A wheelchair sign stencilled onto a wall

I’m disabled and worried about fire escapes in my tower block

Fire safety is a natural concern for people living in tower blocks, and all the more so if you have restricted mobility.

Your landlord is responsible for ensuring that, in case of a fire, there are safe emergency exit routes and plans that set out how everyone can leave the building as efficiently as possible.

Social housing has a higher than average number of tenants whose mobility is restricted. When a landlord conducts a Fire Risk assessment for your block, it should include careful consideration of every tenants’ abilities and needs.

Plans should not assume everyone in the building is able bodied – your landlord should be aware of the individual needs of every tenant in the block. If you think your landlord doesn’t know about any mobility issues that may affect your ability to make an exit in an emergency, you should tell them.

What the law says

Under the Equalities Act 2010, all safety measures should be as effective for disabled tenants as for everyone else. Disabled tenants must not be put at any disadvantage, and this includes the ability to get to safety if a fire breaks out.

What should the landlord do?

In England and Wales, your landlord has a responsibility to conduct a regular fire risk assessment, and in Scotland this is strongly encouraged. 

This assessment should consider the situations of the actual tenants living in the block at the time of the assessment. The landlord must make sure that any tenants who may have particular mobility or awareness issues are as safe as everyone else. 

This might include:

  • deaf tenants who may not be able to hear alarms 
  • blind or visually impaired tenants who might not be able to see or read signs marking the escape route
  • tenants who use a wheelchair or other mobility aids, who make take longer to exit a building and may need a wider space  
  • tenants with impaired mobility, such as the elderly, who may be less stable and less able to hurry
  • tenants with impaired awareness, such as those with dementia or learning difficulties, who may find it harder to follow or remember instructions.

If there people in any of these categories in your tower block, fire safety measures must be put in place to make these tenants as safe as everyone else. 

For example, deaf tenants who cannot hear a fire alarm may need a flashing light or vibrating alarm in their flat.

If there are wheelchair users in the block, fire escape routes must not contain steps and the corridor/doors must be wide enough for them to pass through with ease. 

Ideally, the landlord should speak to or visit each tenant so that they completely understand their needs and their level of mobility. They can then draw up a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).

What action can I take?

Be part of your community

You don’t have to be disabled yourself to take action: you could do so on behalf of a neighbour, if they are happy for you to do so.

Or if you are disabled and you don’t feel able to act by yourself, consider meeting up with other residents and asking them to join in.

Make the landlord aware

Whether you are acting alone or as part of a group, the first thing you should do is write to your landlord .

Point out the areas which you believe to be unsafe, and ask whether disabled tenants’ needs were considered in the most recent Fire Risk Assessment.

You can adapt and use this letter.

Tell the fire brigade

If you do not get a response, you might also contact the fire and rescue service to let them know you think that the tower block is not safe for everyone.

You can use this letter.

Escalate the issue

Your local councillor may be able to help – try emailing them.

You might possibly also contact the Environmental Health department of your local council. Here is more information about that.

If you are having problems getting any change to happen, it could be a good story for your local media.

Read this

Related guides

Image by Braden Hopkins. A fire exit sign Image by Braden Hopkins. A fire exit sign

Guide

How can I make my flat safer against fire?

Landlords and tenants can both help ensure your accommodation is safe from fire.

Guide

The corridors of my tower block are always blocked with things like buggies and furniture – are they a fire risk?

It’s important that corridors are kept clear because in case of emergency, everyone needs to be able to make a quick exit.
Image by SuHyeon Choi - a hand holds a phone above a crowd Image by SuHyeon Choi - a hand holds a phone above a crowd

Tools you can use

Using citizen journalism

What is citizen journalism and how can you use it to solve problems in your tower block?
A woman throwing paper planes A woman throwing paper planes

Tools you can use

Contacting your landlord

Tips and letter templates to help you communicate with your landlord when there’s something wrong, or you want to find out more.
A woman holding a clipboard and looking at fire safety signs. Image by Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke A woman holding a clipboard and looking at fire safety signs. Image by Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke

Reference

What is a fire risk assessment?

Every tower block should have regular Fire Risk Assessments – they’re a legal requirement. But what does it mean for you, the tenant?

Letter

Asking about fire risk assessments

Ask your landlord when the last Fire Risk Assessment was held and how you can see it for yourself.

Image credit