High-rise residential buildings – new UK legislation expands owner responsibilities

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, new legislation has been introduced in England to regulate high-rise residential buildings. Failure to register in scope high-rise buildings will be an offence, and complying with the legislation will require a significant undertaking. To avoid falling foul of their new roles and responsibilities, it’s vital for owners and managers to begin preparations as soon as possible.

The Building Safety Regulator

As part of the UK Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire, a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) has been introduced in England with the purpose of protecting high-rise residents from unsafe building practices. Included within the Building Safety Act 2022, the BSR will exist as an independent body within the Health and Safety Executive.

The subject of the new legislation are high-rise residential buildings (HRBs) – defined as buildings 18 metres tall or at least 7 storeys and above, and containing at least 2 residential units. Across England, there is believed to be more than 12,500 buildings that come under the scope of the legislation. Under the new rules, all HRBs must be registered with the new regulator within six months from April 2023, the date upon which the scheme opens.

The BSR’s responsibilities include the implementation and enforcement of the new and more stringent regulatory regime for HRBs, with stronger oversight for safety and performance. It will also be responsible for promoting competence among building and maintenance professionals and higher standards across the built environment.

It will be an offence if any HRB is occupied but not registered by October 2023. To enforce the new rules, the BSR can introduce sanctions including notices, fines, and imprisonment.

New responsibilities

The task of registering HRBs with the regulator falls to new duty holders identified within the Building Safety Act, who will be known as ‘accountable persons’. Each HRB must have a specified accountable person – this is likely to be the organisation or person who owns or has responsibility for the building but may also be an organisation or person who is responsible for maintaining the common parts of a building, such as corridors or lobbies.

If the building has more than one accountable person, then the accountable person responsible for the structure and exterior of the building will be the ‘principal accountable person’. When buildings have a single accountable person, that entity or person is the principle accountable person.

The accountable person will be responsible for maintaining building safety. This includes taking all reasonable steps to prevent any building safety incidents (spread of fire and/or structural failure) and reducing the severity of an incident, should one occur.

The accountable person must also:

  • Perform a building safety risk assessment

  • Introduce measures to manage building safety risks

  • Prepare a safety case report for their building to give to the BSR on request

It is the function of the safety case report to demonstrate that an accountable person has identified and assessed the safety risks in their building, as defined in the legislation, and to show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent or reduce the severity of building safety lapses.

Preparing the safety case report will require accountable persons to collect detailed and accurate information about their building. This information relating to the report must be kept digitally, securely, must be a building’s single source of truth, available to people who need it to do a job, available when they need it, and presented in a way that is usable.

The accountable person will also be responsible for ensuring residents’ safety and consulting with them, and helping to maintain the flow of information at all stages of construction and occupation.

Challenges for duty holders

For all duty holders involved in the construction and maintenance of HRBs, the new legislation poses a series of challenges. Because every building is different, the types of information required may vary. Particularly in the case of older buildings, locating certain information may be difficult. In such cases, accountable persons must take reasonable steps to find the required information, such as by consulting local archives and planning records, or contacting previous owners.

Likewise, mixed-use buildings may have multiple accountable persons, creating challenges with coordinating ongoing communication and understanding integrated life safety systems. Buildings may also change hands repeatedly, or may be purchased by overseas investors, making it difficult to define and keep track of who is fulfilling the role of accountable person. In some cases, owners may seek to appoint property agents to fulfil the role of the accountable person on their behalf. In such scenarios, owners may be at risk of prosecution if the appointed agent fails to act in accordance with the requirements of the new legislation.

The scope of work required to comply with the new legislation will also pose a significant challenge for many owners and managers. Putting together the safety case report will require consultation with specialists across several workstreams, such as external wall surveys, detailed fire risk assessments, and determining fire strategies. Organising and managing this information will require time, and ongoing consultation with competent resources. HSE guidance recommends the development of a Safety Management System (SMS) where one does not already exist. An effective SMS is a valuable tool, especially for duty holders with multiple buildings.

How to prepare for the upcoming deadlines

  • Begin preparation as soon as possible to ensure registration within six months from April 2023

  • Keep up to date with ongoing BSR developments, including announcements on future deadlines and any specific regulator processes and supporting guidance

  • Gather information about how your building was built (including construction, resident profile, details of any refurbishment, fire prevention and fire protection measures, structural safety, services and utilities, and details of any past maintenance and inspection)

  • Identify any building safety risks, engaging internal stakeholders and external competent specialists where necessary, and consider whether you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent a building safety incident

  • Develop a building safety risk assessment demonstrating measures taken, reasons for taking them, how they work, and how you delivered them

  • Ensure residents are informed of relevant building safety information, and are aware of their responsibilities for keeping the building safe

  • Develop processes for reporting occurrences and complaints, and include information on this process within your safety case report

  • Where an external agent has been appointed to act on behalf of an owner, take all reasonable steps to validate their competencies

  • Speak to the Lockton Risk Control Services team

For more insights, download your free copy of our specialist insurance publication Risk Radar here (opens a new window).

Or to find out more please contact: Darren Cook, Lockton