Revealed – More than 1 in 4 inspected buildings in Suffolk and Essex fail to meet fire safety standards

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said the public did not need to be alarmed that one in four auditted

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said the public did not need to be alarmed that one in four auditted buildings failed to meet safety standards. Picture: JAKE FOXFORD - Credit: Archant

More than a quarter of buildings in Suffolk and Essex inspected by firefighters last year were considered “unsatisfactory” according to new data.

Government data for 2018/19 revealed that Suffolk Fire and Rescue had carried out 491 fire safety audits on buildings of which 124 were classified 'unsatisfactory' - 25% of all buildings inspected.

Over the border in Essex this number was higher with 43% of the 843 buildings receiving the same rating.

In Suffolk those buildings which did not meet the sufficient standard included 39 care homes; nine blocks of flats which were four-stories or higher; two hostels; seven hotels; one house which had been converted into flats; two buildings described as "other sleeping accommodation", one "public building"; 46 licensed premises such as bars or clubs; one school; 14 shops; one warehouse and one other building open to the public.

Of the 152 care homes inspected in Essex, 51 - more than a third - were deemed unsatisfactory by Essex Fire and Rescue.

Almost half of the hotels (46%) and half of the schools inspected did not pass at a satisfactory standard.

While half of the 206 licensed properties, including pet shops and sex shops, also failed audits.

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According to the data published by the Home Office, 118 informal notices were issued requesting improvements in Suffolk; three enforcement notices were issued and six prohibition notices served.

It resulted in 16 of those properties being given a satisfactory rating following enforcement action.

In Essex only one building, a licensed premises, received an enforcement notice legally requiring improvements to be made.

The high number of care homes included in the unsatisfactory list prompted concern from Age UK, as care homes frequently have vulnerable adults who could struggle more if a fire broke out.

Jo Reeder, head of fundraising and marketing at Age UK Suffolk said: "The figures that have just been released on recent fire audits are quite alarming for Suffolk.

"With around 27% of care homes audited in the county being given an unsatisfactory rating, the reality is that if a fire or emergency situation were to arise, this affects a significant number of older people, often living with health and care challenges that could make access to safety very difficult."

A spokesman for Age UK Essex: "We're saddened to hear of such poor safety in Essex care homes. Home should be the place where we feel safest, the place we make our memories, and the place where we can grow old.

"A good care home enables residents to have a good quality of life, including being able to go out and to be as mentally and physically active as possible, with appropriate support. Age UK Essex believes this should be available to all."

Across England, more than 49,000 building audits were carried out, with 16,000 properties deemed unsatisfactory.

It is understood an unsatisfactory rating could be given as a result of a fire door or sign that needs improving, and was not necessarily an indicator that it was a Grenfell Tower level of fire safety failure.

Dave Pedersen, Area Commander with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said: "Our priority is to regularly work with owners of premises to help them conform to the appropriate fire safety regulations.

"Of the 491 premises audited in this report, none presented dangerous conditions and we have not had to follow through with any prosecutions. This is a credit to property owners and the positive relationships we have with them. This is also true of care homes, where we have just completed inspections as part of a three year rolling programme.

"The public does not need to be concerned that one in four premises in this report initially reported as unsatisfactory. In nearly every case just a minor change is needed to become satisfactory, this could simply be to improve record keeping or relocate a fire extinguisher. We support the owners to address these changes and all premises are monitored following the initial audit to ensure compliance is achieved."

A spokesman for Essex County Fire and Rescue said: "We work very closely with partners, businesses and private property owners to provide them with in-depth advice on fire safety legislation, doing everything we can to help them comply with the necessary standards.

"However, it is very important to understand the reasons that a building or property might receive an unsatisfactory rating. Many of those we visit are in constant use and subject to wear and tear - meaning easily addressable issues like fire doors being held open or items blocking escape routes can easily be rectified.

"It is very much the responsibility of the property owners to ensure the recommendations made following Fire Safety Audits are acted upon. Where necessary - in particularly serious breaches of legislation or when those recommendations are ignored - we will take enforcement action."

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