One of the most significant changes proposed by the Building Safety Bill (the "Bill") is the introduction of a duty holder regime, which will see statutory responsibility for the safety of higher risk buildings placed on key individuals at each stage of a building’s life cycle. This will obviously have significant implications for social housing providers, and in this instalment of our series on the Building Safety Bill we examine the duty holder regime. 

Aims of the Bill
A key aim of the Bill is to introduce “a golden thread of information”. The reports and findings of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry have demonstrated the importance of ensuring the right people have the right information at the right time throughout a building’s life cycle. The duty holder regime is intended to support the golden thread of information, with duty holders being required to share information with the next duty holder as the building’s life cycle progresses and with the Building Safety Regulator (the “Regulator”).

The Bill also intends to place residents at the heart of all decision-making processes related to higher risk buildings, especially once the buildings are in occupation.

Once a higher risk residential building is in occupation the duty holder for that building ("the Accountable Person") will have statutory obligations relating to engagement with residents, including complaints handling and the provision of information. The Accountable Person must have an up-to-date Residents’ Engagement Strategy setting out how it will meet its obligations to form a strong partnership with residents and listen and act on any concerns raised.

The duty holder regime for higher risk residential buildings
The definition of “higher risk buildings” is yet to be conclusively determined but the indication from government is that “higher risk residential buildings” will include residential buildings of 18m or more in height, or over six storeys, and student accommodation.

The duty holder regime will involve a building’s life cycle being split into phases, with three “gateways” at which the duty holder will have an obligation to report the “golden thread of information” to the Regulator. At present the three gateways are anticipated to be planning application stage, initial building control stage, and completion of the works before occupation takes place. The duty holder for each phase is likely to be as follows:

Phase Duty holder
Planning Application Principal Designer
Construction Phase Principal Contractor
Occupation Accountable Person

Critically, works will not be able to commence unless the Regulator is satisfied at the second gateway that the design meets safety requirements. It is currently unclear the extent to which the Regulator will interrogate design, and whether the Regulator will be suitably resourced to undertake a detailed design review of all high risk residential buildings, and this will likely be a key challenge in establishing a robust regulatory environment going forwards. Where social housing providers are procuring the construction of higher risk residential buildings, they will need to ensure that their designers and contractors are able to discharge the new duty holder obligations, and to ensure that risks arising from any delays from approval by the Regulator in terms of time and cost, are appropriately allocated.

As noted above, during the building’s occupation phase the duty holder will be the “Accountable Person” – this will generally be the building owner(s). The Accountable Person will have an on-going duty for the safety of those who live in the building and will need to register the building and apply to the Regulator for a Building Assurance Certificate before the building is occupied. A Building Assurance Certificate will only be provided once the Regulator considers that the Accountable Person meets their statutory obligations. Importantly, higher risk residential buildings already in occupation when the Bill is passed into law will also need to be registered by the relevant Accountable Person, and social housing providers are advised to start preparing to apply for a Building Assurance Certificate for any occupied higher risk residential buildings within their housing stock.

The Accountable Person also has an obligation to appoint a Building Safety Manager, who must have the organisational capacity and relevant skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours to carry out their obligations. The Building Safety Manager can either be an individual or an organisation and will assist the Accountable Person in the day-to-day management of building safety including complying with the relevant statutory duties set out within the Bill and complying with all directions and statutory notices issued by the Regulator.

For more information

Our fire safety experts are experienced in advising social housing providers on building safety issues. We also provide training to social housing providers regarding building safety issues. If you have any questions in relation to this series of e-briefings, or would like to find out more about our bespoke training programme, please contact Lorna Kenyon or Andrew Lancaster.

This is the second in a series of ebriefings on this topic. The full list can be found below: