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Insurance firms warn Scots may not be covered if homes don’t meet new laws (that no one knows about)

© PAPeople release balloons at the Grenfell Memorial Community Mosaic at the base of the tower block in London on the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed 72 lives on June 14 2017.
People release balloons at the Grenfell Memorial Community Mosaic at the base of the tower block in London on the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed 72 lives on June 14 2017.

Insurers have warned homes may not be covered if Scots do not fit fire alarms under looming new laws.

Ministers have been accused of burying their heads in the sand as critics describe the introduction of the legislation demanding interlinked fire alarms in February as shambolic.

Yesterday, charities echoed concern over the legal changes which take effect in less than seven weeks. Housing Secretary Shona Robison insists Scots will have an unspecified “degree of flexibility” before the laws are enforced but insurers warn policies may be void if new rules are not met. The alarms and fitting will cost around £400 for an average home.

Shona Robertson, partner at Aberdeen insurance broker H&R Insurance, said: “Generally, insurers have written in their policy conditions that policyholders must comply with all regulations and statutory conditions which, as of February, will include the new fire safety guidelines.

“It will be the expectation that properties comply with the new legislation, and unfortunately failure to comply may jeopardise your claim. Insurance companies may be sympathetic to those who have yet to upgrade their system but there is no guarantee.”

The Association of British Insurers said: “Insurers will expect that households and businesses are compliant with any legislation on requirements for the property, such as a requirement to have fire alarms.

“They may ask customers questions about whether the property is fitted with working fire alarms, but are not likely to ask questions about specific standards.

“It will be for individual insurers to decide how they respond to the new standard – anyone who is unclear on their policy terms and conditions in relation to the new law in Scotland should speak to their insurer.”

Labour: Fire alarms law change is a shambles and grants are a mess

The requirement for linked alarms has already been delayed by a year and the pandemic is still causing problems in the delivery of alarms, partly due to a global semiconductor shortage, and disruption caused by Covid.

With the majority of homeowners unaware of the new law, MSPs, council leaders and fire protection experts have urged a year-long delay to the legislation due to come into force on February 1.

Under the rules, homes must have interlinked smoke alarms in the living room, hallways and landings and a heat alarm in the kitchen. Carbon monoxide alarms should also be fitted next to a fuel-burning appliance like a boiler. Interlinked alarms all go off if one of them is triggered.

The law was proposed following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which claimed the lives of 72 people. There were 46 deaths from house fires in Scotland in 2020-21, more than double the previous year.

The legislation already applies to rented property, with responsibility for the installation of alarms on the landlord, but is now being extended to all of Scotland’s 2.46 million households. It was due to come into force in February this year but was delayed by 12 months.

West Lothian Council has written to the Scottish Government urging the deadline be pushed back another year. Council leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “I asked 20 constituents in my ward at random what was their position on the new smoke alarms. Eight knew nothing about it. Five felt it too expensive, and the rest were getting or already had the alarms.

“A 78-year-old neighbour phoned one contractor who said they were booked right through to the end of February, and other contractors couldn’t do it either. The person ended buying the kit themselves and getting a joiner friend to install it.

“There are going to be tens of thousands who are not going to have the alarms installed by the deadline.”

Conservative councillor Peter Heggie said: “People are confused about what they need to have. A lot of people are shopping online and the big worry is people will purchase alarms that are not compliant. The alarms need lithium batteries that last up to 10 years. Someone contacted me yesterday that had bought alarms with batteries that you can change every year.

“There are only a few weeks until the new legislation comes in, and there’s a danger people will miss the info or buy the wrong products.”

A three-bedroom house will require three smoke alarms, one heat alarm and one carbon monoxide detector.

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland chief executive, welcomed the previous 12-month delay but said: “We have a number of concerns we hope to see addressed ahead of the deadline.”

Last week Scottish Labour revealed only 800 people have had money from a £500,000 fund set up to help older people and the disabled in receipt of benefits with the installation costs. Just £261,000 has been spent so far.

Labour warned only 2,000 people will be helped by the support, compared to 60,000 households eligible for Pension Credit or Employment Support Allowance.

Bruce Ogilvie, operations director of Ayr-based Ogilvie Fire Protection, said: “There is a real lack of awareness about who needs to do it, why they need to do, and when it needs to be done by.

“When we do fire risk assessments, we will notify people that legislation is changing, and often they have no idea it needs to be done.

“The government has understandably had a lot to do over the past two years with the pandemic, but a lot of the messaging is being missed.

“The answer may be extending the deadline coupled with more information about what people need to do.

“Given the number of households in Scotland it affects, I expect there will be shortages and extended lead times as demand increases rapidly.”

Housing Secretary Shona Robison told Holyrood on Tuesday that there was “a degree of flexibility” to the February deadline and that legislation said work should be carried out “within such period as is reasonable in all the circumstances”.

She also said her officials were in discussions with manufacturers about when supply issues were likely to be resolved but added questions about household cover should be addressed to insurers.

Scottish Labour’s Housing spokesperson Mark Griffin said yesterday: “The SNP’s failure to acknowledge the chaos engulfing this scheme is simply astounding.

“This was a chance to improve safety in millions of homes but the SNP’s total lack of preparation has made it completely unworkable, leaving us with no option but to delay again. These must be pushed back by another year.”

Cosla, the voice of Scottish councils, said: “Councils have made strong efforts to promote the installation of alarms in their housing properties and in local communities.

“However, we are aware there have been issues during the pandemic for tradesmen particularly accessing private properties to install equipment, along with scammers duping owners.

“As a result, a balanced and pragmatic approach is required to address the remaining properties across Scotland that lack the necessary alarm systems.”

The Scottish Government said: “We appreciate some homeowners may be concerned about being able to install interlinked alarms by 1 February. However, the new rules state the work should be done within a reasonable period, taking particular circumstances into account. This allows flexibility for home owners unable to install alarms by this time.

“Homeowners are generally responsible for paying for works to protect their property, but we know some may not be able to meet the cost of fitting these alarms. That is why we have provided £500,000 through Care And Repair Scotland to help disabled and older people to install alarms in their homes.

“This is in addition to the £1 million we have provided to the Scottish Fire And Rescue Service to install alarms in owner-occupied homes identified as being at highest risk.”