Clause 70 - Meaning of “principal accountable person”

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 19th October 2021.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 10:15 am, 19th October 2021

I beg to move Government amendment 52, in clause 70, page 86, line 29, at end insert “, or

(ii) is within section 69(1)(b) because of a relevant repairing obligation (within the meaning of that section) in relation to the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building.”

This amendment caters for cases where accountable persons within clause 69(1)(b) have repairing obligations in relation to the structure and exterior of the building.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 53.

Clause 70 stand part.

Government amendments 54 and 55.

Clause 71 stand part.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Amendments 52 and 53 amend clause 70. The Committee will know that clause 70(1)(b) sets out that the principal accountable person for a higher-risk building where there are multiple accountable persons is the one

“who holds a legal estate in possession in the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building”.

That is a more eloquent answer to the question put earlier by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale. However, there is a scenario where an entity holds a legal estate in possession in the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building but is not subsequently captured as an accountable person under clause 69. In those circumstances, the provisions as drafted would not capture a principal accountable person for the building. Specifically, this occurs when accountable persons within clause 69(1)(b) have the relevant repairing obligations in relation to the structure and exterior of the building, but do not hold the legal estate in possession to these common parts of the building.

Amendment 52 is technical and caters for this issue by ensuring that the accountable person who has the repairing obligations for the structure and exterior by virtue of clause 69(1)(b) can become the principal accountable person. It also aligns with amendments made to clause 69, which are aimed at ensuring that the accountable person is the person who has an active repairing obligation through their legal estate in possession or, where they do not have a legal estate in possession, has an active repairing obligation pursuant to a lease. Amendment 53 makes a consequential change necessitated by the changes made through amendment 52.

Amendments 54 and 55 amend clause 71, which sets out that an interested party may apply to the tribunal for a determination on who the accountable persons for the building are, who the principal accountable person is, or the parts of the building for which an accountable person is responsible. Under the current provisions, an interested party is either the regulator or a person who holds a legal estate in any part of the building. This does not therefore allow an accountable person who has an active repairing obligation, but does not hold a legal estate, to apply to the first-tier tribunal for a determination.

Amendment 55 addresses the issue by capturing a person who is under a repairing obligation to the common parts of a building to now be classified as an interested party for the purposes of clause 71, enabling them also to make an application for a determination to the first-tier tribunal. This works to effectively align clause 69 with clause 71.

Amendment 55 also limits applications that can be made to the first-tier tribunal from a person with just a legal estate in the building to a person holding a legal estate in the common parts of the building. This ensures that the court’s resources can be dedicated to resolving complex issues from those that are, or may be, directly responsible for managing building safety for the building. Amendment 54 makes a consequential change as a result of an amendment made to clause 70.

I will now move on to the clauses themselves, beginning with clause 70. We concur with the independent review’s recommendations that a “clear and identifiable dutyholder”, with overall responsibility for building safety during occupation and maintenance, is needed for higher-risk buildings. Clause 70 makes certain that all occupied higher-risk buildings will have at least one clearly identifiable accountable person, known as the principal accountable person, who will be responsible for ensuring that fire and structural safety is being properly managed for the whole building.

This clause sets out that, where there is a single accountable person for a building, they will automatically become the principal accountable person. Where there are two or more accountable persons, the one responsible for the repair of the structure and exterior of the building will be the principal accountable person. The principal accountable person will have overall responsibility for meeting specific statutory obligations for the whole building, such as complying with registration and certification requirements for the building. Where there are multiple accountable persons for a building, the principal accountable person will have the same statutory obligations for assessing and managing building safety risks in their own part of the building as each individual accountable person. This will be as well as additional obligations arising from their role as principal accountable person.

As part of the registration process, the principal accountable person will identify themselves to the Building Safety Regulator as being the person with overall responsibility for managing fire and structural safety. If a principal accountable person does not come forward to register the building, the Building Safety Regulator can identify who the principal accountable person is by using the statutory definition, or by applying to the first-tier tribunal for a determination. Having a principal accountable person for each higher-risk building is critical to effectively managing buildings safely, as a whole, and ensuring that residents feel safe in their homes.

Clause 71 allows an interested party to make an application to the tribunal for a determination on who the accountable persons are, who the principal accountable person is, or which parts of the higher-risk building an accountable person is responsible for. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the correct persons with responsibility under the Bill are identified, and that the extent of where their responsibility lies is clear. The clause is to be used in complex cases requiring judicial oversight, as the tribunal will decide and provide clarity to those who may be affected by the Bill.

Once an interested party makes an application to the tribunal, the tribunal would make a decision that may bind persons as the ones with obligations pursuant to the extent applicable by the Bill. The clause specifies that an interested party who may apply to the tribunal is either the regulator or a person who holds a legal estate in any part of the building. Buildings must have only one principal accountable person, and in cases where more than one person fits the definition of a principal accountable person clause 71 allows the tribunal to decide, as it considers appropriate, who the principal accountable person for the building is.

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

I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation, which was a great credit to him. I have a couple of questions. The clauses make sense—again, they are technical, tidying-up exercises. Earlier, I referred to 13,000 buildings. We have principal accountable persons and accountable persons. That is a lot of people who require the skills, qualifications and competence to ensure that this new landscape emerges. Are the Minister and his team convinced that it will be properly resourced, and that we genuinely will change the landscape for existing residents, leaseholders and other people? Also, on clause 71, at what stage should the determination be made at the tribunal? Must all buildings in scope have a clearly identified principal accountable person?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. The question of capacity is an interesting one, although it may be that various people will hold principal accountable positions, as with building safety managers. Some people might hold the position for multiple buildings. There are big companies that own lots of buildings and will therefore already have managing obligations for multiple buildings. With regard to capacity, we are talking big numbers. According to my notes, the number of buildings in scope is 12,500, but some of them could be covered by multiple people. There are already large practices operating in this area.

As I said, given the existence of the Bill, and subsequent to Grenfell Tower, there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are concerned and active in the building safety sector, so I do not feel that there is any need to be concerned about capacity at this stage. However, the point and purpose of the Building Safety Regulator is to be live to changing circumstances so, should there prove to be challenges once the Bill is implemented, it will be for the regulator to monitor any challenges and report back to the Secretary of State. I am sure that we will talk about that in the House in future.

On the tribunal, we will discuss building registration when we come to other clauses. We are expecting buildings to be registered within six months of the implementation of the Bill. The Building Safety Regulator will be aware of any buildings that have not been registered or of cases in which there is complexity in identifying principal accountable persons or accountable persons. The number referred to the tribunal will, we hope, be limited. It will be imperative to move quickly in that small number of cases.

Amendment 52 agreed to.

Amendment made: 53, page 86, line 38, leave out from “person” to end of line 39 and insert “is within subsection (1)(b).” .—(Eddie Hughes.)

This amendment is consequential on amendment 52.

Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.