’ may hold but it may change for certain buildings and occupants. Regardless of this, progressive organisations are taking steps to demonstrably improve occupant safety (often prioritising the particularly vulnerable) by upgrading or adding contactless doors, Emergency Voice Communications, enhanced emergency lighting and new Emergency Evacuation Plans.

Three expected effects of fire safety reform

  • Greater focus on more effective fire protection, control, and emergency evacuation procedures
  • Will impact values and could slow the sales process until buildings are deemed safe
  • Will have significant potential effects on enterprise value. Organisations need to understand their life safety and specific fire safety costs and risks, and mitigate them by selecting an appropriate strategic response and tactical quick-wins to optimise effect and protect financial results

Know your options

  • Set a fire safety strategy. Implement it and bring all stakeholders along with you.

Without it, organisations are putting themselves in a reactive, risk-enhanced position which may be counter-productive.

Managing fire safety strategy in a changing environment

Managing life safety and specifically fire safety in the light of both the RRO and FSA can be summarised as follows. Whilst not exhaustive, this captures intent, current mood, appetite and reasonable interpretation of legislation and impending regulation, as of June 2021.

Group 29

Further reading & information

RRO & the Fire Safety Act 2021 briefing

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