Clause 95 - Duties on residents and owners

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 19th October 2021.

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

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 96 stand part.

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

Clause 95 places three clear obligations on residents aged 16 years or over and on owners of residential units in high-rise buildings in relation to keeping their homes and buildings safe.

The first of those obligations requires all residents, irrespective of tenure, to not act or behave in a way that creates a significant risk of fire or structural failure in their building. Secondly, the clause requires residents and owners of residential units to refrain from interfering with safety items that form part of the common parts. By interfering, we mean damaging or removing the safety item or hindering its function without a reasonable excuse for doing so. Thirdly, residents will have to provide the accountable person with relevant information if it is reasonably required by the accountable person to fulfil their safety duties. We believe those obligations to be proportionate and reasonable.

Turning to clause 96, residents have an important part to play in keeping their building safe, and we know that the majority of people who live in high-rise buildings take their safety responsibilities seriously. As part of the new regulatory regime, our aim is to make sure that sufficient requirements, incentives and powers are in place to prevent and put right risks that are posed by behaviours that residents might engage in. The aim is for accountable persons to work with residents in the first instance, but with the ability to escalate issues to the county court where required. This will help to ensure the appropriate and effective assessment and management of building safety risks for all residents in high-rise buildings.

A contravention notice issued by the accountable person and served on a resident is a means to notify that resident of a breach of their obligations and give them the information they need to put it right. The notice will be issued only where it appears that a contravention has occurred. Where the breach involves interference with a safety item, a sum to either repair or replace that item—not exceeding a reasonable amount—may be requested from the resident.

We believe that to be a fair and proportionate approach, as the majority of residents will want to keep their home and building safe and will not interfere with safety items provided to help them do so. Getting this right is particularly important: it underpins the system of accountability for the accountable person responsible for mitigating fire and structural safety risks, as it provides a proportionate means to discharge their duties in relation to individual dwellings.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller.

If an accountable person is potentially utilising their position to bully a resident, what recourse does that resident have to challenge the notice, which may end up in eviction? What safeguards are in place for the resident? I find it concerning that this seems to be an awful lot of power. We have talked about imbalances of power on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. My worry is that this is a further imbalance of power, so what recourse will residents have to challenge a notice that is served by the accountable person?

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

There are two assurances that I can give: first, the natural line of escalation would not be to eviction. The purpose of clause 96 is simply for the accountable person to be able to discharge their duty and keep the building safe. The first line of action would be for the accountable person, if they thought that a resident had done something to affect a safety item in the building, to try to deal with that on a lower level. If it was not immediately possible to do so or if the safety risk was greater, they would have to move to the issuing of the notice.

In terms of bullying, there is still a complaints process. I fully appreciate that the hon. Gentleman might ask how a resident could have faith in the system when they would be complaining to the accountable person. The reason is that the Building Safety Regulator now sits as a tier above the system. If someone was not happy—if, for the sake of argument, an inappropriate notice was issued, or the resident felt that that was the case—they would be able to make a complaint to the accountable person’s complaint process in the first instance, and subsequently to the Building Safety Regulator. The fact that the Building Safety Regulator sits above all this, and is distinct and completely separate from the accountable person, should offer the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I completely understand the point that he is making, because any prospect of the system being used in such a punitive way would be inappropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 95 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.