Smoke alarm plans branded 'shambolic' by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP
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A policy that requires all householders in Scotland to install interlinked fire alarms has been described by a Highlands and Islands MSP as "shambolic" – less than a fortnight before the new rules are due to come into force.
Labour's Rhoda Grant claims home-owners are being "caught on the hop" because of a lack of public information from the Scottish Government and she is calling for a further delay in the scheme.
Every house in Scotland must have interlinked fire alarms by the start of February. The new law has come about because of the Grenfell Tower blaze in London in 2017, and it applies to all Scottish homes.
Homes will need interlinked smoke alarms in the living room – or the room that is used most – and in every hallway or landing, and there has to be a heat alarm in the kitchen, all mounted on the ceiling.
However, there are fears that not enough people are aware of the imminent change, while concerns have been raised over the implications for home insurance.
Mrs Grant said: "The introduction of this new policy has been shambolic. It has already been delayed due to lack of publicity and yet again we find ourselves in a situation where people are being caught on the hop, because the Scottish Government has not provided enough information to householders.
"The Scottish Labour Party has again asked for a delay to publicise the change in order to allow adequate time for people to have these alarms fitted. This policy, which could be a lifesaver, has been so badly handled that it might be the only effect will be to have house insurance rendered null and void."
Maree Todd, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, pointed out that Scottish Government funding has been provided to help with the installation of alarms for older and disabled home-owners.
“This legislation was introduced after the Grenfell tragedy so that everyone can benefit from the same level of protection, whether they own their home or rent from a social or private landlord," Ms Todd said. "Because it is a safety measure, I hope most people will see the benefits of it.
“As with existing standards, the legislation allows some flexibility, and says work should be carried out within such a period as is reasonable in all the circumstances. No home-owner will be penalised for non-compliance.
“The Scottish Government has worked with insurance companies throughout the development of this legislation. They are aware of the upcoming changes to fire alarms from February 2022 and have indicated that insurers may ask a customer questions about whether the property is fitted with working fire alarms, but are not likely to ask questions about specific standards.
“Anyone who is unclear on their policy terms and conditions in relation to the new law in Scotland should speak to their insurer.
“Because some owners will have more difficulty, particularly with the option to fit alarms themselves, the Scottish Government has provided £500,000 additional funding for Care and Repair Scotland to provide help installing alarms for older and disabled home-owners.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said: “While the aim of this legislation is laudable, it has already been delayed because the target instalment date was unachievable. The new date for compliance is only weeks away and it is now clear that this is also unreasonable.
"The Scottish Government should show some understanding of householders’ predicaments that this legislation will cause and therefore delay again the instalment date so that people’s householder insurance does not become invalidated.”
Interlinked means that if one alarm goes off, they all do – so occupants will always hear an alarm wherever they are in the property. The cost is reportedly up to £400.
A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers said: “It will be for individual insurers to decide how they respond to the new standard – anyone who is unclear on their policy terms and conditions in relation to the new law in Scotland should speak to their insurer.
"Insurers will expect that households and businesses are compliant with any legislation on requirements for the property, such as a requirement to have fire alarms.
"They may ask customers questions about whether the property is fitted with working fire alarms, but are not likely to ask questions about specific standards.”
The charity Age Scotland warned that the costs would put added financial pressure on older people.
Its chief executive Brian Sloan said: “The deadline for the installation of interlinked fire and smoke alarms is once again looming, highlighting ongoing concerns over public awareness and the number of affected households who have been able to comply.
“The financial aspect of the new regulations has been a particular worry, especially for those falling just outside eligibility criteria for support. With the cost of energy, food and other essentials soaring, this additional cost will put pressure on an increasing number of older people already struggling to make ends meet.
“Last year, we welcomed news of Care and Repair Scotland receiving £500,000 in Scottish Government funding to help older and disabled people install these alarms. However, with latest available figures showing this funding has only helped 800 people across Scotland at a cost of £250k, it’s clear that the scale of financial help required by older households far outweighs the funding available.
“Delays to delivery and issues with supply of interlinked alarms are presenting yet more problems for households that have yet to meet the deadline.
"The Scottish Government has said there is flexibility in the current legislation. However, it has given no indication of what is deemed a ‘reasonable period’ to comply.
“There’s also still uncertainty regarding how home insurance policies may be impacted if people have not yet been able to install these devices, as well as how to prevent scammers and rogue traders from taking advantage of those worried about meeting the timescales for installation.
"Many older people have also expressed concerns over tradespeople having to enter their homes at a time when the Omicron variant is still rife.
“Without clarity at this late stage, flexibility or further extension of the deadline seems like the only way to ensure every household affected has the time and resources to make safe and affordable decisions to meet the requirements.”
Scottish Government guidance, updated in December 2021, states that it is the property owner’s responsibility to meet the new standards.
It says that by February 2022 every home must have:
- One smoke alarm in the living room or the room you use most
- One smoke alarm in every hallway or landing
- One heat alarm in the kitchen
All smoke and heat alarms should be mounted on the ceiling and be interlinked.
If you have a carbon-fuelled appliance – such as a boiler, fire, heater or flue – in any room, you must also have a carbon monoxide detector in that room, but this does not need to be linked to the fire alarms.
"If you are a private tenant, your landlord is responsible," the guidance continues. "If you are a council or housing association tenant, work is ongoing to make sure your home meets the new standards."
Either sealed battery alarms or mains-wired alarms can be used. Both types are interlinked by radio frequency and do not need wi-fi.
"If you use battery alarms, they must be sealed tamper-proof units and have long-life lithium batteries, which can be up to 10 years. You may be able to fit these types of alarms yourself and they do not need an electrician.
"Mains-wired alarms are cheaper but if you use them, they must be fitted by a qualified electrician and must be replaced every 10 years. You may also need to redecorate after fitting them.
"If you also need a carbon monoxide alarm and it is battery-operated, it must have a sealed battery for the duration of its lifespan."
Smoke alarms need to comply with the standard BS EN14604:2005 and heat alarms have to comply with BS 5446-2:2003, while the standard for a carbon monoxide detector is British Kitemark EN 50291-1.