London Fire Brigade

New figures highlight Brigade's "beds in sheds" concern

02 October 2012

New figures released today by London Fire Brigade reveal the full life threatening extent of  fires in “beds in sheds” and other buildings that should not be being lived in.

The statistics show that over the last three years there have been 235 fires – almost one every five days – in buildings that appeared to have people living in them when they should not have been.  These blazes have caused four deaths and 45 serious injuries, more than one a month.

Fire Chiefs are particularly concerned at  emerging evidence which shows a growth in ad-hoc “back garden developments” which sees sheds and other unsuitable buildings, such as garages and industrial units, being rented out as accommodation.

Since 2009 there have been 16 fires, three fire deaths and seven serious fire injuries at incidents specifically involving properties fitting this description - so-called “beds in sheds.”

Last month the Government launched new guidance to councils making clear the wide range of powers at their disposal to shut down this sort of housing.

Now Fire Chiefs are calling on Londoners to be vigilant and to inform their local council housing team or London Fire Brigade if they see signs that disreputable landlords are trying to profit from people living in dodgy developments  that are clearly not meant to be inhabited.

Tell tale signs that a building might be being lived in illegally include:

• Domestic rubbish being left outside “empty” commercial buildings
• Buildings which have been empty for a period suddenly occupied with no sign of commercial activity
• Windows of commercial properties covered by sheets, cardboard or domestic ‘decorative’ curtains  to keep out light.
• People entering late at night
• The building’s electricity supply being wired up to external power sources such as street lamps.

The Brigade first drew attention to this issue in January and fires in these premises continue to be a problem. As recently as July the Brigade was called to a blaze in Seven Kings where a garage was being used as self contained living accommodation.
Chair of  London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s Strategy Committee Cllr Crada Onuegbu said: “The issue of “beds in sheds,” as well as people living in other unsuitable buildings, continues to be a concern, as unscrupulous landlords looking to make a quick buck put lives at risk in shoddy accommodation. These figures are a stark reminder that properties like these are potentially lethal fire traps. It’s inevitable that people living in them rely on far riskier ways of heating, cooking and lighting but unfortunately fire safety is not a priority for the landlords who illegally rent  them out.

“It’s not only people living in this accommodation whose lives are being put in danger. There’s also an increased risk to our firefighters if they need to carry out life-saving rescues in buildings that are in a state of dereliction and that were never intended to be used as sleeping accommodation.”

In April the Government announced a new task force to tackle the problem of “beds in sheds” and London Fire Brigade has now been appointed to provide professional advice based on its experience of the issue in the capital.