Following post-Grenfell enquiries, large-scale changes have been enacted in the Building Safety Act (2022) regarding the role of fire safety in construction and building maintenance. The bill will run alongside the Fire Safety Act (FSA) to strengthen oversight, creating an independent regulator to be established by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Here is an overview of the new roles and responsibilities enacted by the bill, and their implications for accountability and transparency for both construction and fire safety.
What is the main objective of the Building Safety Act?
The bill is designed to prioritise building safety and address issues of accountability during the lifetime of the building. It applies to England and Wales, while some sections are also applicable in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Through the independent regulator, the design, construction, and occupation of high-rise buildings will be overseen. In addition, it will supply guidance to local regulators, landlords, building owners and occupants. The focus of the bill includes:
- Restrictions on landlords in terms of recovering certain costs via service charges
- The power held by the government to restrict developers’ ability to implement planning consents and obtain building control approval
- Potential liability for associated organisations if a building developer becomes insolvent
- New grounds for claims against product suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors
When will the Building Safety Act become law?
While the bill is proposed to become law by October 2024, this process will take place over several stages as some facets of the bill will become enforceable earlier. For example, changes to limits placed on claims previously outlined in the Defective Premises Act (1972) took effect in June 2022.
Does the Building Safety Act apply to all buildings?
The bill applies to all residential buildings, with a particular focus on high-rise and higher-risk residential buildings. Higher-risk buildings include hospitals and care homes that are at least 18m (or seven storeys) in height, and those buildings that have two or more residential units. These will need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and achieve a completion certificate before they can be occupied. For existing higher-risk buildings, a building assessment certificate will need to be completed where applicable as per the view of the Building Safety Regulator.
Has the Building Safety Act received royal assent?
The bill received royal assent in April 2022, but most of the provisions will not come into force until October 2024.
What does the Building Safety Act specify about fire safety?
Legislation will strengthen the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) through the implementation of several measures, including:
- Historic remediation costs, such as costs for non-compliant cladding, are now the responsibility of landlords and developers rather than leaseholders.
- The introduction of the Building Safety Pledge requires that housebuilders must fix any “life-critical fire safety defects”, not just those associated with cladding. This will apply to all buildings over 11m that have been constructed by the developers over the previous 30 years.
- Residents will be encouraged to participate in decisions about safety risks in their building. A complaints procedure will also be created and operated by the Principal Accountable Person to manage fire safety complaints.
- Buildings above seven storeys must have a dedicated ‘fire safety manager’, and the government has the power to act against house builders not paying to fix fire safety issues. Reporting to the new Building Safety Regulator is also mandatory.
- Registration of building inspectors and building control approvers is compulsory, as is the registration of occupied high-rise residential buildings with the Building Safety Regulator.
Gateway points have been developed to ensure fire safety and building safety requirements are met at key points of the design and construction process. These include:
- Gateway 1 – Currently in effect since August 2021, development involving high-rise residential buildings must demonstrate that fire safety has been prioritised before planning permission will be granted.
- Gateway 2 – Not yet in effect, this gateway will require that an application containing the full design intention is submitted to the new Building Safety Regulator before commencing any construction work.
- Gateway 3 – Also not yet in effect, a ‘hard-stop’ on occupation will be put in place while regulators carry out final inspections, culminating in the issue of a Completion Certificate.
How does the Building Safety Act define an ‘Accountable Person?’
An accountable person is the designated duty holder for fire safety. This includes managing the mandatory registration of the building before occupation and applying for the Building Assessment Certificate. They will also be responsible for proactively assessing and managing building safety risks through Safety Case reports that are submitted to the Building Safety Regulator.
Does the Building Safety Act protect leaseholders?
Yes – this includes provisions that no costs relating to the removal and replacement of external cladding and relevant defects will be recoverable from leaseholders. This will be the responsibility of the building owners and developers or manufacturers, and if this is not possible, then it can be submitted for government funding.
What is the ‘golden thread of information’ in the Building Safety Act?
The term ‘golden thread’ refers to a chain of evidence regarding compliance with the bill. It is designed to ensure detailed reporting of the building through its entire lifecycle. This will include accurate information on a building’s construction and refurbishment, passive and active fire safety measures and more. The golden thread will be accessible not only to regulators but also residents, emergency respondents and contractors. The golden thread must be provided to the accountable person and duty holders for the building.
How does the Building Safety Act affect the Defective Premises Act?
Regarding the Defective Premises Act (DPA), changes include an extension to 15 years for claims in respect to dwellings unfit for habitation and a 30-year retrospective limitation period for these claims. The DPA has also been extended to include refurbishment and work to existing dwellings. This includes a 30-year retrospective limitation period for claims against cladding manufacturers. In terms of Section 38, claims have also been extended to 15 years for breaches of the Building Regulations.
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