Is your home a firetrap?

Flat owners may be lulled into a false sense of security that their block has been the subject of a fire risk assessment while forgetting to take a few basic precautions to protect themselves and their families.

The freeholder of your block has a number of legal obligations as far as health and safety is concerned. These include carrying out a fire risk assessment that needs to be periodically reviewed. As a result of this a number of protective measures may be in place for your block. In addition, the electrics should have been inspected in the communal areas and any communal boilers checked for gas safety.  However, what flat owners may not always consider is that all of this only applies to the communal parts of the block. Responsibility for fire safety in individual flats is down to you.  If you rent out your flat, then no doubt you are aware that you need an annual gas certificate and regular electrical inspections.  In contrast, owner occupiers are not subject to any of this legislation and as a result many flat owners put themselves at unnecessary risk.

You are twice as likely to die from a fire if you don’t have a working smoke alarm. Installing one is the easiest way to protect your family, even if a system is fitted in the communal areas of your block - but do remember to test the device and change the battery regularly. If it is difficult for you to fit an alarm yourself, contact your local fire and rescue service who will normally be happy to help you. (You can find your local number at ) It is particularly important in a block of flats to ensure your family knows exactly what to do if a fire is discovered.  In larger blocks this may mean remaining in your flat and awaiting rescue by the emergency services. Be aware of the evacuation plan if your block has one in place, make sure you know how to quickly unlock any doors and that the keys are accessible. It is also important not to replace or remove fire doors in your flat. Undoubtedly they were initially installed for your protection and removing them could place your family at risk. If in doubt ask your managing agent as this will probably have been considered by the fire risk assessment for the block.

Outside your flat, keeping communal areas clear is vital to ensure the safe evacuation of your block. Items stored in these areas could cause an additional fire risk or block evacuation routes thus endangering life. Always keep these areas clear and if your neighbours are putting you at risk involve your managing agents.

These days, most of us have cordless phones which are very convenient but won’t work if the power fails. Why not invest in a cabled phone which will continue to work in the event that the power is disrupted and allow you to call for help.

Inspection and regular maintenance of gas appliances and electrics are not a strict legal requirement for owner occupied flats and as a result can often be overlooked. However, it is worth considering that in rented flats the legal requirements for these regular inspections were put in place to save lives. By not taking the same actions in an owner occupied property it is you and your family that you are placing at risk ,as well as your neighbours should an incident occur.

Amazingly, up to 60% of flat owners do not have contents insurance in place, possibly because living in a larger building lulls them into a false sense of security. A basic contents policy may only cost a few pounds per week yet most flat owners fail to secure this basic insurance protection. The sad fact is that most of these flats owners would not have the financial means to replace their contents and a fire could significantly disrupt their life style.

The Fire Safety Order 2005 has resulted in a significant step forward to ensuring fire safety and awareness of the dangers posed by fires in flats. This is especially true in smaller blocks and older converted houses where fire safety may have been overlooked. Legal obligations on landlords have ensured greater safety for tenants and it is ironic that the highest risk from fires is now flats in owner occupation. With more than two million owner occupied flats in the UK this should be a real concern and there is a strong argument for a campaign for greater awareness or legislation.

Paul Robertson is managing director of Midway Insurance Services Limited

Tel: 0845 3702848