Clause 38 - Breach of building regulations

Part of Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 12:00 pm, 23rd September 2021

A breach of building regulations can have serious consequences for residents in occupied buildings We saw that four years ago in the Grenfell Tower fire and we have seen it on other occasions. The independent review found that

“where enforcement is…pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.”

That is why, to repeat some of the points I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, the Government are committed to ensuring that where building regulations are contravened, building control authorities have the necessary powers to enforce the rules and offenders receive a proportionate penalty for their non-compliance.

Clause 38, alongside clause 37, will provide a stronger deterrent to those doing building work and, where necessary, stronger sanctions for building control authorities to use. At the moment, offenders can only receive unlimited fines for their contravention of the law. Even where directors or managers are complicit in their company’s wrongdoing, they are sheltered from the consequences, a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw.

The new custodial sentence we are introducing serves to reflect the gravity of breaching building regulations and, alongside clause 39, which we will discuss shortly, brings the threat of imprisonment to any director or manager of a company who is found to be complicit or negligent in an act of non-compliance. We intend for the higher custodial sentence to operate as an effective deterrent against negligent, reckless or dangerous behaviour.

Where previously prosecution under section 35 of the Building Act 1984 had to be brought within two years, making the offence triable in a Crown court removes the time limit altogether, enabling building control authorities to prosecute breaches of building regulations even when they come to light much later. There is no longer a two-year limit to court action.

This clause goes further and makes clear that the section 35 offence applies not only to breaches of the building regulations themselves, but to requirements imposed under building regulations, such as conditions imposed as part of building regulation approvals. The increased coverage will send a signal that no requirement under building regulations can be ignored without consequences.

As with other changes we have already discussed, this provision aims to encourage those involved in building work to do the right thing and to disincentivise substandard building work. To return briefly to a previous debate, in order to make this absolutely clear, whatever planning route a building is subject to, all relevant building work must comply with building regulation, whether it is on a higher-risk building or otherwise, and whether it benefits from permitted development rights or not. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale made that point in our previous sitting and alluded to it in his previous contribution.

In addition, the extension of the enforcement period under section 36 of the Building Act from one year to 10 years will provide another effective route through which building control authorities can enforce building regulations. This clause responds to the review’s recommendation that the sanctions available under the Building Act be enhanced to enable building control authorities to act effectively but proportionately whenever they encounter non-compliance. They will now have stronger powers to ensure that all buildings are designed and constructed in line with regulations. I commend the clause to the Committee.