Building and Fire Safety

As many will know, in a post-Grenfell era there has been an increase in the focus on governance and compliance in the social housing sector.

Two specific acts have been drafted as part of a string of wide-ranging changes to this area that the Government is putting focus on. These are the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act. The Fire Safety Bill was the first piece of legislation laid before Parliament to consider wider changes, and the Building Safety Bill remains currently at bill stage. The Government is committed to making significant changes to this area and there will no doubt be more to follow with several consultations ongoing. These two current pieces of legislation apply to all buildings over 18m in height.

The Fire Safety Act passed into law at the end of April and becomes the first big change in this area since the 2005 regulations. This Act created some significant changes, including resolving the issue of the ‘responsible person’ having a wider duty to include risk assessing external walls and fire safety doors. This places a much stronger emphasis of fire safety to the whole of the building and will require very specific, targeted risk assessments with the threat of conviction of an offence for failing to do so. In real terms, landlords and managing agents of applicable buildings will have to revisit their risk assessment to ensure the additional areas are covered, and that these are updated to reflect any changes made.

The Building Safety Bill currently sits before parliament and the intention is for it to work alongside and add to the Fire Safety Act to boost the safety measures necessary to protect the occupiers and the wider public. The new requirements aim to begin at planning stage with greater input from HSE in relation to planning permission to ensure that fire safety is a part of the considerations. This is an interesting change, clearly showing that the intention is there to deal with these issues from the ground up going forward.The effect of this will result in landlords changing their approach to new developments to incorporate this extra hurdle but for existing applicable structures significant further remedial works maybe required following more thorough risk assessments.

The Bill does add in the concept of an ‘accountable person’ who has the duty of obtaining the certificates and ensuring compliance with the safety duties involved, as well as appointing a building safety manager. The Bill also looks to create potential criminal liability for failure to ensure compliance with the safety duties for which there are several more, new areas, and no doubt more to come. It does highlight the commitment of the government to ensure building safety compliance.

The definition of an ‘accountable person’ under the Bill is noted as a person who holds a legal estate in the whole, or any common part, or anyone who has a repairing obligation for an applicable building. This could in theory be an individual or a corporate entity, and it remains to be seen if this becomes more defined one passed into law.

Inevitably, a large concern will be the cost and who has the responsibility for this. The Bill is complex in this area, creating processes where landlords can recover these costs. But ultimately,with such emphasis on the ‘accountable person’, landlords who take a risk in delaying due to costs issues and try to place this on tenants may well find themselves falling foul of the new legislation.

For more information on this, or any compliance based issue please contact Andrew Fairman, ‘compliance guru’ at MSB Solicitors.

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