Everything you need to know about the Building Safety Act

Posted on: 19 June, 2024

What does the enforcement of the Building Safety Act mean for construction professionals, property owners, and the built environment?

The Building Safety Act (BSA) was announced in 2022 in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which claimed the lives of 72 people.

After a two-year transition period, the Act came into force on 6 April 2024, with a further 13-week competence assessment extension recently announced. This gives registered building control professionals until 6 July 2024 to complete their competency assessments. Designed to improve the safety of all buildings, but high rises in particular, the Act will have a significant impact on the built environment.

In this article, we explore the contents of the BSA, and what it means for built environment professionals, as well as property owners.

What is the Building Safety Act (BSA)?

The Building Safety Act mandates a new set of standards to govern the safe construction of residential buildings in England.

The concept is to make people’s homes safer by giving residents and homeowners more rights, powers and protections. For example, leaseholders have new protections against the costs of correcting safety defects in historic buildings.

New regulators

The Act has created three new bodies to provide effective oversight of the new regime:

1. The Building Safety Regulator (BSR)

The BSR oversees the safety and performance of all buildings, with a special focus on high-rise buildings. It aims to “drive positive cultural change in the built environment industry” by issuing professional codes of conduct and standards for building inspectors and controllers.

An Accountable Person is required to create a ‘digital golden thread’ of information that records all decisions and updates made and acts as an auditable trail.

2. The National Regulator of Construction Products (NRCP)

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 products have been previously unregulated due to gaps in the system. The NRCP will bring all construction products under a regulatory regime, and will allow construction products to be withdrawn from the market if they are discovered to pose a risk. Construction products which are not considered ‘safe’ will be prohibited from being marketed or supplied.

3. The New Homes Ombudsman Service

This scheme allows homeowners of new-build properties to escalate complaints to a New Homes Ombudsman. Developers of new-build homes are required to join the scheme and they must respond to complaints raised by homeowners. The Ombudsman will then consider the evidence and make an impartial decision.

4 key changes in the Building Safety Act

The main changes introduced by the Building Safety Act are:

1. Mandatory registration for building control inspectors

As of 6 April, all building control inspectors must register with the new Building Safety Regulator.

2. A new category of “higher risk buildings”

High-rise residential buildings which are 18 metres tall or higher, or at least seven storeys, with two or more residential units fall under the new ‘higher-risk’ buildings category. There are approximately 12,500 such buildings in England, all of which are required to be registered with the new regulator.

3. New competence rules for designers and contractors

The Principal Designer and Principal Contractor have new responsibilities to manage building safety risks during the design, construction and completion of new higher-risk buildings in England.

4. New liabilities

The previous 6-year time limit for claims under the Defective Premises Act 1972 has been extended. The time period is now 30 years for claims arising before June 2022, and 15 years for claims arising after that.

A new Building Liability Order (BLO) allows parties to hold an “associate” company responsible for the liability of a defendant company. The idea is to enable parties to “pierce the corporate veil” by pursuing parent companies of special purpose vehicles that may have limited assets available to meet claims.

What are the rules for higher-risk buildings?

Higher-risk buildings must comply with several requirements throughout the full construction lifecycle:

  • Planning phase: The Building Safety Regulator must approve the application before construction can begin.
  • Construction phase: The BSR must issue a Completion Certificate before any newly constructed higher-risk building can be occupied. To attain this certificate, construction firms must meet the new ‘Gateway’ requirements, comply with the new building control regime, and discharge all of their duties under the Building Safety Act.
  • Occupation phase: The Principal Accountable Person must register the building with the BSR before it can be occupied.

What the Building Safety Act means for the built environment

According to the government, “The Act will create a clear, proportionate framework for the design, construction, and management of safer, high-quality homes in the years to come.”

The impact on the built environment cannot be understated. Building controllers and inspectors, as well as property owners, have significant new responsibilities when it comes to ensuring the safety of their buildings.

All building control professionals will now be called Registered Building Inspectors (RBIs) if they practice in building control. Firms that used to be called Approved Inspectors will now be called Registered Building Control Approvers (RBCAs). Regulation around construction products is now much stronger, as all products must meet NRCP approval for use on English building sites.

Developers face a new levy and a developer tax to pay for the changes, and the new rights of redress mean that construction firms are more likely to find themselves paying to fix their mistakes.

What the Building Safety Act means for property owners

The deadline to register any occupied higher-risk buildings was 30 September 2023, meaning property owners should have their building safety regimes in place already. Once registered, a building’s structural and safety information must be submitted, followed by a safety case report. Accountable persons for higher-risk buildings will need to maintain an audit trail to demonstrate their management of building safety risks. Failure to meet these regulatory requirements could result in criminal charges. The Act has also made it clear that building owners and landlords are expected to contribute to the costs of fixing their own buildings.

What happens next?

The industry must adapt so that it can consistently meet the new standards of building safety. As Jon Hubert, BSc (Hons) Building Control Programme Leader at UCEM, commented:

“The Building Safety Act (BSA) fundamentally alters the relationship between the various professions working in the built environment.

“Rather than merely offering the ability to collaborate on construction projects, the BSA requires all parties to take responsibility for their work, both individually and collectively.

“This is one step towards a productive and engaged industry, one that will provide for a safer and more inclusive built environment in the 21st century.”

The most urgent requirement is for building control professionals to register with the BSR if they have not already done so, and ensure they are meeting the new professional competence framework.

Here at UCEM, we constantly keep our training programmes under review, and we are ensuring that the Act is fully reflected in our relevant courses, which include our:

If you are interested in reading more about the Building Safety Act, the RICS has published a helpful FAQ about the Building Safety Act, and you can access the full table of contents via the government’s website.