Publication - Consultation paper

Fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes consultation: partial business and regulatory impact assessment

Published: 18 Sep 2017

Partial impact assessment published in connection with consultation on new standards for fire and smoke alarms in Scottish housing.

14 page PDF

287.5 kB

14 page PDF

287.5 kB

Fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes consultation: partial business and regulatory impact assessment
2. Purpose and Intended Effect

14 page PDF

287.5 kB

2. Purpose and Intended Effect


On 14 June 2017 a major fire spread rapidly through Grenfell Tower, a 24 story residential high rise building in London, with at least 80 people losing their lives. Following the tragedy, the Scottish Government set up a Ministerial Working Group ( MWG) to oversee a review of building and fire safety regulatory frameworks in Scotland. The MWG will be considering wider proposals for actions to reduce the risk of fire and will look at fire safety in other types of building (such as schools and hospitals). As a first step, the MWG agreed to prioritise this consultation on fire and smoke alarms, bringing forward proposals considered by the Common Housing Quality Forum and which had been intended for consultation later in 2018.


In the year 2015-16 there were 5,673 fires in dwellings in Scotland, from which there were 39 fatalities and 1,045 non-fatal casualties. [1] While the number of fatalities varies from year to year, the data shows that over the last seven years the fatality rate in fires in dwellings which had an operational smoke alarm has been lower (5.9 deaths per 1,000 dwelling fires) than in dwellings without an operational smoke alarm (6.9). [2] The data also shows that some people, particularly older people, are more at risk. [3]

This consultation seeks views on possible changes to standards required for smoke and fire detectors in Scottish homes.

All new build housing in Scotland must have at least one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes, one in every circulation space on each storey, one in every access room serving an inner room and at least one heat alarm installed in every kitchen. These must all be mains wired and interlinked.

Similarly, in the private rented sector there should be at least one functioning smoke alarm in the living room, one in every hallway and landing, a heat alarm in the kitchen, and all alarms should be hard wired and interlinked.

In the social rented sector, landlords are required to comply with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard ( SHQS) which specifies that there must be at least one smoke detector present in the properties they rent to tenants. They can either be battery-powered or mains-powered but when replacement smoke detectors are being fitted they should be mains-wired.

There are no minimum requirements for smoke and fire detectors in owner occupied housing, but any property constructed under a building permit issued since 1993 will have been fitted with interlinked and hardwired smoke detector in circulation spaces.

It is recognised that the scope of existing standards for rented houses are linked to specific types of tenancies and some housing may fall between the gaps. It is also recognised that a minimum standard in owner occupied housing which is part a tenement or a block of flats should be considered.

A programme of work to harmonise different elements of housing standards across tenures is already underway. In light of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, this consultation concentrating on fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes has been prioritised. The remaining non-fire-safety-related elements will be covered separately, in a subsequent consultation later in 2018.

Rationale for Government Intervention

Imperfect Information

An individual making a decision about whether or not it is worthwhile to install a fire alarm can face difficulties in obtaining and evaluating the relevant information. For example, it may be difficult for an individual to gather information about the likelihood of a fire affecting their property and about the impact which any fire could have on their health or property. These difficulties in accessing information may lead individuals to incorrectly conclude that the risks which fires pose to them do not merit the upfront monetary or hassle costs of installing alarms.

Furthermore, information about the appropriate types and correct quantity of alarms for a property can be complicated and leave individuals unsure as to whether they have the appropriate level of fire detection equipment. There is evidence to show that the source of information can heavily influence the weight given to this information during a decision making process. Government regulation supported by enforcement should allow individuals to be more confident that they are following guidance that will ensure that they are living in properties with adequate fire detection technology.

Failures of Rationality

Empirical evidence shows that people tend to procrastinate and delay taking decisions that are likely to be in their long term-interests; and that people can have particular difficulty weighing up the impacts of factors which are spread over time [4] . In the case of making a decision of whether or not to install a fire alarm, people may find it difficult to weigh up the future benefits of detecting a fire, which may occur at any time over the lifetime of the alarm, against the cost of installing an alarm, which will be felt immediately. This complexity may lead individuals to incorrectly conclude that installing an alarm is not worthwhile. Furthermore, people often procrastinate when taking decisions which are in their long-term interests. As a result, people may put off thinking about whether they should install an alarm, or even where they have decided it is a good idea, they may fail to get around to actually installing the alarm. Regulation can play a key role in overcoming these inertia effects.

Negative Externalities

It is possible for a fire which is started in one residential property to spread to neighbouring properties if not dealt with quickly. If a fire which started in a dwelling without a working fire alarm goes un-detected and spreads to neighbouring dwellings, this can have significant consequences for the residents of the neighbouring properties. In 2015-16, 7% (380) of dwelling fires spread beyond the room where they started to other parts of the building, which in the case of tenements and flats could have included neighbouring dwellings in the same building. A further 1% (68) of dwelling fires spread beyond the building. [5]

These negative consequences for neighbours increase the importance of the issues of imperfect information and failures of rationality mentioned above, since failures in decision-making affect not just those making the decision. Increasing the standard of regulation to ensure that there are effective fire and smoke alarms in all properties will therefore help to benefit not only the household directly concerned, but also their neighbours.


Email: Simon Roberts,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road