Headlines: January 12th, 2004

The Local Government Association is warning that some of the country’s most vulnerable tenants will still be at risk of death or serious injury from fire in spite of new safety measures proposed under the Housing Bill. The LGA wants the fitting of sprinklers to be made compulsory in high-risk bed sits and other houses in multiple occupation.It is warning that new powers to boost protection for HMO tenants do not go far enough to counter the risk from domestic fires even though figures show that 35 per cent of all fire deaths and 39 per cent of all fire injuries occur in this type of accommodation. It points to statistics showing that in 2001 alone there were more than 22,500 fires in HMOs, causing 116 deaths and more than 4,700 injuries.

Proposals in the Housing Bill mean local authorities will be in charge of a licensing scheme to ensure greater protection for tenants of multiple occupied properties. The LGA, though, is calling on the government to give local authorities the power to withhold licenses unless sprinklers are placed in the highest risk properties and to introduce a set of national fire safety standards for HMOs.

It also wants the definition of an HMO to be widened to ensure all vulnerable tenants can be protected. The new powers currently apply only to properties above three storeys and in which at least five people live. That, the LGA believes, excludes a large number of people who are at risk.

Cllr Jane Hobday, chair of the LGA fire service executive, said it was society’s poorest and most in need who suffered the most in fires. HMOs were home to some of the most vulnerable residents, including those with mental health problems, drug or alcohol dependency and learning difficulties.

“The Housing Bill must not become a missed opportunity. Central government must give local authorities the opportunity to tackle these preventable deaths and injuries by amending the Bill to introduce mandatory sprinkler installation in high-risk properties. This is the most effective way to counter the threat of fire in HMOs and prevent lives being lost,” she said.