Fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes: consultation

Consultation seeking views on possible changes to standards required for fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes.

Part Two: Current Standards for Fire and Smoke Alarms

14. Fire and smoke alarms are devices for giving warning to occupiers of a building in the event of a fire. Most alarms are designed to trigger a signal in response to smoke but there are also alarms, referred to here as “heat alarms”, which are triggered by temperature.

15. In Scotland, the differing standards for fire and smoke alarms reflect assessment of risk and current best practice at the point of establishing standards.

New Build Housing

16. All new build housing in Scotland has been required to meet the following standard if the building warrant has been issued since October 2010: [10]

  • At least one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes (the principal habitable room);
  • At least one smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways and landings (located no more than 7 metres from the door to a living room or kitchen; no more than 3 metres from every bedroom door; and that no point within a circulation space is more than 7.5 metres from the nearest smoke alarm);
  • At least one smoke alarm in every access room serving an inner room; and
  • At least one heat alarm installed in every kitchen.

17. Alarms in new build housing should be ceiling mounted and mains wired. All alarms should be interlinked, so that if one alarm sounds it will trigger the others. There are minimum standards for the design of alarms to comply with British Standard BS 5839. [11]

Private Rented Housing

18. Private landlords have a statutory duty to ensure that rented homes meet the repairing standard. [12] The repairing standard includes the requirement that “the house has satisfactory provision for detecting fires and for giving warning in the event of fire or suspected fire”. Landlords must have regard to any building regulations and any guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers on the subject. [13] The Scottish Government guidance on Satisfactory Provision for Detecting and Warning of Fires in Private Rented Housing was revised in November 2013 to reflect changes in building regulations.

19. The Scottish Government guidance for smoke alarms in private rented housing is based on the standard required for new build homes (see paragraph 16). All fire alarms installed or replaced in private rented houses since 3 September 2007 should be mains wired and interlinked within each house. [14]

20. The Scottish Government guidance for private landlords recognises that it may not always be appropriate to install some alarms in existing buildings, and private landlords can rely on technical advice from a qualified electrician. For example, it may not be appropriate to install both a smoke alarm and a heat sensor in an open plan kitchen/lounge if the smoke alarm might be triggered by cooking. We also recognise that private landlords can plan a programme of work over their rental stock to spread the cost of installation. This means that some private rented homes may not currently have the full range of fire and smoke alarms.

Social Rented Housing

21. Social landlords should ensure that the homes they let to social tenants comply with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard ( SHQS). [15] The SHQS is set out in guidance developed by a panel of key housing stakeholders which included representatives of social landlords nominated by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( CoSLA) and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations ( SFHA). The standard is incorporated in the Scottish Social Housing Charter and landlords’ performance is monitored by the Scottish Housing Regulator.

22. Element 44 of SHQS states that in existing properties there must be at least one smoke alarm present in the property, and this can be either battery-powered or mains-powered. However, if replacement smoke alarms are being fitted then these should be mains wired. [16]

23. Although mains-wiring is only compulsory under SHQS at point of replacement, mains-wired smoke alarms in circulation areas are in fact widespread in the social rented sector (but not universal), with around three-quarters of properties having mains-wired smoke alarms. [17] This has mainly been undertaken in conjunction with other improvement programmes such as heating installations or kitchen renewals. It is less likely that this work will include heat alarms in kitchen areas or the use of linked alarms in two or three storey dwellings.

Owner Occupied Housing

24. There are no minimum requirements for fire and smoke alarms in owner occupied housing, although only 7% (110,000) of properties in this tenure do not have any smoke alarm at all, [18] and any property constructed with a building warrant issued since 1993 will be fitted with interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

25. Houses in multiple occupation ( HMOs) are houses used as living accommodation by 3 or more people who are members of different families as their main accommodation, and where one or more of basic amenity is shared (i.e. toilets, personal washing facilities and facilities for cooking). [19] It covers a range of accommodation types from private homes occupied by students during term time (and which would not be HMOs if they were occupied by a family) to purpose-built housing for various groups. Unless an HMO is in an exempt category, it must be licensed by the local authority. [20] Among other matters, the local authority should take account of the level of fire safety in the HMO and the extent of compliance with the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, [21] together with the advice and recommendations of the fire and rescue authority and may refuse to grant a licence on this basis. [22]

Gaps in Standards

26. The Common Housing Quality Standard Forum noted that the scope of the existing standards for social and private rented housing are linked to specific types of tenancy and therefore it is possible that some housing falls between the gaps and is not covered by either standard. [23] Examples of this would include crofts and agricultural tenancies. There are also some types of HMO that are exempt from the licencing requirements, including armed forces housing, monasteries, and some housing owned by cooperative housing associations.

Comparison with the Rest of the UK

27. The following table summarises the current standards in legislation and guidance in different tenures in different parts of the UK.

Smoke Alarm Standards by tenure and administration

Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland
New Build
(all tenures)
At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces. Also required (since 2010) in main living area and heat alarm in kitchen etc (as paragraph 16) At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces Same building regulations as England apply in Wales Building regulations in Northern Ireland similar to Scotland
All existing housing built since 1993* At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces At least 1 interlinked and mains wired smoke alarm in circulation spaces
Existing Social Rented* SHQS requires at least 1 smoke alarm (can be battery powered), may require an upgrade where work needs a building warrant. Regulations do not apply to social landlords Welsh Housing Quality Standard requires mains-powered fire and smoke alarms. No tenure specific duties
Existing Private Rented* Scottish Government guidance based on new build standard A minimum of one smoke alarm (mains or battery powered) per floor Welsh Government guidance says that at least one smoke alarm on each floor is best practice and is required in HMOs No tenure specific regulations. HMOs must comply with building standards
Existing Owner Occupied* Only if built since 1993 Only if built since the early 1990s Only if built since the early 1990s Only if built since the early 1990s

* Existing homes subject to alteration, extension or conversion may attract full or partial provision


Email: Simon Roberts,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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