10th September 2020
Improving the safety of high-risk buildings

Last year, we wrote a blog detailing the actions that had so far been taken to improve the safety of high-rise buildings since the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017. We discussed the 2018 Hackitt report, which reviewed current building safety regulations and made a series of recommendations to improve the regulatory oversight of new high-risk buildings and ensure a consistent focus on building safety at every phase of design and construction.

On 20 July 2020, the draft Building Safety Bill (hereafter referred to as the draft Bill) was published, based on the outcome of the consultation that followed the Hackitt report. It’s been hailed by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick as the “biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years”.

So, what are the changes?

A new regulator

One of the Hackitt report’s earliest recommendations was the establishment of a single regulatory body to oversee building safety. The draft Bill introduces a new Building Safety Regulator and outlines its role.  

The Regulator will form a new division of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and will be tasked with creating a safer system and imposing sanctions upon those who fail to adhere to the rules. Penalties include prison sentences of up to two years and unlimited fines.

The draft Bill puts strong emphasis on the Regulator playing a proactive and dynamic role in pushing forward the building safety agenda. Its role will include:

  • Setting up consultative committees
  • Publishing non-statutory advice and guidance for a range of sectors
  • Maintaining a two-way conversation with the sector to gain insights and feedback
  • Recommending updates to the building safety regime as the sector evolves

The Regulator will also have tighter reins on building control, with the draft Bill removing the right for those constructing high-risk buildings to select their preferred building control body; these projects will always be overseen by the Regulator.

The dutyholder system

A single ‘dutyholder’ will be responsible for building safety at any one time, with different dutyholders responsible at each ‘gateway’ of a project. For example, responsibility will lie with the main designer during the design phase, whereas the main contractor will be the dutyholder during the building’s construction.

At each gateway, the Regulator will step in to assess whether standards have been upheld before allowing works to progress. The Regulator has the power to call a halt to proceedings if it feels that building safety aims have not been met.

Each phase of a building project will be connected by a ‘golden thread’ of information, with each dutyholder provided with key information on the building’s original design and construction, as well as any amends made since. Once the building is complete, the dutyholder will become the accountable person (i.e. the building owner).

New responsibilities for landlords

As the accountable person in most cases, landlords will be responsible for the ongoing safety of buildings. They will have to apply for a Building Assurance Certificate from the Regulator, which will issue the Certificate once it is satisfied that the accountable person is complying with statutory obligations.

The accountable person will also be obliged to appoint a qualified and experienced building safety manager to support them with the day-to-day management of building safety.

More support for residents

Meanwhile, the draft Bill fully recognises the vulnerable position of residents in high-risk buildings and introduces some measures to help them. Following the massive bills leaseholders faced to fix building safety issues in the post-Grenfell era, the draft Bill introduces a new ‘building safety charge’, which landlords will be obliged to keep in a separate bank account and only use to pay for repair works. Leaseholders will also be able to refuse payment if they deem the charge unfair, or if the freeholder hasn’t broken down the costs clearly.

A New Homes Ombudsman will also be established to enable homeowners of new build properties to make complaints about construction quality. The Ombudsman will have the power to take action against developers who fall short of its code of practice.

What next?

The draft Bill will first be read by a parliamentary committee, who will offer recommendations and feedback before a final version is produced. The finalised Bill will then be formally put before parliament. We very much hope that the Bill will bring us that much closer to ensuring an event like the Grenfell Tower disaster never happens again.