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Government introduces Draft Building Safety Bill

21st July 2020

The government published its draft Building Safety Bill on Monday 20th July. The draft Bill takes forward the Government’s commitment to fundamental reform of the building safety system; and gives effect to policies set out in the Building a Safer Future consultation response, published in April 2020. This detailed how the Government intends to deliver the principles and recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published in May 2018.

The draft Bill also acts as the vehicle to introduce a requirement that developers of new build housing belong to a new homes ombudsman and to remove the need for social housing residents to pass through the ‘democratic filter’ in order to access the Housing Ombudsman.

The objectives of the draft Bill are to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and to remedy the systemic issues identified by Dame Judith Hackitt by strengthening the whole regulatory system for building safety. This will be achieved by ensuring there is greater accountability and responsibility for fire and structural safety issues throughout the lifecycle of buildings in scope of the new regulatory regime for building safety.

It is intended to ensure there will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings. That person will be called the “Accountable Person” and they will have to listen and respond to residents’ concerns and make sure their voices are heard.

Access to vital safety information about their building will be given to residents and leaseholders and new complaints handling requirements will be introduced to make sure effective action is taken where concerns are raised.

A Building Safety Regulator will be fully established and equipped to hold building owners to account or face the consequences. A regulator in shadow form has already been set up within the Health and Safety Executive(“HSE”). The government is providing an extra £16.4 million for the HSE this year to recruit staff and set up the regulator.

The regulator will have three main functions:

  1. To oversee the safety and standard of all buildings;
  2. Directly assure the safety of higher-risk buildings;
  3. Improve the competence of people responsible for managing and overseeing building work.

The regulator will enforce a new, more stringent set of rules that will apply for buildings of 18 metres or more or taller than six storeys from the design phase to occupation.

The regulator will appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the development of its work.

The draft bill includes new “building safety charge” to give leaseholders greater transparency concerning costs run up in maintaining a safe building and with new powers to limit the costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

Government expert Michael Wade has been asked to work with leaseholders and the finance and insurance industries. He will test and recommend funding solutions to protect leaseholders from the unaffordable costs of fixing historic defects, ensuring that the burden does not fall on taxpayers. He will also develop proposals to address a number of insurance issues around building safety.

New build homebuyers will have the right to complain to a New Homes Ombudsman and developers will be required to be a member of the scheme. The Ombudsman will be able to hold developers to account, including the power to insist on developers paying compensation.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:

“This is a significant milestone on our journey to fundamentally improving building safety and delivering real change that will keep people safer in their homes.

“I remain committed to making sure we get this right, which is why I will be publishing the draft Bill for scrutiny and improvement before it is introduced in Parliament.

“I am also calling on the industry to actively prepare for these changes now. It is vital that the sector moves in step with us, to provide confidence and reassurance to residents that their safety is firmly at the heart of everything we do.”

Building Safety and Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said:

“As a government we are determined to learn the lessons from that fateful night at Grenfell Tower and ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again.

“These are the biggest changes to building safety legislation for nearly 40 years, and they will raise standards across the industry and ensure building owners have nowhere to hide if they break the rules.

“Consulting on key recommendations from the Inquiry and wider changes to fire safety regulation will give those affected the opportunity to make their voices heard and help us implement lasting, significant change.”

Independent advisor and author of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Judith Hackitt said:

“I welcome this draft Bill as an important milestone in delivering the fundamental reform this industry needs to make residents and buildings safer.

“It meets the ambitions and recommendations set out in my review.

“And industry must be in no doubt that it is not enough to wait for the Bill to become law before they implement changes; we expect them to start taking action now.”

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