Building safety – key issues for board members to consider

An update for housing association board members on the latest building safety issues to consider.

14 October 2019

In this update, you’ll find:

  1. Information about the Building a Safer Future consultation, including a summary of the Government’s key proposals and the Federation’s response.
  2. An update on the Grenfell Public Inquiry’s interim report.
  3. Other updates and information.

1. Building a Safer Future consultation – key proposals and our response

The Government has proposed a fundamental reform of the building regulatory system, as outlined in its Building a Safer Future consultation, published in June.

In our last Bulletin, we asked for your feedback on some of the key proposals that will affect housing associations. We’ve now submitted our sector response, incorporating the feedback we received from our members.

In this update, we summarise some of the main Government proposals that are likely to affect housing associations, some key elements from our response, and our advice on priorities and next steps.

What the Government is proposing

  • Scope of the new regime: the Government is proposing that the new regime should apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height. It’s also considering on what basis the scope would cover non-residential, multi-occupied buildings where vulnerable people sleep – such as supported and sheltered housing.
  • Greater accountability throughout a building’s lifecycle: the proposals include the appointment of dutyholders with clear responsibility for different elements of a building’s safety throughout its lifecycle. This includes clarifying the responsibilities of the accountable person during occupation, which would include registering with the building safety regulator and complying with the conditions set out in the building safety certificate.
  • Conditions to be met before occupation is permitted: under the Government’s proposals, all buildings within the scope would be required to meet certain conditions. For existing buildings, occupation can’t begin until the building safety regulator is satisfied with the safety case (a digital record of information about the building) and has issued a building safety certificate. The production and delivery of a resident engagement strategy will also be a mandatory condition for issuing the certificate.
  • A staged approach to building sign-off during design and construction (‘hard stops’): this would mean that developers would not be able to begin work on subsequent development stages until an inspection of the previous stage has been passed and plans for the subsequent stage approved.

What we’re calling for

In relation to the new building safety system, we’re calling for:

  • A risk-based approach to scope: we believe that height should just be one factor considered in relation to a building’s safety – and that overall risk should be determined by a number of factors. We’re calling for a holistic risk-based approach to assessing which buildings are covered by the scope of the new system. If this happened, it would mean a greater number of buildings could be brought into the scope, across a wide range of sites and locations. It would mean differing requirements for resident engagement, regulator consultation and safety management. The implications on resources and capacity to deliver these will need to be considered.
  • An appropriate transition period: we’re calling for a transition period that both reflects the urgency of this agenda, and takes into account the sector’s capacity to fulfil the new requirements. Our call is based on feedback from our members about the resource implications of delivering remedial works.

In addition, we’re calling on the Government to support housing associations in their work to ensure safety, by:

  • Establishing a Building Safety Fund, to pay for the one-off costs building owners will incur to ensure their buildings meet safety requirements.
  • Leading a strategic response to unresolved safety remedial works on existing buildings to speed up essential work to ensure residents’ safety.
  • Providing clarity and transparency on information such as the ongoing testing programme for other types of non-ACM combustible cladding, and the completed testing programme on glass-reinforced plastic fire doors.
  • Granting stronger powers of access to dutyholders in occupation, directly linked to their responsibilities for the whole safety in the new system.

You can read about our asks in more detail in our consultation submission. You’ll find our full response as well as a shorter summary of our response.

What you should do

  • Consider what the Government’s proposals will mean for your organisation: we encourage all board members to familiarise yourselves with all of the Government’s proposals, paying particular attention to those we’ve highlighted in our submission [link].
  • Prioritise remediation work: building safety remains a high priority for the Government, and it intends to respond to the consultation before the end of the year. Given the urgency of this agenda, and our sector’s commitment to ensuring the safety of our tenants and residents, we’d advise continuing to identify and remediate any building safety risks in your properties – whether or not they are likely to be covered by the scope of the new regime.
  • Share your concerns with us: we know many of you have concerns about resources and capacity to deliver on these works and new obligations that may arise as part of the new regime. We’d encourage you to share any concerns you have or issues you’ve encountered with us, so we can build up a picture of the situation and support you.
  • Engage with others in the sector: we understand the importance of sharing information between housing associations, so you can find out how others are addressing building safety risks, discuss challenges and explore solutions. We’re considering ways to support networking between our members. If you’d like to hear more about these opportunities, sign up to our mailing list or check our website for updates.

2. Grenfell Public Inquiry interim report

The Grenfell Public Inquiry is due to publish its interim report on 30 October. This is the report from the first phase of the inquiry, which looked at the circumstances on the night of the fire. The report will not make recommendations at this stage, but it will be important to consider its findings as part of shaping a future regulatory system.

3. Other updates and information

  • The Government is currently consulting on proposals to reduce the trigger height at which sprinkler systems are required in new-build blocks of flats, as well as changes to wayfinding signage and evacuation alarms. We’re seeking input from our members by 11 November to feed into our sector response
  • We know that a number of our members are affected by issues regarding the valuation of buildings with cladding, which is resulting in some leaseholders being refused mortgages to purchase properties within them, unable to sell existing properties or, in the case of shared owners, unable to gain a mortgage to buy more shares of their home. We’re involved in conversations with valuers, surveyors and the Government to find a resolution. We hope to be able to share more information on this issue soon.
  • We’d also like to reassure any members who are remediating and replacing non-compliant fire doors that we’re working with the Government and the fire door industry on an industry-led remediation plan.
  • For the latest updates on building and fire safety, Federation members can contact us to sign up to our mailing list or visit the building and fire safety section of our website for the latest news.