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The Government has published its response to the consultation on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) in High-Rise Residential Buildings, which was originally prepared in response to specific recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report (recommendations 33.22(e) and 33.22(f)). These recommended that:
- the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required to prepare PEEPs for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised
- up to date information about these persons and their associated PEEPs be kept within a Premises Information Box.
The consultation, which closed in July 2021, included proposals to implement these recommendations; the PEEPs envisaged in the proposal were not to involve intervention by the fire and rescue service.
In total, the consultation received 382 responses. The FIA were one of the organisations to respond to the consultation.
The published response by Government reflects a statement by the Fire Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, in the House of Lords in April, which noted that the consultation had made clear the substantial difficulties of mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings. These difficulties related to "practicality, proportionality and safety".
The Government’s published response to the consultation makes it clear that, because of these difficulties, the Government will not, at the current time, make any legislative requirements for disabled people to be provided with PEEPs, nor any requirements for information on disabled people or their PEEPs to be kept in Premises Information Boxes (now described in the new Fire Safety (England) Regulations as Secure Information Boxes).
The position of Government is that, despite widespread support for PEEPs and the proposals outlined, there remain significant issues in implementing them, with regard to the three requirements for practicality, proportionality and safety.
The response particularly noted that:
“…general needs residential high-rise blocks will not always have staff in situ to support evacuation. In those cases where there are staff, it was clear that these will generally be few in number, not full time, and not qualified for the purposes of evacuating residents.”
“…evidence base for PEEPs is not sufficient to mandate their implementation in high-rise residential buildings at this stage.”
“…mandating PEEPs as described in the consultation at this time could in fact have a detrimental effect on those with certain protected characteristics”
“…compelling RPs to administer PEEPs at this point could prove counterproductive because it could increase the risks posed to vulnerable people”
The consultation did consider proposals that PEEPs could be implemented by neighbours and friends. However, the consultation response noted that all responses in respect of such proposals had concerns about their implementation, including a possibility that the good intentions of those who were willing to volunteer could increase the risks to those that the PEEPs were intended to help, as well as the volunteers themselves.
In 2020, BSI published a new code of practice on fire risk assessments for residential premises, PAS 79-2. Following a complaint from a group of disabled people regarding advice on disabled evacuation and PEEPs, BSI withdrew PAS 79-2, though, following representations from the FIA and the Institute of Fire Safety Managers, made it available on the BSI website with information on evacuation of disabled people redacted.
Part of the redacted material was a paragraph that stated:
“In general needs blocks of flats, it has, traditionally, been accepted that it is, normally, wholly unrealistic to expect the housing provider to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for all residents who might need assistance with evacuation in the event that it becomes necessary.” However, the paragraph noted the need for fire risk assessors to ensure that they monitored Government proposals in respect of PEEPs and the progress of any new legislation in this respect.
It now transpires that, currently, the Government has no proposals to make legislative requirements for disabled people to be provided with PEEPs. It is notable that information redacted in the PAS is entirely consistent with the Government’s response to the consultation.
In fact, contrary to misinformation on certain social media to the effect that means of escape for disabled people could be ignored, PAS 79-2 actually recommended that facilities be provided for disabled people to discuss and plan their evacuation in the event of fire, which is not even required in the Government’s response to the consultation, nor the new Fire Safety (England) Regulations, which implement many of the findings of the Phase 1 Report of the Public Inquiry.
As noted in the FIA Technical Bulletin on the status of PAS 79-2, in the opinion of the FIA, the redacting of this guidance by BSI is to the detriment of fire safety for disabled people in blocks of flats.
It is also interesting that the current Government position on PEEPs for high-rise blocks of flats is consistent with the guidance originally contained within the Local Government Association Guide “Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Blocks of Flats”, which has also been subject to major contention, such that, again, guidance on fire safety for disabled people has been redacted from the Guide, which is now available from the Government website.
Evidence given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry by an expert witness, Colin Todd, who is an FIA Board member and Chair of the FIA Fire Risk Assessment Council, with regard to PEEPs in general needs blocks of flats, in respect of the practicality of PEEPs, is also consistent with the Government’s response to the consultation on the subject.
As a next step, the Government has launched a new consultation on alternative proposals to support the fire safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised. This can be found at here.
From this new consultation, it would seem that the Government has not closed its mind to PEEPs, but, consistent with the guidance and opinions to which there is reference above, has been unable to identify any means for their provision that meet the test of practicality, proportionality and safety. The Government are willing to consider any proposals that would meet these three criteria, but the new consultation focuses only on blocks of flats with a simultaneous evacuation, with no proposals in relation to blocks of flats with a stay put strategy.
07 December 2023