Draft Building Safety Bill – key reforms and implications

18th August 2020

The Government recently published its Draft Building Safety Bill, stating that it will provide the ‘biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years’.

The Bill will introduce new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and the construction products used, with the safety of residents in high rise buildings being at the heart of the new regime.

It will also establish a new era of accountability, making it clear where the responsibility for managing safety risks lies amongst developers, property managers, and residents throughout the design, construction and occupation of buildings in scope.

For those failing to meet their obligations, there will be tougher sanctions. Central to ensuring the regime is effective will be the establishment of a Building Safety Regulator, created as part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which will have considerable enforcement powers.

A new Building Safety Regulator

For those failing to meet their obligations, there will be tougher sanctions. Central to ensuring the regime is effective will be the establishment of a Building Safety Regulator, created as part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which will have considerable enforcement powers.

The new Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for overseeing and implementing a more stringent regulatory regime for buildings classified as being high-risk and will oversee the safety performance of buildings, including improving competence within the built environment sector.

Under the new regulations, where a corporate body has committed an offence with the consent or connivance of any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer, that individual may also be prosecuted. The time limit for prosecution for breaches of the building regulations has been extended from two to ten years.

Dutyholder system

The Bill will also see the implementation of a new dutyholder system, where different parties will have prescribed responsibilities at each stage of the building’s lifecycle. This will include the creation of new roles; the ‘Accountable Person’ and the ‘Building Safety Manager’.

The Accountable Person will be legally responsible for the fire and structural safety of a building so it can be safely occupied. They will be required to appoint the role of competent Building Safety Manager to support them in carrying out the day to day functions of ensuring that the building is safely managed.

Building Safety Charge

The new rules will see the implementation of a ‘Building Safety Charge’ for leaseholders, which will fund safety improvements within a building and will be separate to the service charge.

New Building Safety Advisory Committee

A number of new bodies will be created to support the work of the Building Safety Regulator, including the introduction of a Building Safety Advisory Committee, which, importantly, will include the representation of residents.

New Homes Ombudsman

Under the Building Safety Bill, new build homebuyers will have their right to complain to a New Homes Ombudsman on issues such as poor building work and faulty wiring. The Ombudsman will have statutory powers to award compensation, hold developers to account and order developers to fix sub-standard building work.

Requirements for building owners

In preparation for the new Bill, building owners will need to ensure that they continue to:

  • Identify their high-risk buildings – e.g those which are high-rise, have external cladding that is unsafe
  • Establish exactly what material their buildings are constructed from
  • Identify any gaps where information relating to their buildings is not currently known and ensure any such gaps are filled
  • Understand where their buildings could have External Wall System (EWS) installations that do not meet requirements
  • Complete any required remedial works – both short- and long-term

Accurately review, store and track progress of fire safety risk data

It is vital that property owners have systems in place to track fire safety risk data in one central, secure location. Property risk management systems, such as RiskWise, can help simplify the collation and tracking of fire safety information.

RiskWise allows users to undertake property risk scoring of properties across their portfolio, to identify the characteristics of each building and provide a risk score. Once compliance scoring has been completed, data can be stored, and progress tracked on RiskWise.

In addition, fire-related documentation can be stored electronically on RiskWise. Once such data has been captured and analysed in RiskWise – and any at-risk assets identified – data can then be easily shared with relevant parties, such as property owners, managers, funds or occupiers.

S2’s interpretation of the proposed changes

The draft Building Safety Bill is a positive step towards a commitment to fire safety, particularly in high rise buildings, however, there is some ambiguity relating to where these changes will apply in the long -term. Previous documents published, including the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, referenced the potential change of high-rise categorisation from anything above an 11 metre threshold, although this Bill only references the 18 metre threshold, which is already in place.

The steps towards implementing a more regulated framework for competence is a positive move, that should help engage those involved in building construction to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the fire safety impact of construction methods utilised. This should result in a higher quality of fire safety within newly constructed buildings.

There is still some ambiguity regarding who will be the accountable person for a building.  This is particularly the case where there is a more complex ownership structure in place, for example, where there are Residents’ Management Associations or similar involved, so the freeholder has limited on site responsibility for day-to-day activities. The Bill appears to place the responsibility on the Residents’ Management Association for building safety. However, as the freeholder of a building has an active interest in the property, there is still the potential that the freeholder could have some responsibility under the Bill, albeit with limited power to implement any effective changes.

Although there are expectations about the ‘golden thread’ of information, there is still some ambiguity concerning where this information will be held. Previous documentation has suggested that this will be a government data storage system, however, it is still unclear exactly what this will consist of.

The Bill highlights to landlords the importance of obtaining information about their building construction, as this will be a key factor in effectively managing fire safety. Again, previous documents have also emphasised the importance of “taking reasonable steps” to ensure that materials identified as being installed in existing buildings are actually in situ. This effectively means that the accountable person will need to complete surveys of the building to check that the construction materials used meet Building Regulation requirements and do not promote the spread of fire.

This document is the latest release relating to fire safety that will have a significant impact on owners and managers of high-rise commercial properties and came very close to the applications deadline for the non-ACM Building Safety Fund.

It further demonstrates the Government’s commitment to addressing the issue of fire safety within residential buildings and improving the knowledge associated with the construction materials used.

How the S2 Partnership can help

For further advice or guidance on fire regulation issues, contact our specialist fire safety team. The S2 Partnership has a dedicated team of fire safety experts, providing fire risk assessments, training, guidance and fire safety management systems to a range of organisations to meet legal obligations. The SPartnership works with clients to develop robust fire safety solutions, providing the right support to each individual organisation to protect lives, buildings and businesses. For further information, contact us.