The Building Safety Bill: Is it building back better or is there no significant change?
In an attempt to set new standards of building safety four years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, the purpose of the Building Safety Bill published on 5 July 2021 according to the government is, to “set out a clear pathway for the future on how residential buildings should be constructed and maintained” and will give “residents more power to hold builders and developers to account” and toughen “sanctions against those who threaten their safety”.
There have been calls for the government to hold developers accountable to building safety and the new Bill seeks to set new standards, particularly with regards to fire safety in addition to sending clear messages to developers that there will be consequences if they build substandard homes. The costs to rectify current issues such as fire safety are estimated to run into billions.
- The Bill will extend the time in which a developer can be sued to 15 years (currently homeowners only have 6 years) so that residents are able to seek compensation for substandard construction work. These changes also apply retrospectively so residents of a building completed in 2010 will be able to bring proceedings against that developer until 2025.
- There will be a “Building Safety Regulator” who will be responsible for ensuring building safety risks in new and existing high rise residential buildings of 18m and above are ‘effectively managed and resolved, taking costs into account’. Checks will be carried out at design, construction and completion stages.
- The regulator will also have the ability to prosecute or use civil penalties against businesses that compromise public safety and fail to meet government standards. The government’s stated intention is to compel developers to join and remain members of the New Homes Ombudsman scheme allowing home buyers to receive compensation. However, this is dependent on regulations yet to be published.
- Freeholders will have to explore alternative ways of meeting costs of remediation rather than passing them on automatically to leaseholders and they will have to prove that they have done so i.e. the landlord will have to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether a grant is payable or whether monies can be obtained from a third party (e.g. insurance company or under a guarantee).
However, the UK Cladding Action Group have said that the extension of the time period in which to bring a claim will not assist because the ‘buildings were either too old’ or the ‘costs of litigation would simply be too high’ in addition to the fact that litigation takes significant time. Further, whilst the extended limitation period is welcome, no consideration has been given to the fact that the developer who built the property 12 years ago may be insolvent or cease to exist and therefore homeowners may still be unable to bring claims and seek redress.
The Bill is due to receive a second reading in the House of Commons on a date to be announced. It remains to be seen if this will be building back better or result in no significant change.