At the centre of everything: Resident engagement in the building safety regime
Running through the new building safety regime is a golden thread. The golden thread is all of the information necessary to understand the fire and structural safety credentials of a high rise residential building.
It is this golden thread of information that will help landlords address the needs of residents to make them safe and feel safe in their homes. The Government has said that the safety of residents is of paramount importance. The golden thread of information (and resident access to it) will therefore be at the heart of the proposed new Resident Engagement Strategy.
It will be a mandatory condition of the building safety certificate (required for any in-scope high rise residential building) for the Accountable Person's Building Safety Manager to put in place an open and transparent Resident Engagement Strategy. The Government's current proposals for the reform of the building safety regulatory regime highlights the need for a culture change so that the views and concerns of residents can never be ignored by those responsible for managing the safety of their building. Many landlords will not see their current policies and practices in relation to resident engagement lacking in this respect. However, the mandatory requirement for an approved strategy, failing which an in-scope building will not lawfully be able to be occupied, will focus the minds of all public and private landlords to ensure the adequacy and legitimacy of their Resident Engagement Strategy.
The new Building Safety Regulator will review, approve and sign off the Resident Engagement Strategy as part of its statutory role when issuing a building safety certificate under gateway three for new buildings, or whenever it is approving the safety case for existing buildings.
It will be the responsibility of the Building Safety Manager to deliver the strategy and to ensure that residents understand how they can get involved in decision-making about the safety of their homes. In the strategy the Building Safety Manager will need to demonstrate:
- how core information about building safety will be shared proactively with residents;
- how appropriately detailed information about building safety will be made available to residents on request;
- the landlord's strategic approach to communicating with residents, including the channels and forums through which different information will be shared;
- how residents will be involved in decisions about their building’s safety, particularly during any refurbishment;
- how complaints about safety will be handled effectively and efficiently;
- how residents will be informed about their own safety responsibilities, and how these will be managed;
- what steps will be taken to ensure the engagement takes account of the diverse needs of their residents; and
- how implementation of the strategy will be measured.
The process for dealing with complaints (and their escalation) was given significant attention in the Hackitt review and is now a key feature of the Government's proposals for the Resident Engagement Strategy. The strategy must set out clear processes and timescales for resolving complaints. All complaints (and their resolution) will be required to form part of the safety case review to the Regulator. A resident can escalate complaints to the Building Safety Regulator, either where they feel that their complaint has not been properly addressed, or can raise it directly with the Building Safety Regulator where there is believed to be a significant risk to life or serious injury from failure to take action. There are a number of existing avenues of recourse for complaints, like the local government ombudsman (and also some new avenues like the New Homes Ombudsman). The Government has recognised the need for alignment in process and has committed to put in place a series of agreements between these bodies to ensure smooth redirection and appropriate enforcement as necessary.
As identified above, the strategy will need to include information about resident's own safety responsibilities. We will be producing a separate note on the proposed new statutory duty on residents to cooperate with the Building Safety Manager in the fulfilment of their functions to maintain the fire and structural integrity of the building and keep residents safe. This is a radical change and a Resident Engagement Strategy will only be truly effective if the collective resident body is made fully cognisant of this and knows (and actions) what it needs to do to meet that new statutory duty.
You can view our recent webinar on resident engagement in the new regime below.