April 28th 2022, the Building Safety Act was passed, which, in the words of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will “overhaul regulations, creating lasting generational change, setting out a clear pathway on how residential buildings should be constructed, maintained and made safe.”
As part of the above reforms, the Act sets out a framework to improve compliance, with tougher penalties for those who break the rules and a requirement for developers to belong to a ‘New Homes Ombudsman’ scheme, which will carry powers for the awarding of compensation. This focus on compliance also includes the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator to oversee the new measures, with a particular remit to manage and resolve any safety risks arising in new and existing high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres and above. This new regulator will also be able to remove unsafe products from the market via the operations of the Office for Products and Safety Standards (OPSS).
What is the Golden Thread?
One of the key features of the regulations is the so-called ‘golden thread’ of information, which is a digital document updated throughout the life of each building. This ‘golden thread’ is designed to ensure that owners have the requisite certainty in their obligations, whilst also allowing the regulator to intercede on a case if required. This ‘golden thread’ will be managed during the buildings process through the use of so-called ‘Gateways’. These are additional stages introduced in the approvals process regarding the construction of a building. Three Gateways will be introduced for high-risk buildings: Planning, Full Plans and Final Certification.
How long is the wait to seek compensation for poor construction work?
In addition, the government has also increased the period in which residents can seek compensation for inadequate construction work – shifting from six years to fifteen years for claims on new buildings and thirty years for claims on existing structures.
In addition, the Act includes the right for claimants to sue a product manufacturer where a breach of the Construction Product Regulations renders a property unfit for habitation. This carries a statute of limitation of 15 years, although cases relating to defective cladding have an increased period of limitation of 30 years.
This legislation also includes a legal requirement for building owners to consider cost-effective and industry-proven remediation options before they pass these costs onto leaseholders.
What does an "Accountable Person" mean?
The Building Safety Act 2022 introduces the requirement for an ‘Accountable Person’ to be nominated for all newly-constructed high-risk buildings once they are occupied. This Accountable Person will be responsible for ensuring safety risks in higher-risk buildings are identified and rectified early, and that safety standards for residents are maintained.
Is there more to come after The Building Safety Act?
Whilst these reforms are a significant development in improving building safety and maintenance they are also limited to developments with a height of 18 metres or over. Tragically in recent years we have seen the terrible consequences of insufficient safety mechanisms in relation to these tall buildings and therefore the introduction of comprehensive regulations is a welcome step towards reducing risk across the industry. However a number of commentators have noted that other buildings; such as those housing care homes, schools and hospitals; would quite rightly consider themselves as vulnerable to lax safety procedures, regardless of the height of their building.
Indeed, this new legislation may simply be the first shot in the development of post-Grenfell building safety measures, and the industry would be wise to expect further developments as this new bill takes effect.
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