Clause 56 - Fees and charges

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will try to ensure that I keep my teeth in as I whistle through the s’s in clause 56.

We are committed to ensuring that the Building Safety Regulator receives the funding required to enable it to deliver. Members of the Committee have made that point in discussion of the previous clauses. Dame Judith’s review recommended that the regulator for buildings in scope of the new and more stringent regulatory regime should fully recover its costs from those it regulates. The recommendation reflected that duty holders who require the most intervention by the safety regulator should pay more. The Bill needs to enable the Building Safety Regulator to charge fees, both to implement the recommendation of the independent review and to put the Building Safety Regulator on a firm financial footing. The power could also be used to charge for other Building Safety Regulator functions under the Building Act, such as registering building inspectors and building control approvals.

In a previous debate on clause 27 on the power to charge regulator fees, the Committee was rightly interested in any effects on leaseholders. We expect that the power under clause 56 would be used to charge fees for building control during the design and construction of new high-rise residential buildings, just as building control is charged for currently. Leaseholders will not directly bear the cost of such fees. However, the purchase price for a new home may reflect the costs of construction, including any regulatory costs, as is the case now. We do not intend that the leaseholder bear directly the costs of these particular fees.

For building control during refurbishments, the position remains as it is now. Building control fees can be passed on only if the terms of the lease allow—of course, different leases have different terms. This is a complicated area, and I remind the Committee that although the position on building control fees is broadly unchanged from current practice, we are introducing a new regulatory regime in occupation under part 4, for which the regulator may charge fees under clause 27.

For costs under part 4, there are specific provisions that deal with the effects on leaseholders under the building safety charter. The charge includes the costs of delivering a defined set of safety measures, to ensure that leaseholders and residents feel safe in their homes. The charge includes regulator fees specifically associated with the activities covered by the building safety charge, such as checks on the safety case to ensure the building is being managed safely. The building safety charge provisions also contain strong safeguards for leaseholders that prevent fees resulting from enforcement action by the Building Safety Regulator or from any negligent or unlawful act by the accountable person being passed on to leaseholders.

This clause also provides powers for regulations to extend the scope of current local authority building control charging schemes. Currently, local authorities can charge for specified building control activities, as set out in the Building (Local Authority Charges) Regulations 2010, namely checking plans, inspecting work, dealing with building notices, dealing with reversions from approved inspectors and dealing with requests for regularisations. Local authorities can also charge for advice given in relation to any of those activities. However, local authorities carry out a number of other functions under the Building Act that are not in the scope of the current charges regulations.

We want to give local authorities the opportunity to recover more of their costs. Therefore, clause 56 provides wider powers for regulations to set fees and charges in relation to any local authority function under the Building Act. It enables the regulations to prescribe what fees should be set and that local authorities can set out their charges in schemes established in accordance with principles set out in the regulations. This is in line with the approach in the current regulations, which enable local authorities to set out charging schemes and principles that those schemes must follow. The clause also enables Welsh Ministers to charge for their functions under part 2A of the Building Act in Wales.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

After how many days will the building safety charge be payable, and how much will it be? That is vital, obviously, to resident leaseholders. On the finer detail of the scope, will the charge be levied on buildings from 11 to 18 metres, and on those that are18 metres-plus?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:15 pm, 23rd September 2021

With respect to the last point, the charge will be levied on buildings in the scope of this Bill—this regime. We have said that the charges will not be more than a certain amount, but clearly, charges can change over time, so it would not be appropriate for me to say what a specific building safety charge ought to be. On how long it will take to pay, that is certainly something that we will want to work through with the Building Safety Regulator and we will specify in secondary legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.