Building safety issues, including concerns over fire safety, represent a significant risk to registered providers of social housing. The largely unexpected fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower disaster have exerted significant pressure on social housing budgets.
Providers now face an increasing number of fire-safety issues and the multifaceted nature of building safety requires a “whole business” approach, which can include:
- asset management;
- resident engagement;
- review of internal policies, and
- complying with regulatory obligations.
The publication of the Building Safety Bill on 22 July 2020 constitutes the most significant reform to the regulatory environment regarding high-risk buildings (HRBs) for over 45 years. Put simply, the need for innovative, joined-up legal support to address building safety issues has never been greater.
Building safety legal advice
We routinely advise social housing providers on serious building safety issues, across a range of legal disciplines. Our building safety team combines housing sector knowledge with legal expertise to advise on the wide-ranging building safety risks and issues faced by our social housing clients.
Building safety regulations for social housing providers
A complex regulatory environment governs building safety, including the Building Regulations, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the Housing Act 2004 and Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. Furthermore, a number of significant reforms were introduced in 2020, including the establishment of the Building Safety Regulator and publication of both the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill. The Social Housing White Paper (published in November 2020) also supports these reforms.
Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill
While the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill have yet to become law, they represent profound and wide-ranging changes to the regulatory environment for HRBs. Those changes include a new duty holder regime to clarify who is responsible for resident safety, obligations to maintain building safety information and assess building safety risks, and new rights and obligations for residents. Preparing for the Building Safety Bill to become law is likely to involve a review of procurement and contracting solutions for the construction of new HRBs alongside repairs and major works to existing HRB stock, implementation of new internal governance requirements and policies, and the engagement of specialist building safety managers.
Health and safety
Directors of social housing providers may also owe a duty of care to their residents under existing health and safety legislation. We are experienced in advising social housing providers with regulatory issues arising from breach of the Home Standard and wider regulatory obligations, advising on directors’ and officers’ duties concerning health and safety, and liaising with the Regulator of Social Housing on behalf of clients.
If you have any concerns relating to fire safety in your organisation or would like to discuss how we can assist you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asset management and building safety
Asset managers are often on the front line when it comes to addressing building-safety issues, including removal of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) and High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) cladding systems, fire stopping and fire compartmentation issues, replacement of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) composite doors, and defective sprinkler installation. We can support with undertaking investigations to identify the extent and nature of fire safety defects along with remedial schemes. We also have extensive experience advising on claims against consultants and contractors responsible for building-safety issues, and seeking recovery of the costs of remedial schemes from the parties responsible.
Engaging residents with building safety
The Social Housing White Paper and the Building Safety Bill, both place an emphasis on resident’s rights to request building safety information, and complaints processes to ensure that resident concerns are properly addressed. We provide advice on strategies for communicating with residents and rights of access to individual dwellings under tenancy agreements to carry out fire safety works, including the use of court proceedings where necessary. We also provide advice on social housing providers’ obligations under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 as regards building safety.
Building safety policies for social housing providers
The building safety of a property can be affected by resident use, such as the storage and battery charging of mobility scooters, the extent to which flammable materials are stored in communal areas, and the permitted uses of balconies as storage or cooking areas. We can review policies and provide input into how social housing providers can manage these risk areas, particularly in the context of resident engagement and rights under tenancy agreements.
Further building safety advice and training
We regularly speak at national level conferences and training events, write for industry publications, and provide training direct to client organisations regarding the legal implications of building safety issues and how to address these effectively.
Building Safety Bill Preparedness workbook
To assist our clients ACS has produced a Building Safety Bill Preparedness workbook (the Workbook) to identify how advanced your preparations are for the Building Safety Bill becoming law. The Workbook includes an analysis of the key areas of risk under the Bill and we advise on the preparatory steps that should already be being undertaken. It sets out 52 questions for housing associations and local authorities to consider and answer in order to be able to assess just how progressed you are with your work. The Workbook has been prepared by our building safety experts drawn from across six practice areas. This is a tool which can be used by the senior leadership to inform the direction of travel and identify previously missed key areas of risk.
For further advice and support, or to enquire about the Workbook, please contact email@example.com.