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Fire safety

This page explains what you can do to minimise the risk of fire in your home. It looks at your landlord's responsibilities and what you can do if you think your home isn't safe. If you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO), your landlord has to make sure there are adequate fire precautions and escape routes.

How can I keep my home fire safe?

Whether you're a home owner or a tenant, there are certain simple precautions you should always take, to minimise the risk of fire in your home.

Your local Fire and Rescue Service can advise you on household fire precautions. Most will offer you a free home fire safety check and some will provide and fit smoke alarms in your home for free. You can find the telephone number of your local Fire and Rescue Service in the phone book or on the Don't Give Fire A Home website.

Fit a smoke alarm

Make sure your home is fitted with at least one smoke alarm. Smoke alarms are cheap and easy to install, and can be bought at any DIY or electrical shop for as little as £5. Make sure you buy an alarm that meets British Standard 5446: Part 1, and remember to test the batteries regularly to check they're still working. Most Fire and Rescue Services will provide and fit smoke detectors for free in domestic homes.

Minimise the risks of electrical fires

There are several things you can do to help prevent electrical fires, including:

  • unplugging appliances that aren't in use
  • never overloading adaptors with too many plugs
  • getting electrical appliances tested by an approved contractor.

The page on electrical safety has more advice on this.

Be careful with heaters, candles and smoking

  • Keep heaters at a safe distance from flammable materials and always unplug electrical heaters when not in use.
  • Never cover heaters, for example by draping washing over them.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Never leave matches where children may find them.
  • Never empty a hot ashtray into the bin - wet the contents first or wait until it's completely cold.
  • Never smoke in bed.

Plan a fire escape route

Plan what you would do if there were a fire in your home and always keep the escape routes clear. Make sure everyone in your home is familiar with the escape plan. If the main exit from your home locks with a key, make sure the key is always easily accessible and everyone in your household knows where it's kept. Your local Fire and Rescue Service will help you produce a fire plan for you home - give them a call to find out more.

What does my landlord have to do?

By law, your landlord is responsible for providing fire detection equipment for your home, such as a smoke alarm. There should be at least one smoke detector on each floor of the property, and if the alarms are installed after September 2007, they should be mains powered rather than battery powered.

Your landlord also has a general duty to keep your home fit for you to live in and to ensure that it doesn't endanger your health. This includes ensuring there are no fire hazards in your home, such as loose wiring or dangerous stairs.

If your landlord refuses to provide a smoke alarm or you feel there are fire risks in your home, you can take action to make sure they put things right, either by applying to the private rented housing panel (PRHP) or by contacting the council's environmental health department (see 'getting help from the council' below).

Landlords of houses or flats that are occupied by more than two households (houses in multiple occupation, or HMOs) have to make sure there are adequate fire precautions and escape routes (see below).

Fire safety in HMOs

You may be protected by fire safety laws if you live in an HMO. An HMO could be:

  • a house split into separate bed sits
  • a house or flat share, where people have separate tenancy agreements
  • a hostel
  • a bed and breakfast or hotel which is not just for holidays.

What fire precautions are needed?

HMO landlords have to ensure there are adequate fire precautions (including alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets) and fire escape routes. These must be well maintained and adequate for the number of residents and the size of the property.

What does my landlord need to provide?

HMOs should be fitted with fire warning systems such as fire alarms and heat or smoke detectors. These should be placed throughout the building but particularly in escape routes and areas of high risk, such as kitchens. The fire warning system should be serviced and checked regularly.

Fire equipment such as extinguishers and fire blankets should be provided. There should be at least one fire extinguisher on each floor and a fire blanket in every shared kitchen. These have to be checked periodically and the correct sort of extinguisher must be provided. It's up to you to make sure you know how to use the fire blanket and fire extinguisher in an emergency.

What means of escape from fire should there be?

HMOs should have an escape route that can resist fire, smoke and fumes long enough for everyone to leave (usually at least 30 minutes). This could be an external fire escape, or internal stairs, corridors or walkways that are specially constructed or treated to resist fire. All the walls, ceilings, floors and partitions along the escape route must be fire resistant. All the doors leading to the escape route must be fire resistant and must close automatically.

What can I do if my landlord doesn't comply?

If you live in an HMO and you think your landlord is not fulfilling their responsibilities, contact your local council or Fire and Rescue Service. The council can:

  • inspect the property to see if your landlord is carrying out their responsibilities
  • write to the landlord or manager of the accommodation and give them a list of what needs to be done
  • serve a legal notice telling the landlord or manager that they must do certain things to rectify the bad conditions
  • arrange to carry out any necessary repairs and then get the money back from the landlord
  • prosecute the landlord for breaking the conditions of their licence. The landlord can be fined and their licence can be suspended or revoked.

The page on HMOs explains more about action you can take if your HMO accommodation doesn't reach the required standards.

Getting help from the council

If fire hazards in your home are endangering your health and your landlord is refusing to put things right, you may be able to get help from the council's environmental health department.

What can the environmental health department do?

The council's environmental health department has to inspect and take action to sort out disrepair that is causing a 'nuisance'. 'Nuisance' has a specific legal meaning here that's different from its everyday meaning. A statutory nuisance is something which:

  • affects your health
  • causes a problem for the public
  • disturbs people in any neighbouring property
  • makes your home unfit for you to live in.

Examples of statutory nuisance affecting fire safety include:

  • dangerous electrical wiring
  • dangerous staircases
  • piles of rubbish obstructing the means of escape.

If the environmental health department decides that the fire hazards could affect your health, it can issue your landlord with an abatement notice ordering them to put the problem right.

The section on repairs in private rented housing has further information on getting help from the environmental health department and what you can do if the council won't help you.

What if I rent my home from the council?

The council can't issue itself with an abatement notice, which means that this course of action is not open to council tenants. However, if you're a council tenant and you're concerned about fire safety, you may be able to apply to the sheriff court for an abatement order instead.

Fire safety and furnishings

Any upholstered furnishings provided by your landlord should be fire resistant. This applies to all landlords, including private landlords, HMO landlords and council landlords.

Upholstered furniture includes:

  • sofas and armchairs
  • beds, headboards and mattresses
  • sofa beds and futons
  • nursery and children's furniture
  • loose and stretch covers for furniture
  • cushions and seat pads
  • furniture in new caravans
  • garden furniture that's used indoors.

There should be a symbol on your furniture to state that it is fire resistant - you can find out more and see examples of the labels. If the furnishings in your home do not appear to be fire resistant, get in touch with your local trading standards office, which can take action against your landlord.

What should I do in an emergency?

If a fire breaks out in your home:

  1. Get everyone out.
  2. Stay out.
  3. Call the Fire and Rescue Service - dial 999 free from any phone.

Other things to remember:

  • If possible, close the door of the room containing the fire, and close all doors behind you as you get out.
  • If you need to open a closed door, check to see whether it feels warm first - if it does, there may be fire behind it so don't open it.
  • If there's a lot of smoke, stay as low to the ground as you can and cover your nose and mouth with a cloth.
  • If you need to break a window to get out, cover the edges with a cloth so you don't cut yourself when you climb out and throw some bedding out to cushion your fall.

You can find more detailed on advice on the Don't Give Fire A Home website.

What if I'm injured or my property is destroyed by fire?

If you are injured in a fire or your property is damaged, you may have a right to take legal action against your landlord, or anyone directly responsible for negligent work. Bear in mind that there are time limits - for example, if you want to sue your landlord for negligence, you must start the action within three years of being injured. Get advice from an adviser at Citizens Advice or a solicitor at a law centre or independent firm if you're considering this course of action.

Where can I find out more?

The Scottish Government produces two useful leaflets on fire safety:

The Don't Give Fire A Home website has lots of useful advice on minimising the risks of fire, including information on safety in the kitchen, how to choose and use smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and fire blankets and how to create an escape plan.

The important points

  • Your local Fire and Rescue Service can advise you on household fire precautions.
  • Make sure your home is fitted with at least one smoke alarm (if you rent privately, then your landlord is responsible for this).
  • Any upholstered furnishings provided by your landlord should be fire resistant. This applies to all landlords
  • Plan what you would do if there were a fire in your home and always keep the escape routes clear.

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