Public register of fire risk assessments

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 25 June 2020.

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Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:00, 25 June 2020

New clauses 1 and 2, which stand in my name, are fairly self-explanatory. They both call for a public register: one for assessments, and the other for assessors. The Hackitt review said that risk assessments should not only be held by building owners, but be kept centrally with a public body such as a Government-appointed regulator. Chapter 4 of the Hackitt review refers to

“the need to rebuild public trust by creating a system where residents feel informed and included in discussions on safety, rather than a system where they are ‘done to’ by others… The interim report recommended that fire risk assessments should be carried out annually and shared in an accessible way with residents.”

For something as vital as fire safety, that information should be readily accessible to current and prospective residents of the building, both for public trust and for the sake of enforcement. Of course, the most accessible way to present such assessments is on a public register. If the Government are not minded to support new clause 1, I would welcome assurances that they intend to introduce such a public register at some point.

New clause 2 would create a public register for fire risk assessors. Of the two clauses that I have tabled, this is by far the more urgent. We heard shocking evidence this morning from the FBU that there are still people calling themselves fire assessors who are going out and conducting fire assessments without being qualified to do so. The witness gave the example of a member of the union who died in a building that had reportedly been assessed by one of these non-qualified fire assessors. We cannot wait for the public register of fire risk assessors; we need it now. The practice by those who are not qualified must stop.

In 2018 the London Fire Brigade raised the issue of assessor numbers. The Fire Safety Federation talked about fears that there were overwhelming demands for ESW1 surveys. It is clear that most mortgage companies now require the ESW1 certificate before lending. Feedback from my constituents, from management agencies and from local government indicates that there is a severe shortage of professionals across the country who are insured to sign off the new survey. A new public register would not only help to build trust, but show Government and industry how many fire assessors we need to train. From the questions we asked this morning, it was clear that the current number of assessors is between 400 and 50,000. Those were the numbers we were given, which is why it is so important that we have a public register and that we have it now.

My constituents have told me about delays of between 12 and 18 months in getting ESW1 surveys, putting their lives on hold and leaving them in constant fear of living in a dangerous home. That is made all the worse for my female constituents who are pregnant and living in such homes, as well as those who fear a loss of income as we head into a pandemic recession.

My final point is that there is a precedent for both these public registers. We have a register for homes, in the form of the energy performance certificate, which operates in the same way. EPC certificates are publicly available on a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government website. There is a register for domestic energy assessors and for energy performance certificates, so there is a precedent for such registers to exist. It is a simple proposal that could be adopted in exactly the same way, but for fire safety, which, from a safety perspective, is far more vital.