The Building Safety Act: what do you need to know?

After months of debate and amendments, the Building Safety Bill finally received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022. It is intended to “create lasting generational change” to the way residential buildings are constructed and maintained in the UK following the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, while protecting the rights of leaseholders.

The legislation will give residents and homeowners more rights, powers and protections, including amending the Defective Premises Act (DPA) to increase the time period for retrospective compensation claims from leaseholders from six to 30 years and extending claims on new work to 15 years. The Act covers all parts of the lifecycle of residential developments, from the initial planning stages to post-completion maintenance, and is relevant to almost all parts of the industry.

The Building Safety Case

At its core, a clear model of risk ownership and accountability has now been established by the Act which stretches right back to the planning application phase – particularly in relation to ‘higher-risk buildings’. The new regime applies to buildings that are at least 18 metres in height or have at least seven storeys and have at least two residential units. It also applies to care homes and hospitals meeting the same height threshold during design and construction.

A ‘Building Safety Case’ will need to be presented to regulators demonstrating how the building will comply with the requirements of building regulations. Responsibility for undertaking this task falls to named duty holders at key gateways throughout the building’s lifecycle. They include the client, the principal designer at the design phase, the principal contractor in the construction phase and the accountable person (usually the owner) at the occupation stage.

The Golden Thread

Businesses will also need to become familiar with the term ‘Golden Thread’, which refers to both the information about a building that allows someone to understand a building and keep it safe, and the information management system that keeps that information accurate, accessible and up-to-date. Implementation of the golden thread will require individuals and organisations responsible for a building to have good management systems in place and a clear understanding of how they support building safety.

The New Building Safety Regulator

A new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive has been established to enforce the Act, responsible for overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings and the competence of key construction professions and trades.

The regulator will be tasked with overseeing the safety and performance of buildings and encouraging competence among registered building inspectors. It will need to set up committees on building advice and industry competence, along with a residents’ panel to shape its approach.

Buyers of newbuild homes will also be able to hold their developer responsible for safety and quality issues under a new scheme from the New Homes Ombudsman. Industry professionals should not underestimate the size of the change taking place – both in extent and enforceability. Every phase of the lifecycle of higher-risk buildings will be closely monitored and subject to Building Safety Regulator approval.

This could have an impact on construction timeframes and the additional risk implied to duty holders should be taken into account. Processes for compliance checking, risk assessment and quality assurance should be reviewed and updated accordingly.

CPD requirements

As part of the Building Safety Act, the Architects Registration Board (ARB) will be given the power to monitor the competence of architects and strike off those who fail to meet the required standards.

This means Continuing Professional Development will be of vital importance, as will ensuring personnel have the correct qualifications. Keeping up to date with changes to Approved Documents and other relevant safety regulations is a must. If the avoidance of another Grenfell Tower is not enough motivation to act, it is worth noting that those in contravention of building regulations may be liable to up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.