THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has called on the government to provide clarifications on the draft bill, with fire and rescue services (FRSs) concerned about ‘some key aspects’.

In July, the government published the draft bill, which included mention of the new role of the accountable person, who will ‘have to listen and respond’ to concerns and ensure resident are heard, called the accountable person. There will also be resident and leaseholder access to ‘vital’ safety information about buildings, and new complaints handling requirements for ‘effective action’.

The BSR will ‘oversee all this and make sure that accountable persons are carrying out their duties properly’, and ‘ensure that high rise buildings and the people who live in them are being kept safe’, with ‘new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings’. Resident panels will be appointed to have a voice in developing the regulator’s work.

The government will also be ‘speeding up’ its work with finance and insurance sectors to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs ‘without relying on tax payers’ money’, while a new building safety charge will make it ‘easy for leaseholders to see and know what they are being charged for’. To ensure these costs are affordable, the government has ‘deliberately included powers to limit’ costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

‘For the first time’ new build buyers will be able to complain to a new homes ombudsman, and developers will have to be a member of the scheme, with the ombudsman having the power to require they ‘pay compensation’. For construction, the bill will ‘fully establish’ the BSR to ‘enforce new rules and take strong actions against those who break them’, ensuring they are ‘accountable for any mistakes’.

The BSR’s three functions including overseeing safety and standards of all buildings; ‘directly’ assuring safety of higher risk buildings; and improving the competence of those ‘responsible for managing and overseeing’ works. A ‘more stringent’ set of rules for high rises will apply when buildings are ‘designed, constructed and then later occupied’, with each stage making it ‘clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage’.

This ties into the “golden thread” of ‘vital information about the building’, and buildings need to be registered with the BSR as well as apply for a building assurance certificate. The accountable person will then need to ‘conduct and maintain’ a safety case risk assessment and appoint a building safety manager ‘to oversee it day to day’, with building inspectors ‘responsible for signing buildings off as safe for people to live in’ also having to follow the rules and register with the regulator.

Additionally, the government will have the power to ‘better regulate’ construction materials and products, and ‘ensure they are safe to use’. Ministers will appoint the UK’s first chief inspector of buildings, who will lead the new regulator ‘to make sure effective action is taken where concerns are raised’.

It was later reported that a survey of 1,000 leaseholders across the UK found that 70% were ‘reluctant and worried’ over the plans for increased responsibility for flat block safety, before leaseholders in Leeds stated the plans had caused them ‘enormous alarm’. In August, more details were provided, including planned new penalties of up to two years in jail for breaching the bill, while other information on fire related elements was provided.

The NFCC stated that its chair Roy Wilsher has given evidence to the housing, communities and local government select committee ‘in response’ to a call for evidence on the draft bill, but the council stated that ‘whilst welcoming the significant step forward’ that it represents, Mr Wilsher told the committee that there were ‘some key aspects’ where FRSs ‘remain concerned’.

He stated: ‘NFCC have engaged with every FRS in England on the proposals” Mr Wilsher stated “and consistently our members have raised concerns about the overlapping pieces of legislation, particularly the interaction with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The proposed new duty holder roles and sanctions are welcome, however, there is still much confusion around how these roles, responsibilities and the sanctions will interact.

‘Dame Judith envisaged a simplified regime with a clearly identifiable accountable person. The proposed system introduces the possibility for mixed-use buildings to have multiple accountable persons and a new building safety manager, on top of the multiple ‘responsible persons’ which already exist. NFCC believes that having a lead accountable person for a building who would coordinate across these roles would support clarity.’

Additionally, further detail was ‘sought’ on whether leaseholders can ‘escalate concerns to the New Homes Ombudsman as well as the [BSR] and the Housing Ombudsman’, as it is ‘unclear if residents have access to different bodies depending on where they live’. The NFCC added that it ‘appears residents in high rise residential buildings can have their concerns heard directly’ by the BSR, but residents in buildings below 18m in height ‘may need to refer to the Housing Ombudsman’.

Outside of social, rented accommodation, the NFCC’s members’ experience ‘shows the complex nature of some ownership structures can cause confusion for residents about who is responsible for the safety of their building’, and the introduction of multiple account persons ‘in addition to’ multiple responsible persons ‘will add further layers of complexity to what is already a significant challenge’.

Dan Daly, head of the NFCC’s protection unit, commented: ‘The draft Bill presents an opportunity to address wider building safety issues. We welcome the flexibility provided for the scope to be widened over time. However, we believe the intention to begin with residential buildings of 18 metres could be widened to include care homes within the scope of the Gateways regime from the outset for new builds.

‘We are pleased to see that the Bill also introduces a new Residents Panel, but we hold some concerns about costs being passed to leaseholders, and suggest any recharging mechanisms are clearly defined as relating to reasonable maintenance and upkeep costs only. There is a unique opportunity to improve the safety of the wider built environment, by addressing the non-worsening provisions in regulation 4(3) highlighted by Dame Judith Hackitt.

‘Regulation 4(3) prevents regulators from being able to require reasonable improvements to safety over time, because it provides that changes can be made on a “like for like” basis. We believe a change of use or major refurbishment should trigger a cost/benefit analysis of reasonable life safety improvements balanced against the value of the building works in question. We would like to see an ambition to address this in due course for all buildings.’

Mr Wilsher concluded: ‘It is important that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations are properly considered and delivered in a way which helps fix the broken system identified by Dame Judith Hackitt and restores the public confidence in fire safety. The draft bill is a huge milestone and step in the right direction, and we look forward to further engagement during this period to ensure the legislation is robust.’