Fire and smoke alarms: changes to the law


by i-Protech



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

New Fire and Smoke Alarm Standard

Q: What is the new fire and smoke alarm standard and how many alarms are required to meet the standards?

A: The new 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: 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 was introduced in January 2019 and will ensure that everyone in Scotland has the same level of protection whether they own or rent their home.

Q: How long do I have to comply?

A: The regulations were  due to come into force in February 2021, however, in light of  difficulties caused by COVID-19, we sought and the Scottish Parliament agreed to delay the implementation of this legislation for a period of 12 months to February 2022.

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

Types of alarms required

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?

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

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

A: There are two types of alarms that comply with the new standard:

  1. Tamper proof long-life lithium battery alarms, which can be fitted by householders themselves or;
  2. Mains-wired alarms, which are cheaper than tamper proof long-life battery alarms, but should be installed by a qualified electrician in accordance with BS7671.

Mains-wired alarms, however, are required to be installed by an electrician which will be an additional cost to homeowners. Any re-decoration to walls and/or ceilings should be taken into consideration. You may also need a building warrant if you live in a flat.

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

Both types of alarms are available to purchase online or in store from a number of retailers. Some retailers are offering various payment methods which allow the cost of the new alarms to be split over a period of time rather than a one off payment.

Some retailers currently have dedicated sections on their website designed to help consumers in Scotland to buy alarms which meet the new standard and we hope that more retailers will also do this. Some retailers are offering ‘bundles’ of these alarms which can be cost effective and makes the purchase process easier.

Q: How do I choose which alarms are best for me?

A:  First choose whether you want battery powered alarms which you can fit yourself (or can be fitted by a handyperson if you don’t feel confident) or hard wired alarms that require to be fitted by an electrician.

If you choose battery alarms, they must be tamper proof long-life lithium battery powered and must be capable of being interlinked. The carbon monoxide alarm must have a sealed battery for the duration of its operational lifespan, which may be up to 10 years. If you are using an electrician to install alarms, you can also seek their advice on what alarms to buy as some may include alarms as part of their service.

Once you have chosen which system to install, choose a reputable brand, make sure the packaging clearly displays compliance with BS EN14604:2005 for smoke alarms and BS 5446-2:2003 for heat alarms.

Carbon monoxide alarms should have the British Kitemark (EN 50291-1)

Battery Alarm System (self-install) Hard Wired System (requires professional fitting by electrician)
A system of interconnected battery-powered detectors powered by a sealed tamper‑proof primary battery or batteries A system of interconnected mains powered detectors, each with a tamper‑proof standby supply consisting of a battery or batteries
  A system of interconnected mains-powered detectors, each with an integral standby supply consisting of a user‑replaceable battery or batteries.

Please note: 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) makes it clear that only heat alarms should be installed in kitchens.

Q: Can the interlinking of alarms be done wirelessly, or will hardwiring be required?

A: The regulations allow for alarms to be either hardwired or sealed, tamper proof long-life lithium battery powered. Both types of alarm can be interlinked by radio frequency

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: 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.

Replaceable Batteries/Sensors

Q: Would it be possible to use rechargeable batteries instead of having to replace them?

A: Unfortunately, this is not possible as sensors in the alarm will degrade over time leading to a reduced sensitivity in detecting heat or smoke, resulting in the alarm system needing to be replaced.  Any alarm that is purchased will contain information on its usability time period and you should check the date on which the system must be replaced – this can be up to 10 years.

Sealed, tamper proof battery units are safer than those which allow the user to change the batteries – there have been several tragedies over the years where alarms have not functioned because batteries have expired or people have removed them.

Costs of Alarms and Financial Assistance

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.

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: Will there be any financial assistance provided to pensioners and disabled people 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.

Older and disabled homeowners can also contact their local Care and Repair service who provide independent advice and assistance to repair, improve or adapt their homes so that they can live in comfort and safety in their own community.

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.

Compliance with the new standard

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 they come to sell their 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.

Information and advice 

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.

SFRS recently launched their Make the Call campaign aimed at carers, family, friends and of those over 50 who are most at risk because of an accidental fire in their home.

Household Insurance

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.

Building regulations requirements

Q: I am having an extension added to my home – and need to meet building regulations.  What types of alarms can I install?

A: While building regulations 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. The building standards system gives the local authority verifier a degree of flexibility when applying the building regulations to alterations, extensions and conversions. They can consider 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.

Q: Is a building warrant required for the installation of fire and CO alarms?

A: 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 commercial enterprises

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.


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