New regulatory regime for safer homes: a call for collaboration

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Nobody needs reminding that ongoing building safety reforms are designed for the industry to avoid a repeat of the dreadful events six years ago, when 72 people died in a devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.

But more than a year after the Building Safety Act (BSA) gained Royal Assent, and with the launch of HSE’s new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) regime to enforce the Act earlier this year, and new regulations for buildings of all heights, brought about by the Fire Safety (England) Regulations in January, there are many challenges ahead to ensuring buildings – and more importantly, residents – are safe.

The industry is preparing for the biggest overhaul of design, construction, building regulations, fire safety and in-occupation management of high-rise residential blocks in decades, with serious criminal sanctions for those who do not comply.

Andrew Bulmer: "With the clock now ticking for dutyholders to register their 18+ metre high buildings and a raft of legislation to come through, many will be feeling overwhelmed."

Compliance with the robust new legislation and competence to the new BSI 8670 framework and PAS 8671, 8672 and 8673 standards will need close collaboration between dutyholders, designers, contractors, developers, residents, safety professionals, building owners, and property managers. Indeed, it was one of the intentions of the new regime to foster collaboration, across the professions.

With the clock now ticking for dutyholders to register their 18+ metre high buildings and a raft of detailed secondary legislation to come through in the next Parliamentary session, the prospect of urgently navigating a new regime and reacting to the details of new regulations, while simultaneously undergoing an extensive cladding and fire safety remediation programme, is nothing short of overwhelming, and a huge ask of the industry and dutyholders in scope of the new safety reforms.

Significant statutory duties

While the property management profession is generally used to working to statutory codes, professional standards and legislation, there are thousands of building owners and resident directors in resident-controlled buildings (the latter usually being lay volunteers) who find themselves as principal dutyholders under the Act (as an Accountable Person (AP) or Principal Accountable Person (PAP) and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations (Responsible Persons (RP)).

This places accountability – and liability – for significant statutory duties and safety responsibilities that many are, unprepared for and, especially in the case of lay volunteers, lacking the competence to undertake or discharge correctly, particularly when assessed against the new PAS standards.

It’s important to point out that the Act allows dutyholders to appoint a Building Safety Director, i.e., a professional who is suitably qualified and insured to discharge the duties, though the cost of engaging such a professional may prove a challenge, particularly for resident management companies.

here are more than 20 new requirements of the new high-rise building regime. Photograph: iStock

Competent fire safety professionals will play a significant role in ensuring duties are met and buildings remain safe. The Health and Safety Executive had pointed out that it doesn’t want the regime to be ‘gold-plated’ or a ‘consultant’s charter’ to protect residents from further costs and that the BSR will be a proportionate regulator; however, given the scale and complexity of the new regime – and what’s at stake – they accept that meeting the new requirements will require collaboration between property management professionals and specialist safety consultants.

Complex new duties

The new duties are many, and complex. There are more than 20 new requirements of the new high-rise building regime, laid down from BSA and the BSR, from registering a building, providing the requisite Key Building Information, and maintaining a ‘Golden Thread of Information’, to implementing resident engagement strategy, compiling a Safety Case and reporting duties. In addition, as of January this year, there are new requirements and duties, including additional inspections and provision of accessible information, relating to fire safety for buildings of all heights, under the Fire Safety (England) Regulations.

Many of these new duties, requirements for information, processes, inspections, and engagement are very new to the residential built environment and the sector’s stakeholders and supply chain. We still await further legislation on other details, and for now the ‘bedding in’ process remains in flux.

Some property managers are finding a reluctance and lack of understanding among some dutyholders to accept their duties. Meanwhile, the implementation of new processes and systems required to deliver the new regime is also a challenge. In our sector – much like at the peak of the building safety/cladding crisis – property managers find themselves at the centre of this challenge.

The majority of property managers or managing agents are unlikely to be the Principle Accountable Person (PAP) under the Act but it is in the nature of their position they find themselves acting as enablers. Akin to GPs in the healthcare sector, their skills and knowledge are broad and varied and they are playing a role in landing the new regime, but it is important they are aware of their own professional limitations when it comes to fire safety and general health and safety.

Much like a GP, they often need to refer their ‘patients’ to a specialist to get the best diagnosis and result. In cases of high-rise residential buildings, this will include instructing third-party fire safety and risk professionals to undertake the critical investigations, surveys and reports required by the new regime.

In conclusion

Clearly, we are still at the early stages of the new regime, and it will be some time until we see the full implementation of the new regulations – not least because secondary legislation is still to come, rumoured this September. The timetable is ambitious, but it’s important to maintain the momentum that has picked up in the recent months. The Property Institute, for one, has been signalling and anticipating the details of the regime, and supporting our sector in its role as gatekeepers and enablers.

Regulatory timeline
April 2023
Registration with BSR opened for existing occupied high-rise residential buildings.
October 2023
Registration deadline for existing occupied buildings, including Key Building Information. From now on, all new buildings must be registered before being occupied.
Building inspector and building control approver registers open.
The BSR becomes the new building control authority for high-rise residential buildings.
From 1 October 2023, developers must apply to the BSR for building-control approval before commencing work on any high-rise buildings.
April 2024
The BSR will start to call in buildings for assessment and issue Building Assessment Certificates, where Safety Case Reports will be reviewed.

For more information see: tpi.org.uk

Andrew Bulmer is chief executive at The Property Institute


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