Fire and smoke alarms: changes to the law

The law on fire alarms has changed which means all Scottish homes will need to have interlinked alarms. Guidance on what you need to know.

Every home in Scotland must have interlinked fire alarms.

Interlinked means if one goes off, they all go off, so you will always hear an alarm wherever you are in your home.

The new law has come about because of the Grenfell fire in London in 2017, and it applies to all Scottish homes.

It is the property owner’s responsibility for meeting the new standard.

What each home needs

Every home must have:

  • one smoke alarm in the living room or the room you use most
  • one smoke alarm in every hallway and landing
  • one heat alarm in the kitchen

All smoke and heat alarms should be mounted on the ceiling and be interlinked.

If you have a carbon-fuelled appliance – like a  boiler, fire, heater or flue – in any room, you must also have a carbon monoxide detector in that room, but this does not need to be linked to the fire alarms.

If an area is open plan, one alarm can cover the whole room provided it can be located where it is no more than 7.5 metres from any point in the room. If your space includes a kitchen area it should be a heat alarm rather than a smoke alarm.

How long you have to install the alarms

The new law came into force on 1 February 2022, but it provides flexibility for people to fit the necessary alarms within a ‘reasonable period’ after this deadline.

No one will be criminalised if they need more time, and there are no penalties for non-compliance. However, we would encourage everyone to install these alarms, which can help save lives.

Help with costs

Older and disabled homeowners on low incomes can get help with costs (see below).

If you are a private tenant, your landlord is responsible.

If you are a council or housing association tenant, work is ongoing to make sure your home meets the new standards.

Video about the new fire alarm standards

Two types of alarms

You can use either sealed battery alarms or mains-wired alarms.

Both types of alarm are interlinked by radio frequency and do not need WiFi.

What the alarms must have

If you use battery alarms, they must be sealed tamper-proof units and have long-life lithium batteries, which can be up to 10 years. You may be able to fit these types of alarms yourself and they do not need an electrician. Batteries last for the duration of its operational lifespan, which may be up to 10 years - although sensors degrade over time.

Mains-wired alarms are cheaper but if you use them, they must be fitted by a qualified electrician and must be replaced every 10 years. You may also need to redecorate after fitting them.

If you also need a carbon monoxide alarm and it is battery-operated, it must have a sealed battery for the duration of its lifespan.

Where and what to buy

There is no list of approved suppliers or fitters. We cannot endorse or recommend specific products or suppliers. A general internet search such as ‘radio -interlinked sealed battery powered smoke and heat alarms’ should bring up results of alarms that are compliant with the February 2022 legislation. You can buy both types of alarms online or in store from a number of retailers, and any qualified electrician can fit the mains-wired type.

You need to check that each alarm complies with the following standards:

  • smoke alarms                       BS EN14604:2005
  • heat alarms                           BS 5446-2:2003
  • carbon monoxide detector British Kitemark EN 50291-1

More information on the standard, including the types of alarms, is in the Tolerable Standard Guidance Chapters 16 and 17.

Please note that the Nest Protect System will not meet the standard. This is because they do not meet the requirements for a heat alarm under the relevant British Standard. British Standard (BS 5839-6:2019) states that only heat alarms should be installed in kitchens.

Cost of alarms and financial help

Homeowners and landlords

Any costs will be the responsibility of home owners and landlords, and will depend on 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.

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.

As a general principle, home owners must pay for any ongoing work needed on their own property. As with other housing standards, the homeowner must meet the new fire and carbon monoxide alarm standard. Local authorities have broad discretionary powers to provide advice and help to home owners with work needed to look after their homes.

Help with the costs for pensioners and disabled people

We are providing funding through Care and Repair Scotland to help elderly and disabled people meet the new standard.

To be eligible for support from Care and Repair Scotland you must own and live in your home that  has a council tax banding of A-C and:

  • be of state pension page and receiving guaranteed Pension Credit, or
  • have a disability and be in a support group for Employment and Support Allowance

Contact your local Care and Repair service for more information.

Tenants of local authority or housing associations

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, which may intervene as they deem appropriate for any non-compliance.

Shared ownership (housing association)

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.

Private rented property

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.

Specialist alarms

If specialist alarms are needed – such as for deaf people or Telecare systems – these must be fitted in addition to any smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms.

Interlinked smoke and heat alarms are required to be installed in addition to any Telecare smoke/heat alarms to help keep you safe. If you have fitted or are planning to fit interlinked smoke and heat alarms, please do not remove your telecare smoke, heat or carbon monoxide alarms. 

Tenements and blocks of flats

Different homes in a shared property like a tenement or block of flats do not need to be linked to each other, and there is no need for alarms to be fitted in communal areas such as entry halls and stairways.

Asbestos in ceilings and how it affects installation

It is not necessary to disturb asbestos to install fire alarms. 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. It is unlikely that attaching an alarm with an adhesive pad would constitute disturbance of asbestos as it does not require cutting or drilling or similar intrusion to release fine particles.

If for any reason, it is inappropriate or you do not want to use an adhesive pad, battery-operated alarms that meet the manufactures requirement and can be wall mounted may be used, - to be compliant with the legislation, an alarm on the wall should be within 30 cm of the ceiling.

Installation of alarms

Smoke and heat alarms should be fitted as per manufacturer’s guidance.

All carbon monoxide (CO) detectors should be either:

  • ceiling mounted and at least 300 mm from any wall (unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer) or
  • wall mounted and positioned at least 150 mm below the ceiling and higher than any door or window in the room (unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer) 

Replaceable batteries

Replaceable batteries cannot be used because the sensors in the alarm degrade over time and so will not be able to detect heat or smoke. This is why the alarm has a limited lifetime.  There have been several tragedies over the years where alarms failed because their batteries expired or people have removed them. Any alarm you buy will have information on how long it lasts, which can be up to 10 years. 

Sealed, tamper-proof battery units must be used because they are safer than those which allow the user to change the batteries.

Disposing of your old alarms

Some but not all types of alarms can be recycled at recycling centres. Look on the alarm for information, or check with the manufacturer.

Compliance with the new standard

Compliance checks

Most home owners want to make their homes as safe as possible and compliance will in time form part of any Home Report when they come to sell their home.

As this will be a minimum standard for safe houses, local authorities will be able to use their statutory powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard housing. However, as is the case for other elements of the Tolerable Standard, any intervention must be proportionate, rational and reasonable and where owners are unable to meet the standard, it is not a criminal offence.

Information and advice 

Free Home Fire Safety visits from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)

To protect the most vulnerable, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will only fit interlinked alarms into owner-occupied homes where the individual/household is assessed as “high risk” through our Home Fire Safety Visit assessment process.

If the individual / household does not meet these criteria, SFRS staff will provide safety advice, information and details of the revised legislation during the visit. Interim detection can also be supplied if the property has no detectors at present.

To request a Home Fire Safety Visit contact SFRS on 0800 0731999 or text “FIRE” to 80800

Household insurance

Different home insurance policies will have different terms and conditions which a homeowner must comply with in order for their home insurance to be valid.  If you are not sure how the new fire and smoke alarm requirements affect your policy, get in touch with your insurer to find out.

Building regulations requirements

Home extension, alteration and conversion work

New work which involves the extension, alteration or conversion of an existing home is required to comply with the building regulations. The guidance in the technical handbooks that supports building regulations states “smoke alarms and heat alarms should be mains operated and permanently wired to a circuit…”. The guidance also calls for a battery as a standby power supply which provides redundancy should the primary electrical supply fail.   

Supporting guidance to mandatory standard 2.11 communication can be found in section 2: fire of the domestic technical handbook.

The building standards system is a functional based system, and as such, gives the local authority verifier flexibility when applying the supporting guidance to alterations, extensions and conversions. Any deviation from the guidance in the technical handbooks should be agreed with the local authority verifier as part of the building warrant application process. It is important to note that a change from any approved building warrant would require an amendment to the warrant to be submitted and approved by the local authority verifier prior to undertaking the work on site.

The guidance also states “where an existing partial or full mains operated heat and smoke detection system is being altered it would normally be expected to replace mains wired devices with mains wired units.” This should be considered when undertaking extension, alteration or conversion work and any alternative arrangement should be agreed with the local authority verifier in advance.

A building warrant is sometimes required for the installation of fire and CO alarms

If you are only installing battery operated alarms a building warrant is not required.

If you install a mains-powered system rather than sealed battery alarms, this may require a building warrant to be obtained from your local authority verifier before any work starts.  For example, if your property is a one or two storey house, a building warrant is not required for mains operated alarms but the installation must still comply with the building regulations. More information on the building standards system and how to obtain a building warrant can be found in the Building Standards Customer Journey. If you are in any doubt contact your local authority building standards service.

Marketing material from suppliers

The Scottish Government does not endorse any particular supplier. If a company has used the Scottish Government logo on its marketing material this is misleading and can be reported to Trading Standards on 0808 164 6000.

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