Fire Safety and Service Charges: The impact of the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill
The Building Safety Bill
The Building Safety Bill is one of a raft of measures brought in or proposed as a result of the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017. It was drafted in part to implement Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The draft Bill was published on 20 July 2020 and is now in the consultation stage.
There is no date for the Bill to be introduced into Parliament but we can expect it to be introduced this year.
The Bill’s aim is expressed to be to put measures in place to make people safer in their homes. The draft Bill will ensure that there will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings – those 18 metres and above. They will also have to listen and respond to residents’ concerns and ensure their voices are heard – they will be called the ‘Accountable Person’.
To oversee all this and make sure that Accountable Persons are carrying out their duties properly, there will also be a new national regulator for building safety. It will operate a new, more stringent set of rules for high-rise residential buildings. The new set of rules, contained in the draft Bill, will apply when buildings are designed, constructed and then later occupied. At each of these 3 stages, it will be clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage enabling a ‘golden thread’ of vital information about the building to be gathered over its lifetime. This was a key recommendation from the Hackitt report.
Building inspectors who are responsible for signing buildings off as safe for people to live in will also have to follow the new rules and must register with the regulator.
The draft Bill will also give the government new powers to better regulate construction materials and products and ensure they are safe to use.
New build homebuyers will have their right to complain to a New Homes Ombudsman and developers will be required to be a member of the scheme. The New Homes Ombudsman will have the ability to require developers to pay compensation.
By far the most controversial part of the draft Bill is a proposal that leaseholders can be subject to a Building safety charge, separate from other service charges, which can be used to fund fire safety remediation works. With the enormous cost of making buildings fire-safe now apparent, leaseholders are concerned they will be the ones asked to pay for the historic defects in their buildings.
For landlords, particularly of high-rise buildings, the Bill will mean greater regulation of safety standards.
When residents move into a building that falls under the new set of rules, the building will need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and have a Building Assurance Certificate. The landlord will appoint an Accountable Person who will need to conduct and maintain a safety case risk assessment for the building and appoint a Building Safety Manager to oversee it day to day.
While tenants should have greater assurance that safety, and particularly fire safety, is given priority, the concern amongst tenants/leaseholders is that the cost of the extra regulation will be passed on to them. There is great concern amongst leaseholder representatives that the Building safety charge will require leaseholders to pay for historic defects to the building. The report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in November 2020 was very critical of this proposal. High costs to leaseholders unable to sell their flats has become a big political issue, with a recent debate in parliament, and an announcement by the government on 10 February of extra funding to remove cladding to prevent leaseholders bearing the cost. It remains to be seen how all this activity will impact on the proposed Building safety charge when the Bill is introduced into parliament.
The Fire Safety Bill?
The Fire Safety Bill gives local fire and rescue services additional power to make sure building owners deal with potential fire risks in their building.
The Fire Safety Bill deals specifically with amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which applies to communal areas of residential buildings with multiple homes. The Order designates those in control of premises as the responsible person for fire safety and they have a duty to undertake assessments and manage risks. The Order is enforced by Fire and Rescue Authorities.
The Bill clarifies that for any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises the Order applies to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts, including the front doors of residential parts. It also clarifies that external walls in the order include “doors or windows in those walls” and “anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies).” These amendments are expected to provide for increased enforcement action in these areas, particularly where remediation of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding is not taking place.
There is an expectation that the Bill will impose greater burdens on the responsible person in multi-occupancy residential buildings.
The Bill passed House of Commons stages without amendment on 7 September 2020. House of Lords consideration of the Bill was completed on 24 November 2020 and the Bill was passed back to the Commons with five amendments. One of these amendments sought to restrict the passing on of remediation costs to leaseholders. This relates to ongoing concern about the costs being passed on to leaseholders. The progress of the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill appear to be linked to this ongoing issue of cladding and other fire remediation costs. The Lords Amendments did not pass the House of Commons on 24 February. The government said that service charge issues were better dealt with by the Building Safety Bill. The Fire Safety Bill now goes back to the House of Lords.
It is clear that the issue of legislative protection for leaseholders faced with high service charges for fire safety remediation measures has a long way to go.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*