Grenfell Inquiry phase 1 recommendations: Scottish Government response

Scottish Government response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations produced for Scottish Ministers by the Scottish Government Grenfell Inquiry Fire Safety Working Group (GIFSWG ).

Chapter 1: Scottish Government response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report

Scottish Government Ministers thoughts remain with the families and friends of the 72 people whose deaths were caused, and those otherwise impacted by, the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017. 


1. On 14 June 2017 a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower which led to the deaths of 72 people. On 15 June 2017 the Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, announced that there would be a formal Inquiry into the tragedy. The Inquiry, Chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, opened on 14 September 2017 and has two distinct phases. The Inquiry reports its findings to the Prime Minister of the UK Government.

2. Phase 1 focused on the factual narrative of the events on the night of 14 June 2017. Hearings for Phase 1 began on 21 May 2018 and concluded on 12 December 2018. The Chairman published his Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report on 30 October 2019. Phase 2 of the Inquiry, which is currently underway, examines the causes of the events of the fire, including how Grenfell Tower came to be in a condition which allowed the fire to spread in the way identified by Phase 1. 

3. This report is the Scottish Government response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1[1] recommendations.  This response was produced for Scottish Ministers by the Scottish Government Grenfell Inquiry Fire Safety Working Group (GIFSWG )[2].  

4. The Scottish Government would like to thank all of those involved in the inquiry, particularly those who gave evidence in Phase 1. Their sometimes difficult testimony has enabled the Inquiry to produce a detailed report and provide a number of recommendations with the aim of strengthening fire safety, particularly in high rise domestic buildings.

Approach to Responding to Recommendations 

5. The Scottish Government continues to be committed to effective fire safety to prevent fires, injuries and fatalities.  This includes learning from the Grenfell Tower fire to identify potential improvements in fire safety and response in Scotland.  

6. The Scottish Government Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on Building and Fire Safety was established immediately after the Grenfell Tower fire and has led a programme of work on frameworks, regulations and guidance to improve fire safety.  Under the MWG leadership, actions have already been delivered to strengthen fire safety in Scotland.  Some of these are in line with many of the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations. 

7. The Inquiry recommendations are, rightly, directed at the fire safety arrangements in England.  Scotland has its own fire safety, building standards and housing legislation.  There are instances of significant difference between Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, although there is also much similarity in principles and approach, for example in fire safety risk assessment and technical building standards. 

8. The approach for Scotland is to focus on outcomes that maintain and strengthen people's safety.  The specific responses and actions for Scotland reflect and build on the fire safety regime and practice in Scotland, in a proportionate way. In this regard, the intention of the Inquiry recommendations are considered, although the specifics on how these may be achieved differ.

9. The Scottish Government Grenfell Inquiry Fire Safety Working Group Terms of Reference are:

To be collectively responsible for considering the 46 recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 report; and what actions, if any are needed to implement these recommendations in Scotland, focusing on outcomes. Where it is agreed that recommendations will not be implemented in Scotland, sound reasoning will be provided.

10. This report is the response to all 46 recommendations from the Inquiry Phase 1 (Annex A contains a full list of recommendations).  The recommendations are directed at two main groups and were dealt with in two distinct ways:

  • Group 1: 15 recommendations directed at "building owners and managers" of high rise residential buildings (including three for residential buildings with separate dwellings regardless of height) and one for the Government.  
  • Group 2: 31 recommendations for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and emergency services.

11. The Scottish Government GIFSWG assessed and agreed responses to the Group 1 recommendations as set out in Chapter 2. Property law in Scotland is different to that in England and Wales and some high-rise buildings in Scotland do not have a single owner.  The response to the recommendations in this report take that fact into account.  The Scottish Government Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing High Rise Domestic Buildings (2019) sets out best practice and encourages building owners, or individual flat owners where no single building owner exists, to take on a wider responsibility for their building's fire safety than is currently required under Scottish fire safety law[3].  

12. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is addressing the Group 2 31 recommendations for LFB and emergency services, given the focus on operational matters.  Chapter 3 provides a summary and link to the SFRS Action report.  The GIFSWG provided co-ordination and oversight for the responses to all the recommendations.

13. Stakeholders in local authority, social and private housing were given the opportunity to provide comments on the Scottish Government approach and proposed direction in response to the main matters.  The High Rise Tenants and Residents Panel have contributed to the actions already taken and the Scottish Government will seek to continue to involve this group to inform proposed developments in fire safety in high rise domestic buildings.

14. Whilst it is not possible to eliminate the risk of a fire occurring, prevention and protection remains the priority, with an effective national Fire and Rescue Service able to respond to fires.  The Scottish Government is committed to research to monitor and evaluate actions to strengthen fire safety in high rise domestic buildings, including the position for buildings with multiple owners and fire safety enforcement in the longer term.      

15. High rise domestic buildings in this report refers to buildings with a storey height in excess of 18m above the ground – generally more than 6 floors – but not  above 60m – generally more than 20 floors. This is because specialist advice should be sought for buildings above this height.


16. Three recommendations (36, 37 and 38) from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry not only apply to high rise domestic buildings but to "every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings)". The consensus of the Scottish Government GIFSWG was to consider the Phase 1 recommendations for application to high rise domestic buildings only. This was considered a risk proportionate approach.

17. The Group agreed to keep this approach under review.  The Scottish Government will continue to work with SFRS and others on the standard of fire safety in buildings under 18m and will ensure that learning from Phase 2 of the Inquiry is also carefully considered. Risk based evidence will be used to inform any potential change of approach.

Fire Safety in High Rise Domestic Buildings in Scotland

Fires and their impact in High Rise Domestic Buildings 

18. This section sets out the current position concerning fires and fire safety in high rise domestic buildings in Scotland from available evidence and experience.  This context has helped to inform the proposed actions in response to the recommendations in nature and proportion.

High Rise Domestic Properties in Scotland: Fires 

19. The three main sources of data and information were used to establish fire safety in high rise domestic buildings in Scotland are: (i) data on trends in fires, fire spread and fatalities; (ii) a survey to evaluate the impact of the fire safety information provided to residents of high rise and (iii) information from SFRS Operational Assurance Visits to High Rise Domestic Buildings. 

20. The scale and concentration of high rise domestic buildings are elements informing fire safety policy and its practical application.  There are 774 high rise domestic buildings, with over 46,000 individual dwellings in Scotland (as of March 2020).  They include those built in pre 1950s to recent, modern blocks.  They are in the main cities and larger towns, in 15 of the 32 local council areas, mostly in the central belt.  High rise buildings are a mix of private, public and social ownership (High Rise Inventory Summary report 2020; Scottish Government).      

21. Fires and fire deaths in all domestic premises have reduced significantly in the last 20 years, indicating the successful impact of the delivery of the range of fire prevention and protection measures (Graph 1).  In line with this, the numbers of fires in domestic buildings of 6 storeys or higher has reduced (Graph 2).  These are a small proportion of all dwelling fires (330 out of 5,137 in 2018/19).

Graph 1 Trends in Primary Fires 1995/96 – 2018/19 (Source: SFRS)
Graph shows the impact that fire prevention measures have had on reducing fires.
Graph 2 Fires in domestic buildings of 6 storeys or higher (Source: SFRS)
Graph shows impact fire prevention measures have had reducing fires in buildings 6 storeys or higher

22. Preventing fire and limiting fire spread[4] is critical to life safety in high rise buildings. This is why buildings have fire separating construction that is designed to contain a fire in the flat of fire origin.  Fire spread was a key factor in the fatalities in the Grenfell Tower fire and the Lakanal House fire in 2009 where six people died.  Situations where a fire spreads beyond the flat of origin are uncommon and are most often as a result of failings in the building design or construction.

23. In Scotland, most fires in high rise domestic buildings are contained in the flat where the fire originated, and often to the room of origin.  There have been no deaths outside the flat of origin in the past decade in Scotland.  

24. Whilst this indicates the rarity of fire spread in high rise buildings in Scotland, the Scottish Government and SFRS are committed to continue working to prevent fires and minimise their impact.    

Residents' Views 

25. Recent research with residents of high rise domestic buildings by Scottish Government on the fire safety leaflets distributed to all high rise dwellings in 2019/20 found a sizable majority (85%) agreed with the statement that they "feel safe from the risk of fire in their home".  In addition, the majority (90%) of respondents could provide examples of actions they take to reduce the risk of fire. 

SFRS Quarterly Operational Assurance Visits

26. SFRS have operational intelligence which suggests there is generally a sound position on core fire safety in high rise domestic buildings. The SFRS well-established quarterly Operational Assurance Visits programme means local SFRS crews visit every high rise domestic building every three months.  Crews obtain information for operational purposes and check compliance with Regulatory requirements on the maintenance of firefighting facilities in the common areas. They familiarise themselves with vehicular and building access, hydrant locations, internal layout and location of firefighting facilities. They undertake basic checks that firefighting facilities are in good working order.  

27. Any deficiencies identified are reported in writing to those responsible for fire safety for remediation to ensure that firefighting facilities work as intended.  SFRS reports can also highlight general fire safety concerns for attention e.g. fire doors not closing. Operational Assurance Visits do not include an assessment of external wall cladding systems, but any signs of obvious physical damage may be reported to those responsible for fire safety. SFRS note that remedial works are generally undertaken as quickly as possible on a risk based approach. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service can provide fire safety advice to residents concerning their homes through the Home Fire Safety Visit programme. 

High Rise Fire Safety – Position and Recent Actions in Scotland

Scottish Government response to Grenfell Tower fire and Delivery 

28. Scottish Government Ministers, through the Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety, instigated a continuing programme of work on building and fire safety immediately after the Grenfell fire. As part of its work programme, the Ministerial Working Group set up a number of reviews including the Review of the Fire Safety Regime and Regulatory Framework in Scotland in relation to high rise domestic buildings (2018). An overview of this Review is provided below.    

29. The Scottish Government Review of the Fire Safety Regime for high rise domestic buildings in Scotland (2018) concluded that there were no major legislative gaps, although the position with buildings with multiple owners and the issue of fire safety enforcement is to be further considered over the longer-term.  The Review made five recommendations for improvements to support, or clarify existing guidance and legislation regarding high rise domestic buildings. 

30. This included the Scottish Government publishing a single source of Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing High Rise Domestic Buildings in December 2019.  This provides practical fire safety advice on how to prevent fires and reduce the risks from fires in high rise domestic buildings. It assists in the assessment of fire risk and the adequacy of existing fire safety measures. The focus is on communal areas and aspects of building design in private accommodation which could affect the safety of others in the building.  As such this Guidance encapsulates many of the Inquiry's recommendations directed at those responsible for fire safety.  

31. A strength of the Guidance is having, in one place, accessible and useful information to support effective fire safety in high rise domestic buildings. It is not mandatory and does not instigate any new statutory duties or requirements.  

32. A sixth Review recommendation was to introduce Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing specialised Housing and Similar Premises.  This was in response to the evidence that a disproportionate number of fires involve older people or others with recognisable "contributory factors", including physical, cognitive and mental health issues. 

33. The Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing specialised Housing and Similar Premises is intended to improve safety by preventing fires and reducing harm to people in the event of fire.  It promotes a person-centred approach to meet the needs of the individual, as well as considering the fire risk in the premises.  Whilst not specific to high rise domestic buildings, it is relevant to the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations concerning people with a reduced ability to self-evacuate.  The Guidance is primarily to protect those in specialised housing but it may also benefit people who receive care/support in "general needs" housing i.e. accommodation intended for occupation by members of the general public and not those of a specific demographic or vulnerability. The Guidance is established as best practice and not a legal requirement.  

Fire Safety Risk Assessment

34. Both sets of Guidance are built on the well-established principles of risk assessment, which is the basis for fire safety law, regulation and practice to ensure an adequate level of fire safety.  The purpose of the risk assessment is to evaluate the risk to people from fire and determine appropriate fire safety measures. Fire risk is a combination of the likelihood of fire occurring and the consequences to residents and others who may be affected by a fire. 

35. A Fire Safety Risk Assessment involves an organised and methodical consideration of the premises, the potential for a fire to occur and the harm it could cause to people.  Fire safety includes the physical measures in premises which are underpinned by Building Regulations and standards of management.  Person-centred fire safety uses risk assessment to identify if a person's characteristics, behaviour and capabilities increase risk of fire or affect their ability to recognise and respond to a fire or warning of fire and to identify additional fire safety measures.  

36. Both sets of Guidance offer advice on a range of fire safety measures and provide benchmarks for the risk assessment.  The benchmarks are mostly derived from Building Regulation guidance and British Standards. When deciding what fire safety measures are appropriate, existing provision can be compared against the benchmarks. Benchmarks should not be applied prescriptively as measures should always be risk appropriate and a standard lower or above a benchmark may be appropriate depending on the overall level of risk and the particular circumstances. 

37. It is a principle of fire safety risk assessment that measures to address shortcomings in fire safety should be proportionate to the risk. This means that the cost, practicality and benefit gained should all be taken into account.  The Guidance propose that significant findings from the fire safety risk assessment, and any action taken, or to be taken, should be recorded and retained and a fire safety risk assessment is provided as a useful template. Any fire safety risk assessments should be available on request to residents, in the interests of transparency.  

Learning and Improvement 

38. Public consultations[5] took place during 2019 and found support for, and approval of both the Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing High Rise Domestic Buildings and Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing Specialised Housing and Similar Premises.  Both will be monitored and evaluated in 2020/21 to assess their reach and impact and this will inform further developments as necessary. Additional measures, including legislation, will be considered and implemented if deemed to be required to mitigate risk and achieve a satisfactory level of fire safety.  The planning for this evaluation is at an advanced stage, although it has been delayed due to the impact of COVID-19.    

High Rise Inventory

39. The programme of work from the Ministerial Working Group established an Inventory of all high rise domestic buildings in Scotland. This provides information on key aspects of high rise building construction and fire safety features i.e. external wall systems and fire safety measures, such as fire doors on flat entrances and to stairwells, automatic fire suppression systems, and wall cladding systems. It is collated from local authority building warrant records and information from SFRS Operational Assurance Visits.  A summary is publicly available:

40. The Inventory is used to inform Scottish Government policy on building and fire safety and gives an overview of any fire safety issues. It has been shared with SFRS who have checked it against their own records.

New regulations and guidance on high rise buildings

41. The Scottish Government, as a result of a Ministerial Working Group reviews,  has introduced new regulations and guidance to make Scotland's high-rise buildings even safer including:

  • Lowering the height at which combustible cladding can be used from 18 metres to 11 metres to align with fire-fighting from the ground.  
  • Tighter controls over the combustibility of cladding systems on hospitals, residential care buildings, entertainment and assembly buildings regardless of building height.
  • Developing new fire safety guidance to assist in determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems (including cladding) on existing multi-storey residential buildings. 
  • Introducing fire service activated "evacuation alert systems", floor and dwelling indicator signs and two escape stairs in all new high rise domestic buildings.
  • Extending the minimum standard for smoke and fire alarms that already applied in the private rented sector to all housing tenures, ensuring the highest level of protection whether they own their home or rent from a social or private landlord.
  • Legislation extending requirements for sprinkler systems in new buildings to all flats, all social housing and certain multi-occupancy dwellings was introduced on 9 September 2020 and will come into force on 1 March 2021.

42. The Scottish Government continues to review new information and evidence and will consider any further action which may be required to improve the fire safety of buildings.

Fire Safety Law in Scotland 

43. The Scottish Government response to Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has considered the intended outcomes of the recommendations and how these can be achieved in the context of current Scottish fire safety arrangements.  This section summarises the fire safety legislation position in Scotland relevant to the Grenfell Inquiry.  

44. The Grenfell Inquiry requires most recommendations for those responsible for fire safety to be implemented "in law" and draws on the legal position in England. The position in Scotland is different; as fire safety is a devolved matter, the legal requirements and responsibilities are contained in different fire safety, building standards and housing legislation. The proposed changes to fire safety legislation for England and Wales will not apply in Scotland.

45. Building Regulations apply to; new building work such as the erection of a new block of flats; extension of an existing block; buildings being converted to flats or; alterations to the building. They impose requirements for various fire safety measures including means of escape, structural fire precautions, smoke control, automatic fire suppression and facilities for the fire and rescue service.  

46. Separate fire safety legislation applies to existing buildings. Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 ("the 2005 Act") and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 ("the 2006 Regulations") provide the legislative framework for fire safety in Scotland. The legislation consolidates and rationalises previous fire safety legislation for workplaces and incorporates a number of EU Directives.  As such, it applies mainly to non-domestic premises such as offices, manufacturing premises, leisure facilities, schools, hospitals and hotels.

47. Responsibility for compliance in these types of premises rests with employers and others with control of the premises (known as dutyholders).  Dutyholders must undertake and regularly review a fire safety risk assessment of the premises and take measures to ensure people are safe from fire.  They must nominate "competent persons" to provide assistance, implement fire evacuation procedures and, where necessary, firefighting measures.  The 2005 Act specifies enforcing authorities and sets out their duties and powers, as well as detailing offences, statutory notices, appeals and dispute determination procedures. 

48. Throughout the UK, most private dwellings (i.e. people's own homes) are excluded from fire safety legislation.  People are encouraged to be responsible for fire safety in their own home.

49. In Scotland, blocks of flats may be owned by a local authority, a housing association, or be in wholly private ownership with flats owned individually. They may also be mixed tenure and involve a combination of these.

50. Where there is no single building owner, the owners of the individual flats are normally jointly responsible for the maintenance of the building as a whole and its common parts. The title deeds of each flat will usually determine what the flat owner is responsible for by the rules and conditions set out in the deeds. As title deeds are drawn up for each individual property there can be variances. 

51. In Scotland, the 2005 Act and the 2006 Regulations apply to "relevant premises", which is a defined term in the 2005 Act.  "Domestic premises" (which means premises occupied as a private dwelling along with their common parts, such as halls, stairways and landings used in common) are not "relevant premises" for the purposes of the Act or the Regulations[6].  Therefore, in general, private dwellings are exempt from the requirements of Scottish fire legislation, meaning that owner(s) of flats do not have statutory obligations under fire legislation to ensure fire safety in flats or blocks of flats.  That said, the 2006 Regulations require owners of private dwellings to ensure that any measures already provided in the common areas of private dwellings for the safety or use of firefighters are maintained in efficient working order.  Owner(s) must also ensure compliance with Building Regulations where modifications to the building's fabric are made. 

52. All occupiers, whether owners, tenants or residents, do have further duties to keep common areas free of combustible substances and anything which might obstruct egress from and access to the property in the event of fire under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. SFRS under this Act have the power to enter the common property to determine compliance.  Where there is an immediate risk of fire likely to endanger life, SFRS can take all necessary steps to remove that risk including the seizing and retention of items. SFRS can recover from occupiers the expense of removing items or substances. SFRS can issue notices requiring occupiers to remove or render safe items or substances in common property. It is an offence to fail to comply with a notice from SFRS.  

53. The Scottish Government Review of the Fire Safety Regime (2018) recognised that there are three challenges for effective removal of items from common areas; difficulty in identifying the occupant responsible; access to equipment and skills to remove items; and appropriate and effective use of public services personnel and equipment. A Framework, for those responsible for Fire Safety in High Rise buildings, to support working in partnership to deal with materials left in common areas, building on models in operation, was produced as per the Review's recommendation and included in the Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing High Rise Domestic Buildings.

54. Although legal duties under the 2005 Act and 2006 Regulations are very limited in respect of domestic buildings, Scottish fire safety guidance encourages building owners, or individual flat owners where no single building owner exists, to take on a wider responsibility for their building's fire safety.  This is often reflected in practice and some individual flat owners may use the services of others to act on their behalf, such as building managers, property factors and managing agents. 

55. Throughout this report, references to "those responsible for fire safety" should be interpreted in this context.  It does not imply any specific statutory obligations for fire safety beyond the duty to maintain common areas and existing firefighting facilities, as required under the 2006 Regulations and to keep common areas free from combustible material and obstructions under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. 

56. In England and Wales, common areas are covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  Owner(s) are required by law to ensure a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment of the common parts is carried out, acted upon and regularly reviewed.  It is enforced by Fire and Rescue Authorities in England and Wales.  The housing system in England and Wales means that this is normally the responsibility of the building "freeholder"; an entity that does not exist in Scotland.

57. The Review of the Fire Safety Regime acknowledged that buildings with multiple owners and the issue of fire safety enforcement in high rise domestic buildings should be further considered over the longer-term, including potential changes to housing and fire law.  The Scottish Government has made a commitment to take forward recommendations from a Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance and, within this, fire safety could be an element.  This includes a recommendation for a mandatory owners' association constituted as a legal entity for all blocks of flats. A realistic, achievable timescale for any new legislation is currently considered to be more than 5 years.  


58. The evidence available points to sound fire safety measures in place, however there is a commitment to continue and strengthen this by pro-actively seeking to learn to improve fire safety, to continue to reduce fires and their impact.   The response to the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations in Chapter 2 is one element in this learning and improvement.  The planned research to assess the reach and impact of the Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing High Rise Domestic Buildings and Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Existing Specialised Housing and Similar Premises will also be important to inform any further action.  Additional measures, including legislation, will be considered and implemented if deemed to be required to mitigate risk and achieve a satisfactory level of fire safety.   This contributes to the continuous work to review and improve fire safety where necessary and directly contributes to the national outcome for a Scotland where "we live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe".  



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