Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Building Safety Bill

Responding to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Building Safety Bill, we acknowledge the need to upgrade building safety, however, there are concerns about the practical applications of a number of elements along with the cost to leaseholders.

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Summary of our response

With the UK Government under scrutiny for its handling and the timescales of the removal of unsafe ACM cladding, getting the legislation right on building safety should be paramount. Propertymark’s response has focused on these key areas of the Draft Bill:

Material information and the remediation of any unsafe cladding 

Greater guidance and clarification is needed to support sales and letting agents who will buy, sell, and let properties impacted by the new rules. There is a huge lack of awareness amongst the industry and the UK Government needs to produce guidance and clarify how the rules will impact on agent’s responsibilities under the Consumer Protection Regulations.

Gaps between the new Building Safety regime and legacy stock

The Bill neither makes a distinction between historic problems in existing buildings nor does it appear to consider protection for leaseholders and new builds. There currently is no statutory methodology of assessing external wall systems and no document that confirms the fire safety of a building in terms of the external wall system. All these need to be addressed to provide greater consumer protections and ensure leaseholders do not face excessive charges.

Recruitment, training, and the role of Accountable Persons and Building Safety Managers 

There is some concern on the sheer number of Building Safety Managers and Accountable Persons that will need to be recruited and trained. The industry estimates that around 1,200 additional Building Safety Managers will be needed. Improved routes of communication will also need to be established through the Bill to provide information on building safety.

Fire Risk Assessments

Nothing specific is yet mentioned relating to conducting Fire Risk Assessments and greater clarity is needed to determine whether the legislation includes this. Under the new regime, Building Safety Managers and Accountable Persons will have to produce a Safety Case Report to include a Resident Engagement Strategy and provide all residents details including fire and structural safety information on how to reduce the risk of fire in individual dwellings. This must also include guidance and a strategy to engage with sales and letting agents who will buy, sell, and let properties that fall under the new rules.

Scope of the New Homes Ombudsman Scheme

The remit should be extended in five ways:

  1. Freeholders of leasehold properties who are not using a managing agent should be required to belong to the Scheme.
  2. The Scheme should only cover complaints in relation to a purchaser’s new build home where redress cannot be sought elsewhere.
  3. The Scheme should charge property developers as price per unit.
  4. In addition to the provisions to obtain and display scheme membership, the UK Government should embark on a major communication campaign involving all the actors and partners in the sector to ensure that organisations are aware of the requirement to belong to the Scheme.
  5. To further enhance protections for consumers across the UK, the Government must extend the requirements under the Estate Agents Act 1979 to housebuilders’ sales staff and include the sales staff of housebuilders in the requirements for sales agents to be qualified as set out in the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group report published in July 2019.

Ongoing safe removal of cladding

The UK Government programme for the removal of unsafe ACM cladding from high-rise housing blocks was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in a recent report condemning the UK Government for missing its own target. The PAC report said tens of thousands of residents still live in fear three years after the Grenfell Tower blaze, exposing the risk of flammable cladding. It outlined how it was unacceptable that ACM cladding remained on around 300 buildings – around two-thirds of the original total found to have used the material.

The report called on the UK Government to start ‘vigorous’ enforcement action against block owners where works were not on track to complete by a new end of 2021 deadline and said it needed to publish more information over the timeline of current works.

Concerns were also raised by the National Audit Office (NAC) in their report, published in July saying the progress and funding of the remediation efforts were too slow. 

Future responsibility

The UK Government is responsible for ensuring that the new legislation includes everyone involved in the house buying and selling process. The only way to drive up standards of service is to ensure individuals are suitably qualified to meet minimum competency standards, whilst also providing equal levels of protection for consumers.

Read our full response