Weekly Poll – New Fire Safety Rules

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 7 February 2022, we asked a question about New Fire Safety Rules.

Results

Question 1. Are you aware of the new fire safety regulations?

  • YES – 99% (242 respondents)
  • NO – 1% (2 respondents)

Question 2. If yes, have you, or are you making arrangements for new interlinked alarms to be fitted to your home?  

  • YES – 44% (106 respondents)
  • NO – 56% (136 respondents)

Question 3. Have you experienced any barriers when seeking to fit alarms to your home?   

  • YES – 74% (174 respondents)
  • NO – 26% (60 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Awareness

From February 2022, all Scottish homes will need to have interlinked smoke and heat alarms installed. Interlinked means if one goes off, they all go off, so you will always hear an alarm wherever you are in your home. Respondents recognised the importance of why the legislation has been introduced to help improve fire safety in homes across Scotland, whilst also ensuring that appropriate support is in place.

“These alarms are really important. As long as anyone who gets them is supported, financially and in the admin process, they have to be a good thing.”

“I’ve been in a house fire, so I understand the importance of smoke alarms and agree with the law.”

“I support the law change but it’s vital that adequate guidance and support is available for the public.”

Almost all respondents (99%), indicated that they are aware of the new fire safety legislation. However, a portion of respondents believed that there has not been enough information shared with the public about the change in law and the support that is available to assist with installation.

“Information about change in the law has been abysmal. The only correspondence about it was a leaflet from someone selling alarms – no official documents at all. It is only in the last month or so there’s been any real coverage on the news – it’s a bit late when there’s only a month to go. If you don’t follow the news or use social media, it would be very easy to miss. A mailshot to every home in Scotland would be a cost-effective way of getting the message to everyone.”

“I don’t think the reason for the changes has been well circulated, the safety reasoning is sound, but it needs fresh advertising.”

“So many folks are totally confused and, of course, too many cowboys taking advantage.”

One respondent stated that they found it difficult to access information about the change in law in an accessible format that met their communication preferences.

“I’ve not been able to find any accessible information (Easy Read) about the scheme – I was fortunate that a neighbour found some for me otherwise I would have been very confused. I still am if I am honest.”

Cost

Cost of Purchase and Fitting

Almost three quarters of respondents (74%), stated they had faced barriers when seeking to fit interlinked smoke and heat alarms. One of the most significant barriers reported was the cost associated with purchasing the alarms and having them installed. Disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and will have less income to cover the cost.

“I’m getting the alarms fitted next week at a cost of £370. I will have to go without other things for a few months to afford this. I own my own home but have very limited income as I’m disabled.”

“The cost was a barrier and I had to borrow money to buy them. My local council couldn’t help me either. I am disabled and also need help to install them so that will be another cost and I have a very limited income so won’t be going out for a few months to pay for this.”

“I have arranged to have the alarms installed but won’t be able to have any breaks this year.”

“These were much more expensive than the alarms I already have. It will be beans on toast for the foreseeable future.”

“Was an equality impact assessment completed on this? If so, did they talk to disabled people and people trying to get by on restricted and low incomes?”

Cost of Living Concerns

Respondents raised further concerns about the timing of the new legislation when the cost of living is going up. The increase in the price of food, clothing, energy, and fuel will further impact on disabled people who are struggling to make ends meet.

“How are we meant to afford this on top of all the other cost of living increases. Nobody ever thinks of the impact on a disabled household with very limited money coming in.”

“These things are too expensive – I can barely afford electricity and food. I’m disabled and cannot fit them myself to cut down the cost.”

“I can’t afford this. I hardly have enough money for food. Now extra heating costs and no increase to disability payments so how are we supposed to afford this?”

“The ongoing cost is something that needs to be factored in – I’ve never had a smoke alarm last more than 5 years rather than the ten they’re supposed to. I’m expecting to pay about £40 a year just to keep them running which is difficult with the cost of living crisis at the moment.”

“I think a lot of households will find it difficult to pay for these, especially as gas and electric is so expensive now.”

Financial Support 

Older and disabled homeowners on low incomes may be eligible for support to fit interlinked alarms from funding allocated to Care and Repair Scotland by the Scottish Government. To be eligible for support, you must live and own your home with a Council Tax banding of A-C. You must also either be of state pension age and in receipt of guaranteed Pension Credit or have a disability and be in a support group for Employment and Support Allowance. A portion of respondents stated that they had received support from their local Care and Repair.

“Due to my disability, I have access to an organisation called Care and Repair within my local authority who supplied and installed the alarms for me. They also gave advice on the types of light bulbs I should use to save on energy.”

“I found Aberdeen Care and Repair and they were so helpful. I first contacted them in September and had my alarms supplied and fitted last week and luckily I qualified for free supply and fitting.”

“I got help from the government scheme, it was quite straightforward.”

Some respondents reported that when contacting Care and Repair Scotland, they were told that funding for their area had already been allocated. In January 2022, the Scottish Government announced that Care and Repair Scotland had been given an additional £500,000, taking the total support to help people install the alarms to £2 million.

“My main barrier is finding the money to buy them and get them fitted. The cheapest quote I have had is £300! That will take me a long time to save. I phoned Care and Repair, but they said that the budget is all allocated as it was on a first come basis.”

“Care and Repair ran out of money very quickly – although this hasn’t affected me, it has affected others. It looks like funding was an afterthought and was nowhere near sufficient. The elderly and disabled are the most at risk of dying in fires so I feel that more should have been done for them.”

“I don’t have the money to do it and Care and Repair have no money left to help. I filled in numerous forms to try and get financial help, but nothing.”

In certain instances, disabled people did not meet the eligibility criteria for support through Care and Repair Scotland. It was suggested that there needs to be greater awareness in place as to where disabled people can receive additional financial support.

“I am disabled and only have a small income but still didn’t qualify for any financial help as I don’t receive any of the linked or legacy benefits.”

“I couldn’t get financial help including from the places mentioned so I am putting a bit by each month and hope to have them fitted by the summer. That said, given the hike in gas and electricity prices that may put things back a bit.”

“Cost is prohibitive for elderly and disabled people who don’t meet the criteria for getting a grant. Financial help is means tested. I have concerns about insurance firms eventually increasing premiums for noncompliance.”

“I have a disability but do not qualify for assistance. A link to where to get affordable assistance for installing would be helpful.”

“With the increased fuel cost in the last 3 months I don’t have the money at present to replace my smoke alarms. I am physically disabled and although there is support available nobody can tell me where to source this support so I can proceed with the new alarms.”

Availability and Installation

Nearly half of respondents (44%) stated that they are making arrangements to have the interlinked alarms installed. However, it was reported that in certain cases, there has been limited stock, which delayed the alarms from being installed. One respondent believed that some suppliers are exploiting the new legislation and overcharging for the alarms.

“Too expensive and out of stock. Lack of choice with lithium batteries required.”

“I have booked a fitter to install the new alarms, but he is having problems getting the alarms.”

“Firstly, I had problems getting the money together to pay for it, now I can’t get someone to do it until April as they are all booked up. I tried a different supplier, but they wanted £200 more.”

“Finding somewhere that stocked them without overcharging was a barrier.”

Concerns were also raised about the safety of having unknown tradespeople fitting the alarms in the homes of disabled people. In addition, some disabled people did not feel comfortable with having tradespeople enter their property due to the risks associated with COVID-19.

“The cost is a barrier as is finding someone trustworthy and reliable to come and fit the alarms. I’m disabled and live alone so need a carer to be in the house when the alarms are fitted. Did anyone think of this? For a disabled female, living alone the last thing you want is an unknown tradesman roaming into every room unsupervised.”

“I’m scared of having people in the house in case they give me COVID.”

“Yes, I am aware of the new fire regulations, however I have done nothing about this issue at this time due to the COVID situation. I had to shield at the start of the pandemic, and I still have concerns about COVID and letting someone in who I don’t know to fit the system.”

Residents of council and housing association properties reflected on their experiences of having the interlinked alarms installed.

“My home is owned by Trust Housing Association – they were very prompt in fitting and testing them.”

“Our housing association has properties for disabled people, and they installed the alarms for us.”

“As a council tenant, alarms were fitted last year. No problems.”

“I stay in a Housing Association property – sudden, urgent, last-minute rush through January to get work done – expect people to be in, available, willing and capable to accommodate at very short notice – No choice, no options, “work has to be done – legal requirement”, threats of forced entry at tenants’ expense if don’t provide necessary access! Bullied into accommodating at short notice, their lack of management and incompetence. No accounting or allowance for employment, health, disability, the fact we are still in middle of a pandemic with persistently high numbers – like anything else with Housing Association properties, tenants are no more than cattle, herded around at the whim of the Association.”

Accessibility

Respondents commented on the accessibility and suitability of interlinked fire alarms. Some disabled people require an accessible low level switch position for testing and turning the alarm off. Deaf people may require an alarm system with high-intensity strobe lights and vibration pads. It was reported that alarms with these features can be more expensive and difficult to source.

“I need a low-level test/cancel button, these aren’t easy to get hold of and limit choice. I’ve just got a broom handle. Not ideal nor safe but it’s the only thing I can do at the moment. Ensuring that alarm systems are suitable for disabled people should have been factored into the plan and options included in the legislation.”

“Accessible specialist fire and smoke alarms for deaf people costs more than normal fire and smoke alarms. Sometimes twice or three times as much. A huge disadvantage and a financial burden. Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is not clear on giving advice to disabled / deaf people. Some deaf have been told they’re not “classed as high risk”. That’s dangerous. Everyone should be classed as high risk, a fire can start anywhere, no matter where you live. Not all disabled / deaf people can get appropriate support, depending on where they live, council tax band, whether they’re an owner or tenant.”

One respondent shared the impact of interlinked alarms on people who experience sensitivity to certain sounds or frequencies.

“In my case, these are already fitted to my property. I do have an issue to raise which is of concern, the value of these alarms is unquestionable, however, my daughter and I suffer intermittently, the delights of variable conditions, from quite severe auditory sensitivity. When these alarms go off (there are 4 of them in our house) two of which are in the escape route from the property, were we to be suffering this sensitivity at the time of a fire the noise from these alarms would literally paralyse us making escape impossible. In the past, I have had to be removed from a cinema because the volume in the auditorium was too high and I was unable to move due to the severe pain I was subjected to. I appreciate that this might not be a common complaint, but it needs to be flagged to government, health boards, alarm manufacturers and emergency services.”

Conclusion

Disabled people shared their experiences of the new fire safety legislation involving the installation of interlinked smoke and heat alarms. There was recognition of the importance of improving fire safety, however, the cost associated with purchasing and sourcing the alarms was identified as a significant barrier for disabled people, particularly for those with limited disposable income. This has been further exasperated by the cost of living crisis and the increase in food, clothing, energy and fuel prices. The Scottish Government funding through Care and Repair Scotland has assisted some disabled people with covering the cost and installation of the interlinked alarms. However, a portion of respondents reported that they were told the funding had run out in their area. Disabled people also commented on the accessibility of the alarms, where it can be more expensive and difficult to source a low level switch or strobe lights and vibration pads for deaf people.