Building Safety Bill - Q&A briefing

Why has the Building Safety Bill been published?

Q. Why has the Building Safety Bill been published?

A. The draft Building Safety Bill will take forward the recommendations of the ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report’ (Hackitt Review).

Government has also published an explanation of the main measures to improve fire safety following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

 

Q. What are Building Safety Bill’s requirements?

The Bill will ensure that those responsible, such as landlords, for the safety of residents are accountable for any mistakes and put them right. It will establish the new Building Safety Regulator that will enforce the new rules and take strong action against those who break them.

The Regulator will have 3 main functions:

  • to oversee the safety and standard of all buildings,
  • directly assure the safety of higher-risk buildings; and
  • improve the competence of people responsible for managing and overseeing building work.

The Regulator will operate a new, more stringent set of rules for higher-risk residential buildings (not yet defined in the Bill or Explanatory notes) that will apply when buildings are designed, constructed and occupied. When residents move into a building covered by these rules, it will need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and will need a Building Assurance Certificate.

For all occupied higher-risk residential buildings, including those already in occupation, the Accountable Person will need to conduct and maintain a safety case risk assessment for each building and appoint a suitable Building Safety Manager (either as an individual, or as a body corporate) to be responsible for the day to day management of these properties. The term Building Safety Manager will be used throughout this Q&A to describe the role that needs to be undertaken by either an individual or a body corporate.

 

Q. What is the proposed scope of the Building Safety Bill?

The draft Bill introduces a new regulatory regime for higher-risk residential buildings, defined (in the Explanatory Notes) as being at least 18 metres above ground level or more than six storeys above ground level (whichever is reached first); and having two or more dwellings or two or more rooms used by one or more persons to live and sleep.

It will establish a new national Building Safety Regulator who will be responsible for implementing the new regulatory regime, overseeing the registration and inspection of higher-risk buildings. The Regulator will have powers to authorise remedial works, stop non-compliant projects, appoint special measures for failing projects and order the replacement of key fire safety officers.

The Bill will enable amendments to the Building Act to impose competency requirements on Dutyholders working on higher-risk buildings. They will also be required to ensure that all appointees and prescribed persons meet competency requirements.

It will also establish the role of Accountable Person who will be legally responsible for the safety of occupied higher-risk buildings and set out their duties. Supplementary provisions will allow complaints to be made to the New Homes Ombudsman and amend the Architects Act 1997 to allow monitoring of the competence of architects in line with the new regime.

 

Q. What is the Building Safety Regulator’s proposed powers?

The Building Safety Regulator will be the building control authority in respect of building work on new higher-risk buildings (e.g. it will be responsible for checking building work to verify that it complies with the Building Regulations) and overseeing and enforcing the new regime when the building is occupied. It will oversee the performance of other building control bodies (local authorities and registered building control approvers, previously called Approved Inspectors) and have the power to impose sanctions for poor performance.

The Regulator will be able to set up a multi-disciplinary team of authorised officers to carry out relevant building functions on its behalf and will be able to fine those who obstruct them or to prosecute anyone providing false or misleading information.

The Regulator will be able to issue Compliance Notices (requiring issues of non-compliance to be rectified by a set date) and Stop Notices (during the design and construction phase – requiring work to be halted until serious non-compliance is addressed). Contravention of either notice will be an offence and subject to penalties.

 

Q. Who will be the Duty holders and what are their responsibilities?

The Dutyholders will be:

  • Accountable Person who will be legally responsible for the safety of higher-risk buildings and have ongoing obligations to assess and prevent fire safety risks, update prescribed building safety information. The Person will need to register higher-risk buildings and apply for a Building Assurance Certificate before the building can be occupied or, it is expected, for occupation to continue in existing residential buildings.
  • Building Safety Manager (appointed by the Accountable Person) will be responsible for the day to day management of fire and structural safety in the building.

Both the Accountable Person and the Building Safety Manager must proactively engage with residents, provide them with key building information and develop a Resident Engagement Strategy.

 

Q. How will the Building Safety Regulator’s proposed powers be applied to existing residential buildings?

The Regulator will require all new higher-risk (residential) buildings to be registered before occupation and it is expected that existing residential buildings will need to be registered but the exact mechanisms have yet to be determined. It will ensure all higher-risk buildings, including existing ones, are managed and maintained to keep residents safe. It will have the power to inspect buildings and to require remedial work. The Accountable Person will be legally responsible for the safety of higher-risk buildings.

There will be a transition period before these new requirements apply to existing buildings but no timetable has yet been set out.

 

Q. How will it affect landlords?

Landlords will need to understand their duties under the new Building Safety regime, appoint Dutyholders and develop a Resident Engagement Strategy.

 

Q. What should landlords be doing now?

They should identify who the Accountable Person is and ensure that they understand what their new legal responsibilities are likely to be under the Building Safety Bill (these will be confirmed when the Bill becomes an Act).

The Accountable Person should consider appointing a suitable Building safety manager (either as an individual, or as a body corporate) to be responsible for the day to day management of each higher-risk building.

Landlords should start developing a Building Safety case for each higher-risk building. This will involve identifying all risk factors, considering how these might be mitigated and what layers of protection can be applied to each building. The focus will be on ensuring resident safety in each higher-risk building rather than just monitoring compliance against the legal requirements, such as gas safety, for all their stock. This will involve adopting a ‘holistic’ view that integrates their current compliance activities for each higher-risk building so they can report on how many are safe and which ones are unsafe.

 

Q. What factors should landlords consider for each Building Safety case?

Landlords should identify life critical safety factors, such as fire, gas, electrical, structural, asbestos, lifts and water hygiene for each higher-risk building.

They should collect information for each safety factor, which should include details of the original construction of the building and of what work has been carried out, to help identify risks to resident safety. There is an expectation that this information will be held digitally for all new buildings but over time for all buildings. The Hackitt Review recommended landlords should have a ‘golden thread’ of information for each building they owned, including those acquired by transfers or stock swaps.

Up to date evidence will needed to demonstrate resident safety for each higher-risk building (i.e. Building Safety case) which will explain how each risk is being mitigated and managed. Building Safety Managers will have an important role in ensuring evidence and assessments are kept up to date.

 

Q. How will the proposals be applied to existing residential buildings?

While the precise details have yet to be confirmed, they will be clear when the Bill becomes an Act and Building Safety legislation is published, the Government will require landlords to be responsible for ensuring resident safety, particularly for each higher-risk building. The Government expects landlords to be acting now to address risks to resident safety, such as those posed by unsafe cladding.

 

Q. What should building owners do about external wall systems?

Building owners should have an up to date fire risk assessment and understand the construction of external walls and their potential performance in the event of fire. The fire risk assessment should take into account height, materials, vulnerability of residents, location of escape routes, and the complexity of the building. (See Fire Safety Q&A)

External walls of residential buildings should not assist the spread of fire, irrespective of height. Existing residential buildings with external walls containing combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety and could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters. They should take action to address the risk of fire spread from unsafe external wall systems, as soon as possible to ensure the safety of residents and not wait for further advice or information to act.

For residential buildings of 18m and buildings at any height with residents who need significant assistance to evacuate, they should check their external wall systems in line with the advice in the Government’s consolidated Advice Note.

 

Q. What should building owners do about removing unsafe external wall systems?

The Government published guidance 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): pledge to ensure necessary building safety improvements can continue' on 16 April 2020 explaining that building owners should make buildings safe as a priority, including remediating high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding. The Government has explained that building safety work should continue during the Covid-19 restrictions where it is safe to do so, in accordance with public health guidance and procedures put in place by the construction industry to protect the workforce and minimise the risk of spreading infection.

 

Q. What good practice examples for Building Safety are there?

MHCLG set up its ‘Early adopters’ scheme to will trial ‘aspects’ of the new regulatory framework before legislation is passed. The group launched a building safety charter earlier in 2019. One housing association taking part, Clarion, is taking a proactive approach to developing Building Safety cases for each higher-risk building that was presented at a National Housing Federation webinar.

For each higher-risk building, they are:

  • appointing Building safety manager (either as an individual, or as a body corporate) s
  • assessing the risk factors and how these could be mitigated and managed
  • collecting evidence to demonstrate whether these buildings are safe
  • building the ‘golden thread’ of building information.

For each higher-risk building, they will be developing:

  • Localised resident engagement strategies
  • Building Safety cases
  • Comprehensive Building Safety regime.

 

Q. Where can landlords find out more?

Further information can be found in the updated NHMF fire safety guidance, T&H briefing, Federation Building Safety webinar, NHMF Case Studies.

 

Q. How can I keep up to date?

By subscribing to MCHLG Building Safety Programme.

 

Q. What good practice is available to social landlords for fire safety in multi-storey blocks of flats?

The NHMF Best Practice website provides best practice case studies.

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