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Housing

Smoke alarms will finally be required in social housing – almost five years after Grenfell

The Westminster government announced social housing tenants will be offered the same protection as private renters – six years later.

All social homes in England will be legally required to be fitted with smoke alarms under new government rules – almost five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster showed the deadly fire risks tenants face.

Housing providers will be required by law to install smoke alarms in all social housing after changes were announced to the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations.

The legislation brought in the same protection for private rented tenants when it came into force in October 2015 but social housing tenants have had to wait six years for smoke alarms to become a legal requirement.

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“It is fundamentally right for people to feel safe in their own homes – an issue I’ve advocated for many years,” said housing minister Eddie Hughes.

“I’m proud that the new rules being proposed will ensure even more homes are fitted with life-saving alarms. Whether you own your home, are privately renting or in social housing – everyone deserves to feel safe and this is an incredibly important step in protecting those at risk.”

Social housing campaigners have welcomed the reform but expressed frustration that it has taken years for tenants to be protected following Grenfell.

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A lack of working smoke alarms was one of a catalogue of failings that led to the 2017 disaster, which killed 72 people.

“I welcome this reform and is a step in the right direction for social housing tenants,” said social housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa told The Big Issue. 

“With that being said I can’t ignore my own frustration at the fact this wasn’t done sooner. Especially after the Grenfell disaster, you would’ve expected this to be brought in straight away. 

“I’m glad it’s happening but it’s clear social housing tenants and their homes were never a priority.”

Meanwhile, the Social Housing Action Campaign’s Suz Muna said the wait social housing tenants have endured is “appalling” but the reforms must form part of a wider move to improve fire safety.

The cost of the new requirements to install and maintain alarms will fall to property owners, according to the government, but Muna has warned tenants could still see rises in their service charges.

“Why should social housing tenants have been less deserving of protection for the last six years when it comes to a critical safety issue?” said Muna.

“It’s appalling that it has taken so long and smoke alarms are just one part of the picture. Over the last six years, despite Grenfell, the market has been left to sort itself out and it hasn’t worked otherwise the government wouldn’t have needed to regulate to put very basic safety measures in place.

“The market is not capable of delivering on its own and we need much, much stronger regulation of landlords on all sorts of fronts with fire safety one of the most important.”

As well as the smoke alarm announcement, Hughes also revealed carbon monoxide alarms must be fitted in social and private rented properties with fixed appliances such as gas boilers or fires.

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Meanwhile, landlords and housing providers across the whole rental sector will be required to repair or replace smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once they are told they are faulty.

The regulation changes were initially proposed in a social housing white paper published last year in which ministers promised to drive up standards of social homes as well as boosting tenants’ ability to complain and regulators’ ability to take stronger action.

Hughes added: “Around 20 people are killed each year in accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and many more through house fires – but we know that simple interventions can stop these needless deaths.”

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