Publication - Factsheet

Fire and smoke alarms: changes to the law

Published: 21 Oct 2020
Last updated: 23 Oct 2020 - see all updates

What homeowners need to know about changes in legislation relating to fire and smoke alarms.

21 Oct 2020
Fire and smoke alarms: changes to the law

Given the impact of COVID-19, and the difficulties this is likely to create for people seeking to install new smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, we will be seeking the Scottish Parliament’s approval to delay the implementation of this legislation for a period of 12 months.

Q: What types of housing will be covered by the new standard?

A: All homes will be covered by the new standard, as it is important that all homes should be safe for occupants regardless of tenure. It will be the property owner’s responsibility to meet the new standard, however, the legal duty to enforce the standard rests with local authorities. Where owners are unable to meet the standard, it is not a criminal offence.

Q: Why are you introducing this legislation now?

A: Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, a Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety was established to review Scotland’s building and fire safety regulatory frameworks. This legislation will ensure that everyone in Scotland has the same level of protection whether they own or rent their home.

Q: How many alarms are required to meet the standards?

A: The standard requires:

  • one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used for general daytime living purposes
  • one smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways and landings
  • one heat alarm installed in every kitchen

All alarms should be ceiling mounted and interlinked.

Where there is a carbon-fuelled appliance (such as boilers, fires (including open fires) and heaters) or a flue, a carbon monoxide detector is also required which does not need to be linked to the fire alarms.

Q: I already have smoke alarms fitted in my home but they are not interlinked – do I need to change these to interlinked ones?

A: Yes – the requirement is to have all alarms interlinked. You may not hear the alarm closest to the fire but, by having an interlinked system, you will be alerted immediately.

Q: Are the requirements different for people who need specialist alarms, for example hearing impaired?

A: The legislation applies to all homes which must meet the minimum standard and, where there is a requirement for specialist equipment for deaf people, this should be installed in addition to the equipment installed to meet the standard.

Q: I own my home – who will pay for these alarms?

A: Any costs will be the responsibility of home owners and landlords. The cost of the alarms will vary according to what you currently have in place and the alarms you choose to install We estimate that the cost for an average three bedroom house which requires three smoke alarms, one heat alarm and one carbon monoxide detector will be around £220. This is based on using the type of alarms that you can install by yourself without the need for an electrician for installing a hard-wired alarm.

The Scottish Government has, over the period 2018-20, provided the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) with £1m funding to install these alarms in the homes of people assessed to be at high risk from fire as part of a Home Fire Safety Visit.

Q: There are lots of different types of alarms available – which ones should I get and where can I buy them?

A: You can install tamper proof long-life lithium battery alarms or mains-wired alarms. Mains-wired alarms are generally cheaper than the tamper proof long-life battery alarms. Mains-wired alarms will, however, require to be installed by an electrician which will be an additional cost to consider, and you may need a building warrant if you live in flat.

Further detailed information on the requirements of the standard, including types of alarms, is set out in the Tolerable Standard Guidance Chapters 16 and 17.

Alarms that meet the new standard, both tamper proof long-life lithium battery alarms and mains-wired alarms, are widely available in general hardware outlets and online.

Q: How long do I have to comply?

A: The regulations are due to come into force in February 2021, however, in light of  difficulties caused by COVID-19 we are seeking the Scottish Parliament’s approval to delay the implementation of this legislation for a period of 12 months.

However, installing alarms at the earliest opportunity, will provide improved fire safety in your home.

Q: I am a tenant of the local authority or a housing association, when will my home have these alarms?

A: Social landlords (local authority and housing association landlords) are aware of the new standard and have been working to ensure that the new alarms are in place, where needed. The Scottish Government has made over £15m of loan funding available for Social Landlords ensuring that social tenants are safe in their homes. The standard will be monitored by the Scottish Housing Regulator, who may intervene as they deem appropriate for any non-compliance.

Q: I have shared ownership of my home with a housing association. I have been told that I am responsible for making sure that my house complies with the standard, is this correct?

A: For shared ownership properties, as with other condition standards, responsibilities are set out in the occupancy agreement. However, in general, it is your responsibility as the proportion owner, rather than the registered social landlord, to meet the new fire and smoke alarm standard. 

Q: I am a tenant in a privately rented property – how do I make sure my landlord complies?

A: As the new standards for fire and smoke alarms extend those which currently apply in the Private Rented Sector PRS to housing of all tenures, your landlord should already be complying. The standard is enforced by the right of tenants to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber), so if you believe that your landlord is failing to comply, you can apply to the First-tier Tribunal. Penalties for non-compliance would be determined by the Tribunal.

Q: Will it be necessary for tenements to have linked alarms between individual residences?

A: In a shared property such as a tenement or block of flats there is no requirement for different properties to be linked to each other. There is no requirement for alarms to be fitted in communal areas such as entry halls and stairways.

Q: How will you check that home owners comply?

A: Most home owners want to make their homes as safe as possible and compliance will also form part of any Home Report when you come to sell your home. As this will be a minimum standard for safe houses, local authorities could use their statutory powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard housing, although we would expect any intervention to be proportionate.

Q: Can I still book a free Home Fire Safety Visit from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)?

A. SFRS have temporarily stopped most Home Fire Safety Visits except for those where the occupiers are identified as being at High Risk to ensure the safety of the public and of staff during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. SFRS are still taking requests for visits to be scheduled at a later date and tailored advice can be accessed by using their online Home Fire Safety Checker .

Q: Will there be any financial assistance provided to pensioners to help meet the costs of alarm installations?

A: As a general principle, home owners are responsible for the costs of on-going work needed to protect and preserve their own property. As with other housing standards, it will be the responsibility of the homeowner to meet the new fire and carbon monoxide alarm standard. Local authorities have broad discretionary powers to provide advice and assistance to home owners with work needed to look after their homes. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service recently launched their Make the Call campaign which is aimed at carers, family, friends and of those over fifty  who are most at risk because of an accidental fire in their home.

Q: How will the new regulations impact my household insurance policy?

A: Different home insurance policies provided by different insurers will have varying terms and conditions which a homeowner must comply with in order for their home insurance to be valid.  Anyone who is unclear about the terms and conditions of their specific policy in relation to the fire and smoke alarm requirements should get in touch with their home insurer in the first instance, to check whether the new requirements will be specifically included in their policy or not.

Q: I am having an extension added to my home. What types of alarms can I install?

A: While building standards recommend mains operated devices with battery back-up for building work in certain circumstances, tamper proof long-life lithium battery operated devices may be the preferred option for home owners. Section 10 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 provides a degree of flexibility when applying the building regulations to alterations, extensions and conversions, and it could be considered that a sealed long-life battery operated system that is interlinked via radio frequency can provide an equal or in some cases, higher level of protection than is required through Building Regulations. Local authority building standards verifiers should take a pragmatic approach when applying the non-mandatory guidance to alterations, extensions and conversions, as contained in the technical handbooks.

Q: I have asbestos in my ceiling – can I still have alarms installed?

A: You may wish to seek specialist advice but it is possible to install interlinked, tamper proof long-life lithium battery alarms to ceilings with asbestos using a firm adhesive and as such would not require any disturbance to the ceiling. In any case where it is not possible to mount a ceiling alarm due to asbestos concerns, battery-operated alarms that meet the manufacture’s requirement and can be wall mounted may be used.

Q: I have received a leaflet from a commercial enterprise with the Scottish Government logo about the fire and smoke alarm standard – has the Scottish Government  endorsed its product and/or services?

A: The use of the Scottish Government logo by a commercial enterprise must be approved by Scottish Ministers before it is used. Some companies have not sought the appropriate authorisation for including the Scottish Government logo prior to issuing leaflets, and we recognise this could indicate an endorsement of specific products. However, neither the Scottish Government or Scottish Ministers endorse any particular suppliers, products or services. 



Scottish Government
Housing and Social Justice Directorate
Victoria Quay

First published: 21 Oct 2020 Last updated: 23 Oct 2020 -