Building Safety Bill and New Homes Ombudsman

Three years on from the Grenfell Tragedy, the government has produced its draft Building Safety Bill.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has launched a call for evidence on the Bill. The Bill also makes provision for the New Homes Ombudsman.

Read the call for evidence

The proposals

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee is scrutinising the policy objectives, key provisions and likely impact of the draft Bill.

These reflect the concerns the committee raised in its report on building regulations and fire safety and the five broad areas of reform as set out in the government’s consultation:

  • accountability
  • residents’ voice
  • enforcement and sanctions
  • product testing
  • regulatory system

The main proposals in the Bill are to introduce:

  • a New Homes Ombudsman to serve as a system of redress and develop a code of practice with developers to set standards on sales, marketing, and the standard and quality of workmanship. All developers of new homes will be required to join the scheme
  • a new Building Safety Regulator tasked with introducing a better safety system and imposing sanctions and regulations
  • a new dutyholder system to be implemented in every building
  • building safety managers
  • increased sanctions for badly performing building control bodies
  • building safety charges – with leaseholders permitted to refuse payment if the charge is ‘unreasonable’ or the freeholder does not provide a clear breakdown of costs
  • new advisory committees to support the work of the Building Safety Regulator

The call for evidence

The HCLG Committee has called for evidence on the following aspects of the Bill:

  • How well does the Bill, as drafted, meet the government’s own policy intentions?
  • Does the draft Bill establish an appropriate scope for the new regulatory system?
  • Will the Bill provide for a robust – and realistic – system of accountability for those responsible for building safety? Are the sanctions on those who do not meet their responsibilities strong enough?
  • Will the Bill provide strong mechanisms to ensure residents are listened to when they have concerns about their building’s safety?
  • Is the government right to propose a new Building Safety Charge? Does the bill introduce sufficient protections to ensure that leaseholders do not face excessive charges and that their funds are properly managed?
  • Does the Bill improve the product testing regime in a way that will command the full confidence of the sector?
  • Is it right that the new Building Safety Regulator be established under the Health and Safety Executive, and how should it be funded?
  • Does the Bill present an opportunity to address other building safety issues, such as requirements for sprinkler systems?

Our view

Some of the key issues we have concerns about include:

Costs

There’s evidence of long leaseholders having to pay up to six-figure bills to cover building repairs and fire safety watches (with developers and freeholders often said to be delaying or refusing to contribute.

Refused mortgages and unsaleable homes

Some lenders are refusing mortgages if a property does not have an EWS1 Form, even if the property is said to have undergone a fire safety check.

Temporary valuations at £0.00 prevent the market from operating openly.

The FRA (the replacement for the EWS1 in the Bill) seems unlikely to make any change to the operation of the market.

Mental health

Tenants are reporting a deterioration in mental health as a result of:

  • fear for their own safety
  • the financial burden of replacing cladding/waking watch fire services
  • their inability to move

Accountability

Some long leaseholders are criticising the lack of responsibility being taken ‘at the top’ and say that £600 million for ACM and £1 billion non-ACM government cladding fund is insufficient given the scale of the problem.

Not all landlords have applied to access these first-come, first-served funds, which leaves the problem with long leaseholders.

Next steps

The call for evidence closes on 14 September.

We invite those with an interest in acting for buyers and sellers of long leasehold properties to either:

  • respond to the call for evidence directly
  • send your comments to property@lawsociety.org.uk by 24 August so that they can be considered for our response

What’s changing

We responded to the government’s consultation on the New Homes Ombudsman.

We encouraged members to respond to the government’s consultation on redress for purchasers of new build homes and the New Homes Ombudsman.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published its report, Building regulations and fire safety: consultation response and connected issues.