Clause 74 - Occupied building: duty to apply for building assessment certificate

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 19th October 2021.

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

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 75 to 77 stand part.

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

As the previous clause makes the principal accountable person for a building responsible for registering their building with the Building Safety Regulator, clause 74 makes them responsible for periodically applying for a building assessment certificate. The building assessment certificate process will allow the Building Safety Regulator to assess whether, at the time of the assessment, the accountable person for a higher-risk building is meeting their obligation to manage building safety risk and keep residents safe.

The clause enables the Building Safety Regulator to direct the principal accountable person to apply for the building assessment certificate. If that happens, they must then apply for the building assessment certificate within 28 days of the notice’s being given.

The principal accountable person commits an offence if they fail to apply for the building assessment certification when directed to do so by the regulator, without a reasonable excuse. For new buildings, the principal accountable person will be directed to apply for the building assessment certificate within six months of occupation of the building.

There are currently around 12,500 occupied high-rise residential buildings in England. It will take around five years for the Building Safety Regulator to assess all these existing buildings for the first time. The regulator will take a risk-based approach to prioritising existing buildings for assessment and will assess the highest-priority buildings first. It will put existing occupied buildings into five annual groups, or tranches. These tranches are based on height, with the tallest buildings assessed first. All buildings will be reassessed at least every five years.

Clause 74 sets out the requirement for a principal accountable person to apply for a building assessment certificate when directed to do so by the Building Safety Regulator; as part of that process, clause 75 clause sets out the administrative and procedural requirements to obtain a certificate. To apply for the building assessment certificate, the principal accountable person will need to submit a suite of prescribed information and documentation to the regulator, including, among other things, a copy of the safety case report, the resident engagement strategy and information about the principal accountable person’s compliance in appointing a building safety manager.

The regulator will use the evidence provided to assess whether the accountable persons are complying with their obligations and managing the building’s safety risks effectively. To ensure an adaptable regime, clause 75 also allows the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out further details of the process, including the form and content of an application, the way in which it is made, and anything that may accompany it.

The Bill creates a requirement for the principal accountable person for a higher-risk building to apply for a building assessment certificate when directed to do so by the Building Safety Regulator. The building assessment certificate will demonstrate that, at the time of assessment, the accountable persons were complying with their obligations to effectively manage the building’s safety risk and keep residents safe.

Following from that, clause 76 sets out how the Building Safety Regulator will make decisions about applications for the building assessment certificate. On receipt of the application, the regulator will consider the application and decide whether the relevant duties are being complied with. The regulator can also inspect the building before coming to a final decision.

If the regulator is satisfied that all relevant duties are being complied with, then it will issue the building assessment certificate. Before a certificate is issued, however, there are a number of relevant duties against which the regulator will assess compliance. These include appointing a building safety manager, assessing and managing building safety risks, and producing a safety case report. Clause 76 also allows the regulator to issue a notice to the principal accountable person if it finds that a relevant duty is not being complied with on assessment, but can be put right quite easily.

If the principal accountable person complies with the notice and the contravention is fixed within the specified period, the regulator will issue the building assessment certificate. Through the clause, the Secretary of State will also have the ability to make regulations setting out both procedural and administrative details of the building assessment certificate process. This includes the information to be included in the building assessment certificate.

It is important that the residents of higher-risk buildings have access to information about the management of their building. To that end, the clause ensures that residents can access information about the most recent assessment of their building by the Building Safety Regulator. It requires the principal accountable person to display the most recent building assessment certificate in a prominent place in the building where it can be viewed by residents. Residents need to have access to information about those responsible for managing their building and keeping them safe. That is why the clause creates a requirement for the principal accountable person to display a notice containing the details of the accountable person and any building safety manager. This will ensure that the residents know who is responsible for managing the building safety risks and how to contact them to raise concerns. Residents also need to know if there are issues or concerns regarding the management of the building. That is why the clause creates a requirement for the principal accountable person to display in the building any relevant compliance notices issued by the regulator.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:45 am, 19th October 2021

The Minister refers to a resident engagement strategy. What would a good resident engagement strategy look like and where would people find information on that? What information will be contained in the building safety certificate? Where are the reference points for that?

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

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for another day to hear about the resident engagement strategy. That is an exciting episode that we will discuss in detail later in the Bill. I look forward to engagements on that.

I explained some of the information that will be displayed on the certificate but I think the pre-eminent role of that is to ensure that residents know who is responsible for building safety within their building. The certificate will identify the principal accountable persons so that residents know where the line of responsibility lies. That is why it is important that such information is displayed prominently in the building.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is a pleasure, Mr Dowd, to serve under your chairmanship.

The certificate is a piece of paper that is on display but what will ensure that there is compliance with the policies, procedures and arrangements that lie behind the provision of the certificate?

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

That question goes to the heart of how the Bill will change responsibility in the future. It will be important that the information is displayed, and if it is not—and we will talk about resident engagement later in the Bill, but I will touch on it briefly now—residents will now know who is responsible. As part of that process, there will have to be a complaints procedure through which they can escalate their complaints. A well-informed bunch of residents in a property will understand what provision should be made for them and how they can be helped to be apprised of building safety. If that is not done, the opportunity to make a complaint and escalate appropriately and perhaps ultimately to the Building Safety Regulator, if necessary, will be one of the things that we will talk about later. The hon. Lady is right. It is imperative that residents have access to that information and, when it is not provided, they have a route to escalate a complaint about its absence.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Committee has talked about the culture in the building industry and how there has been a lack of trust. At its core the Bill is about changing that culture and bringing about safety. The issue is in training people, ensuring that they keep that training up, quantity and compliance. We must ensure that the procedures on which people are trained are adhered to consistently. That must be part of the arrangements. We should be really concerned about that—I am not saying that we are not—and ensure that that happens. The culture of the people working in the industry is vital.

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

One of the great things about the Committee is the agreement we have had at several points on matters of great concern. It is important that this is not a tick-box exercise. It is not, “I submit information to you. You tick a few boxes and give me a certificate. I put it on the wall, and everybody feels that we live in a safer place.” Since the Bill has been talked about, we are already seeing that culture change.

To cross-reference that with regard to the social housing White Paper—my other responsibility—we need to put tenants at the heart of everything that we do. This is not an academic or legislative exercise for a bunch of people in the room to figure out the best way to do things and trust that that will be done in the future. The hon. Lady is completely right that we need to change the culture, bringing tenants and residents with us, and I think that the Bill will serve that purpose.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 74 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 75 to 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.