The Building Safety Act 2022 was introduced in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building safety that affected multiple leaseholders across the UK after the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 and became law at the end of April.
Whilst the proposals have been primarily in response to fire safety defects, the wider implications of these changes for contractors, construction professionals and the wider construction industry are significant. Amongst others, the Act makes changes to the Defective Premises Act 1972 (DPA) and the Building Act 1984 (BA).
The Defective Premises Act 1972
Section 1 of the DPA currently imposes a duty upon those involved in constructing a dwelling to ensure that the dwelling is “fit for habitation” when the work is completed. A potential claimant currently needs to show that either inadequate work has been completed, or inadequate materials have been used, such that the dwelling is not fit for human habitation – a high threshold.
The section 1 duty of care currently only applies to the construction of new dwellings. The Act extends this duty to apply prospectively to refurbishment, alterations and repairs to existing dwelling. The section 1 duty to ensure “fitness for habitation” will also apply to work undertaken on non-residential parts of a building (such as work to external cladding or communal areas).
Under s.1 of the DPA, liability is currently prospective, and the limitation period runs for six years from the date of completion. The Act increases the period for bringing a claim to 30 years from the date of completion. Most importantly, this extended time limit applies retrospectively and prospectively.
The Building Act 1984
The Act brings into effect Section 38 of the BA which will allow for compensation to be brought for physical damage or injury caused by a breach of building regulations. Historically only a local authority bringing criminal charges could seek redress on behalf of the occupants of non-compliant premises – under the Act, a civil claim can be brought where a claimant suffers harm due to work on a building not meeting building regulations standards.
The Act extends the limitation period for claims under the BA from six to 30 years, in accordance with the amended DPA. However, this extension only applies to work completed prospectively.
The general effect of the Act is to provide potential wider grounds for redress for defective workmanship, with those responsible being required to bear the responsibility of remediation. It is expected that far more buildings will fall within the scope of the DPA and BA once the Act takes effect, resulting in a potential increase in claims.
Whilst the proposals are welcomed by leaseholders, it is feared that insurers may increase their premiums/excesses which could contribute to restricting market access for construction operating businesses.