Published: 06:00, 20 October 2019
| Updated: 10:39, 21 October 2019
A fifth of public buildings and flats audited by fire services in Kent fail to meet fire safety standards, figures reveal.
Buildings tested include care homes, hospitals and high-rises, as well as schools and shops.
All non-domestic properties and communal areas receive fire safety audits at some point, to make sure they follow fire safety laws, with a rating of “unsatisfactory” indicating changes are needed.
There was renewed focus on the safety of public buildings following the devastating Grenfell Tower blaze in London two years ago which killed 72 people.
A subsequent investigation discovered cladding on the building allowed the fire to spread quickly, trapping people inside.
It prompted a major review of buildings both to ensure they would not allow any blaze to progress as well as ensuring suitable escape routes were in place.
Kent Fire and Rescue Service carried out 1,517 audits in 2018-19, the latest Home Office statistics show.
Of these, 20% were deemed unsatisfactory – 300 buildings in total.
Checking unsatisfactory buildings took up 11 weeks of the Kent Fire and Rescue Service building safety team's time, according to the data, with tasks ranging from contacting property owners and managers to carrying out on-site visits and enforcement action.
Premises falling short on safety standards are subject to follow-up action from the fire service or courts, taking into account the threat posed to the public and whether those responsible agree to make changes.
Inspectors issued 839 written warnings in 2018-19, and 179 formal notices comprising of: 149 enforcement notices stating what improvements are needed and when; 28 prohibition notices banning or restricting use of the premises until problems are sorted; one order to tell firefighters of changes that may raise the fire risk in the building; and one prosecution.
Following audits, 51 premises were brought back into “satisfactory” standards.
"It is for individual fire and rescue authorities to decide what inspections are necessary, based on their assessment of local risk...”
Not all premises in the area would have been inspected over the period.
Fire services choose how many audits they carry out based on their own inspection strategy – meaning crews may elect to target higher-risk properties.
Across England, crews carried out 49,300 audits in 2018-19, representing 3% of all premises known to them.
A third of audits were unsatisfactory, a similar share to the previous year, though the number of audits carried out was down by 42% since 2010-11.
Asked what fewer fire checks meant for public safety, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “Fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their important work and overall will receive around £2.3 billion in 2019-20.
“Fire and rescue authorities must have in place a risk-based inspection programme to ensure buildings comply with fire safety standards.
“It is for individual fire and rescue authorities to decide what inspections are necessary, based on their assessment of local risk.”
More by this authorChris Britcher