Communities and Local Government has this week released the latest national statistics on fires, casualties, false alarms and non-fire incidents attended by the Fire and Rescue Services in England. These statitics should remind solicitors that it is a real risk that houses burn down and the impact on the conveyancing process.
Between April 2009 and March 2010 there were 328 fatalities; five (one and a half per cent) more than in 2008-09. Accidental dwelling fires fatalities, which account for almost two thirds of all fire fatalities, were up by one from 209 in 2008-09 to 210 to 2009-10. Importantly for conveyancers there were 39,000 dwelling fires and some of these will have been going through the conveyancing process.
In 2009-10, the number of non-fatal casualties from fires fell by 8 per cent to 8,500 from 9,200 in 2008-09. As well as being advised to have effective domestic fire safety equipment available in the home and an evacuation route which the whole family is aware of, homeowners must also be aware of the risk of fire in any new house purchased.
As conveyancers all know when buying a property, the risk of the house being damaged or destroyed by fire usually passes to the new owner on exchange, and not on completion. Many conveyancers overlook this risk and consider it theoretical rather than real. In talking to insurers some firms could be failing a legal duty to the client if they do not advise the client to insure the new property against the risk of fire from the date of exchange of contracts.
The good news is that house fires generally are on a downward trend. In England the Fire and Rescue Services attended 527,000 fire and false alarm incidents in 2009-10 which is a 6 per cent decrease on 2008-09 – total fires fell by 3 per cent to 242,000. Dwelling fires were unchanged at 39,000 and fires in other buildings were down by 1 per cent to 22,000.