Practical fire safety for existing specialised housing and similar premises: guidance

Guidance for those who are responsible for specialised housing and for those who provide care and support in such premises.



1. This Guidance is primarily for those who are responsible for specialised housing and similar premises and for those who provide care and support services in such premises.  It provides practical fire safety advice on how to prevent fires and reduce the risk from fires.

2. Its purpose is to strengthen fire safety for people who receive care or support in specialised housing or similar premises.  It will also be useful for those receiving “care at home” services or support in “general needs” housing.    

3. Although there has been a significant reduction in the number of fires and related deaths and injuries in domestic premises in the last 20 years, a disproportionate number involve older people or others with recognisable “contributory factors”, including physical, cognitive and mental health issues.  Risk will be reduced significantly if fire safety measures meet the needs of the individual, as well as the premises as a whole.  In some cases, people may receive significant care or support and require a high level of fire protection measures.

4. Building Regulations ensure a basic level of fire safety in premises. This should be supplemented by an assessment of fire risk to determine whether existing measures are appropriate or if more needs to be done.  This Guidance supports that process.  


5. This Guidance applies to “specialised housing” and similar premises for older people and others requiring care and support.  This covers a wide range of premises types and building designs. Various terms may be used but the name itself should not be the key factor in determining whether the Guidance applies; the nature of the premises and the characteristics of the residents are important considerations.  

6. For this Guidance, specialised housing includes the following: 

  • Sheltered / very sheltered / extra-care housing -  mainly (but not exclusively) for older people living at home with different levels of care or support.  This ranges from sheltered housing complexes with little on-site management to very sheltered or extra care premises with significant on-site, including 24-hour, care.  
  • Supported housing -  for people with physical, sensory, mental health or cognitive impairments. The degree of independent living and level of care varies considerably. Residents may live independently or in a group home setting in the community. 

7. This Guidance also applies to small care homes which have been constructed as domestic dwellings and accommodate only a few residents.  There is a range of groups that live in these: older people; children and young people; people with learning disabilities; people with drug and alcohol problems; people with mental health problems; and people with physical and sensory impairment.  These can appear similar to some types of supported housing, particularly shared group homes, and much of this Guidance will be equally applicable. As with all care homes, they are registered with the Care Inspectorate as providing a “care home service”, as defined by the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.  

8. This Guidance may also be useful for people living in owned or rented dwellings who receive a “care at home” service (referred to as “general needs” housing in this Guidance).  It will, therefore, be relevant for them and their families, friends, personal assistants, care and support workers; indeed anyone involved with their care and well-being.  Part 1 of the Guidance (person-centred fire safety risk assessment) will be of particular relevance.  Some of the benchmarks in Part 2 (Premises Based Fire Safety Risk Assessment) that apply to sheltered housing may also be of interest, for example standards of fire detection. 

Fire Safety Guidance for Other Premises 

9. Separate fire safety guidance is available for other premises types and should be applied where most relevant.

10. Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Care Homes .This is for the majority of care homes which accommodate more than just a few residents.  The fire safety benchmarks in that Guidance are not appropriate for smaller care homes akin to dwellings with few residents.

11. Practical Fire Safety Guidance for existing Premises Providing Sleeping Accommodation. This is for hostels, refuges, licensed Houses in Multiple Occupation and other sleeping accommodation covered by fire safety law..  

12. Practical Fire Safety Guidance for existing High Rise Domestic Buildings. This Guidance should also be referred to for sheltered housing in a high rise block. 

13. Part 1 of this Guidance augments the Sleeping Accommodation and High Rise fire safety guidance referred to above, where people living there receive care or support.

Fire Safety Law 

14. Domestic premises are generally exempt from fire safety law.  However, existing fire safety law does apply to:

15. Fire safety law also applies to some premises in which a “housing support service” is provided, as defined by the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, for example in a shared group home where residents have occupancy agreements, rather than tenancy agreements, and where the main purpose is to provide care or support. 

16. Where fire safety law applies, it is a legal requirement to carry out a premises based fire safety risk assessment and to act on its findings.  Further information can be found in Part 4 of the Guidance.  

Using this Guidance

17. The Guidance is built on 2 main pillars:  

  • The person-centred fire safety risk assessment. 
  • The premises based fire safety risk assessment. 

18. The person-centred assessment is about reducing the risk to the individual in their own private accommodation.  The Guidance sets out the main risk factors that should be determined and assessed to identify whether additional fire precautions might be appropriate.  The Person Centered Fire Safety Risk Assessment Template (Annex 3) provides a structure to assist in the process. The person-centred fire safety risk assessment is good practice and not a legal requirement.   

19. The premises based assessment is more technical and requires an understanding of the application of fire safety principles to the built environment.  It is an assessment of the fire risk to all residents, including those beyond the room or compartment where a fire originates. Such assessments are increasingly used to manage and ensure adequate fire safety in the domestic sector, even where fire law does not apply.  Where required by law, compliance may be audited and enforced by SFRS.  A blank template is provided in Annex 5

20. There is an overlap between the two approaches: for example, monitored fire detection and automatic suppression systems can improve safety both for an individual within their own private accommodation and other residents in the premises.

Who is the Guidance for?

21. The Guidance is relevant and useful to the following:

  • Housing providers.
  • Care providers.
  • Housing and Care Regulators.
  • Local housing enforcement officers.
  • Commissioners of care services.
  • Building owners.
  • Managing agents.
  • Fire risk assessors.
  • SFRS.
  • Personal assistants.
  • Local authority social work assessors.
  • Families, friends and care/support volunteers.

22. It is important that fire safety risk assessments are undertaken by suitably skilled people with appropriate responsibility and involve other people as required.  Where there are multiple relevant parties,  one person should be responsible for instigating, managing and coordinating the assessment and action plans and ensuring they are shared.  This will normally be whoever is responsible for the specialised housing or similar premises.

Person-centred Fire Safety Risk Assessment

23. To be effective, it is important that a suitable person carries out the person-centred assessment and acts on its findings.  Having basic fire awareness training will assist but a specialist is not usually required.  

24. The person best placed to do this will depend on the circumstances of the housing and care/support provision, and their skills and level of responsibility. Housing providers should ensure high risk residents receive a person-centred risk assessment.  Those carrying out the assessment should share relevant information with the housing provider. 

25. The person-centred assessment may be carried out by appropriate care and support staff and usually involves the residents themselves. In sheltered housing schemes, managers (where provided) or care providers in regular contact with residents might undertake the assessment.  In supported housing, those responsible for care and support on-site may be best placed.  In general needs housing, the assessment could be carried out by a family member or a care provider or personal assistant with appropriate skills and level of responsibility.  A SFRS Home Safety Visit should always be sought and will complement the person-centred assessment process.

26. The scope for housing providers or landlords to undertake assessments and/or implement fire safety measures within residents’ accommodation will, in some cases, be dependent on the cooperation of the individual residents.  Scheduled gas safety checks and inspections of electrical installations can provide opportunities. 

Premises Based Fire Safety Risk Assessment

27. A premises based fire safety risk assessor must be a competent person with the necessary skills, knowledge and/or experience.  This may be a trained member of housing provider/managing agent staff or an externally contracted fire risk assessor.  See Part 2 of the Guidance for more information.

Managing Fire Safety

28. Safety, as a general principle, is a well-established feature of specialised housing and care/support policy.  Fire safety could be integrated into existing arrangements, if not already mainstreamed, for example:


  • The Scottish Social Housing Charter, which incorporates the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, covers aspects of tenant safety, landlord/tenant engagement, and equalities: including meeting the needs of those with protected characteristics such as age and disability. 
  • Scottish Housing Regulator’s Regulatory Framework requires an Annual Assurance Statement for Local Authorities and Registered Social Landlords.  Landlords are required to consider whether non-compliance with the regulatory standards affect the interests and safety of tenants.
  • Tenant/resident safety is a priority in the Scottish Housing Regulator’s Corporate Plan.  
  • Landlord “Housing Health Checks” consider the suitability of accommodation and the need for any adaptations.

Care and Support

  • Single Shared Assessments (community care needs).
  • Care Plans (care and support services). 
  • Personal Support Plans (housing support). 
  • Potential role of Joint Health & Social Care Integration Boards / Care Inspectorate in encouraging a person-centred fire safety approach.
  • Health and Social Care Standards published by the Scottish Government are applicable to the NHS and services registered with the Care Inspectorate and Healthcare Improvement Scotland.  They set out service user expectations, including those around protection and safety, with appropriate assessments and referrals being part of this.

Partnership Working

  • Community Safety Partnerships established under Community Planning arrangements (local fire safety initiatives).
  • Joint working protocols/contracts/arrangements.



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