Flats, residential care homes targeted in government's fire safety pilot

Sprinklers are to be installed in domestic properties under government plans to reduce fire damage, which costs insurers more than £1bn a year.

Ministers want to initially target vulnerable buildings such as blocks of flats and residential care homes. But they are also studying low-cost systems that could be fitted in millions of homes.

Fire safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick said a pilot project in Little Rissington in the Cotswolds had been "very encouraging", although more work was needed.

The action comes as the ABI reported that last year was the costliest ever for fire claims, setting back insurers £1.15bn.

Fitzpatrick said sprinklers had an "important part" to play, although a further pilot was likely to be necessary to determine their cost and how they would work in practice.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister hopes to fund a low-cost sprinkler scheme for new social housing projects next year. But Fitzpatrick cautioned it could be years before the necessary work had been completed.

New regulations for commercial fire risks
Commercial policyholders must comply with new government fire regulations or risk not only prosecution but also having their cover withheld by insurance companies, Alexander Forbes has warned.

The broker said insurers may "re-examine their warranties and claims conditions" to penalise those who ignore the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which comes into effect on 1 April.

The new law aims to improve fire safety by placing greater responsibility on employers to assess the risk of fire and take the necessary steps to reduce or improve it.

The change in the law was welcomed by the ABI, which sees it is "a means of further raising awareness in fire safety management".

A spokesman said: "Latest ABI figures show that commercial fire claims in 2005 cost a record £791m."