The new Building Safety Bill contains some ground-breaking reforms designed to give residents and homeowners more protection by ensuring that residential buildings are both constructed safely and then kept safe thereafter. The Government says that the Bill will “deliver the biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years”. It has been introduced following the Grenfell Tower disaster to enable the Government to fulfil its plan to end the cladding crisis and improve building safety.
Key elements of the bill
There are eight key elements to the Bill:
- Formation of a New Homes Ombudsman scheme which is to enable homebuyers to more easily challenge housebuilders’/developers’ service or poor workmanship; helping to improve building quality. After purchasing a new-build home from a developer, the purchaser would be able to submit a complaint against the developer within two years after completion. The complaint will be investigated by an independent ombudsman.
- Creation of the role of a Building Safety Regulator to oversee the safety and performance of all buildings, facilitate improvement in the competence of the industry and building control professionals, and lead to the implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings.
- New building regulations will be introduced that require the setting of levels of competence and to stipulate who can undertake certain work.
- Residents in high-rise buildings will have more say in the management of their building and will be able to raise building safety concerns directly with the owners/managers. The owners/managers will have a duty to listen to them. If residents feel that their concerns are being ignored, they can raise them with the Building Safety Regulator.
- The Bill seeks to amend the Limitation Act to extend the amount of time available to claim compensation for sub-standard construction work from 6 to 15 years. This will apply retrospectively, meaning that owners of properties built in the last 15 years would be able to bring a claim for defective work.
- Reforms will be made to the regulation of construction materials and to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, expanding the scope, in particular, to external parts of the building.
- Introduction of three gateways during the planning and construction process when building safety issues should be addressed: gateway one covers the planning stage and will utilise existing planning permission processes. Gateway two requires the Building Safety Regulator to be satisfied that the design meets the regulations requirements. Gateway three follows when the construction has been completed, the building control body will assess whether the work carried out meets the Building Regulations. The three gateways combined are intended to create a “golden thread” of safety information.
- Introduction of a new developer tax. This will bea 4% tax on profits for developers whose profits exceed £25million per annum. The intention is that this tax will be used to help fund the Government’s cladding remediation costs.
How will this impact building owners, developers and occupiers?
For building owners all this means that safety risks will need to be carefully managed and safety considered at every stage of a building’s lifetime. Those who do not meet their obligations may face criminal charges. For high-rise buildings, once occupied, an Accountable Person will need to be appointed who will be responsible for ensuring the fire and structural safety is being properly managed in the building. The Accountable Person can be a landlord or freeholder who is in charge of repairing the building.
For developers, the introduction of a new developer tax will have an impact on the largest development companies (with annual profits over £25m). Fire safety risks have to be carefully considered throughout the development and extend to external parts of the building.
For occupiers, the bill provides more protection and, if something goes wrong, more routes to seek a resolution (e.g. through the New Homes Ombudsman scheme).
The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in or around April 2022.
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