THE SNP Government promised parliament there would be a major publicity drive about new smoke and fire alarm rules that later caught people by “complete surprise”, The Herald can reveal.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart told a Holyrood committee it was "imperative that we get the publicity right" and that there would be “a lot of awareness raising done”.

"The committee can be assured that we will work on a strategy to ensure that we get the messages across to people,” Mr Stewart said almost two years ago.

"We will look to ensure that we get it absolutely right."

He is now delaying the changes after a public backlash.

The Scottish Government last night confirmed it would ask Holyrood to change the law so that the legislation involved came into effect in 2022 instead of next year.

It follows a wave of public anger in recent days prompted by private alarm installers, rather than the government, highlighting the looming rule change for householders. 

Under the rules, which were a response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, all homeowners would have to meet the same standards as social and private landlords, with interlinked fire and heat alarms and carbon monoxide detectors where required.

The cost of such alarms, which is not covered by any grant, would be at least £200, but some professional installers were asking up to £600.

Failure to install the alarms could have invalidated people’s home insurance. 

Age Scotland said it had been inundated with calls from people worried about the cost and the risk of having tradespeople in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

It said most homeowners had been caught “by complete surprise”, with “near radio silence from the Scottish Government about this over the course of the year”.

However it has emerged that Mr Stewart promised a full publicity campaign when he appeared before Holyrood’s local government committee in December 2018 to seek parliamentary approval for the legislation behind the changes, known as the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (Tolerable Standard) (Extension of Criteria) Order 2019.

Green MSP Andy Wightman asked him: “In general terms, what publicity is done on regulations such as these, which affect every home occupier in Scotland?”

Mr Stewart replied: “There will be a lot of awareness raising done about the changes. 

“Again, we will do that in combination with partners, including the SFRS [Scottish Fire and Rescue Service]. 

“We have also looked at ensuring that the publicity will ensure that people are not conned into buying something that is not the right fit for the new legislation. 

“The committee can be assured that we will work on a strategy to ensure that we get the messages across to people. 

“The last thing that I want is people being hoodwinked into getting incompatible systems. We will work in partnership with others to ensure that we get all that right.”

Mr Stewart went on: "I assure Mr Wightman that we will talk to consumer groups - Citizens Advice Scotland and others—in order to get that message across. It is imperative that we get the publicity right. I do not want to see anybody being fleeced.

"The key will be the messages from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Government.

"We will look to ensure that we get it absolutely right."

He is now delaying the measures because of poor planning and Covid.

He said: “Given the impact of Covid-19, and the difficulties this is likely to create for people seeking to install new smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, we have listened to concerns and decided to ask the Scottish Parliament to delay implementation.

“If this delay is approved, we will continue to work with partners to spread awareness of the changes before the new deadline. 

“Our focus will be on supporting householders to ensure satisfactory fire alarms are installed so we can improve the safety of their homes.”

Adam Stachura, head of policy at Age Scotland, said: "This significant change impacts the vast majority of households, but it seems to have been the best kept secret in Scotland.

"Almost as soon as the law changed the Scottish Government stopped talking about it.

“We have heard from many older people in recent days who have been taken aback at the financial and technical implications this requirement will have on them, and quite frankly, they are astounded that the first they have heard about it is three months short of the original deadline.

“This only seems to have risen its head again after some pretty provocative sales material posted through people’s doors which included the Scottish Government’s logo. The way this has all unfolded is highly regrettable.”

Tory MSP Alexander Stewart said: “It is welcome that the SNP Government bowed to the inevitable and have delayed this for a year.

“Landing this change on households as we continue to tackle the pandemic was always bound to cause concern among many households, who will now be relieved at this decision.

“Ahead of the policy now being introduced in 2022, the SNP Government must be more proactive in terms of communicating these significant changes ahead of them being taking place.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “It’s been an embarrassing set of events for the housing minister. 

“Hundreds of thousands of people found out for the first time about the new fire alarm requirements when a commercial company claiming the endorsement of the Scottish Government dropped a flimsy leaflet through their letterbox. 

“We now need a probe into how a commercial company was ever given permission by the government to use the official logo to endorse its work.

“Rather than reassuring people the leaflet caused alarm with people concerned about the consequences of these changes. 

“What we also need is a new plan and it needs to be prepared urgently. 

“It needs to be fully funded so that those on low incomes get the support to install the alarms which will cost over £200 per house and it needs to be promoted through a government information campaign with technical advice on how to get it done.”

Labour said it remained unclear whether the public would have to bear the full cost of the alarms after the delay.

MSP Pauline McNeill said: “Any steps taken to protect renters and homeowners from the risk of fire is to be welcomed but, frankly, the Scottish Government has been far too slow to give people clarity over this matter.

“On the one hand, it appears the legal duty for installing alarms rests with local authorities.

"However on the other, the government are asking individual home owners to foot the bill.

“Pensioners, and many others, may not have the resources to meet the costs, and Age Scotland has already raised the problems around rogue traders preying on the elderly or vulnerable. Bringing strangers into the house for work will be worrying for many people. 

“Councils have also faced restricted access to carry out essential maintenance on properties due to Covid-19 restrictions, and will find it challenging to meet the deadline to complete work if they cannot enter people’s homes. 

“The Scottish Government needs to give people clarity over this issue as a matter of urgency. We can’t have the people of Scotland kept in the dark.”