Written evidence submitted by Zurich Insurance [BSB 422]
Zurich UK provides a suite of general insurance and life insurance products to retail and corporate customers. We supply personal, commercial and local authority insurance through a number of distribution channels, and offer a range of protection, retirement and savings policies available online and through financial intermediaries for the retail market and via employee benefit consultants for the corporate market. Based in a number of locations across the UK - with large sites in Birmingham, Farnborough, Glasgow, London, Swindon and Whiteley - Zurich employs approximately 4,500 people in the UK.
Zurich welcomes the publication of the Draft Building Safety Bill and acknowledge that its publication is a significant step towards ensuring that building regulations are both up-to-date and fit for purpose. However, the implementation and development of the detailed secondary legislation will be key to its success in implementing all the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s report “Building a Safer Future”. As such, whilst the Bill establishes the overarching framework it does little to define how the new regulatory system will operate, the requirements the system will define and impose, and how they will be enforced. We, therefore, welcome the opportunity to feed into this pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, highlighting the following:
1.1 We welcome the publication of the Building Safety Bill as a key milestone in safeguarding high-rise buildings and their occupants. Managing risk and maximising safety are crucial in all stages from a building’s conception and design through construction to inhabitation. The establishment of a clear framework for competency and responsibility is therefore key and the legislation’s success will hinge on effective implementation to ensure it delivers the fundamental safety and compliance it sets out to achieve.
1.2 However, whilst the Bill establishes the overarching framework it does little to define how the new regulatory system will operate, the requirements the system will define and impose, and how they will be enforced. The Bill would, therefore, benefit from further clarity on the following to ensure that it meets the Government’s own policy intentions:
2.1 Zurich is supportive of the Bill’s objectives for the new regulator, particularly around improving the standards of all buildings and improving the skills and competence of building contractors and fire safety professionals. We also welcome the direct enforcement powers granted to the regulator for higher risk buildings. Legal clarity on the enforcement powers of the new regulator will be essential to restoring confidence in the reformed system.
2.2 Growth in the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) have transformed the way in which the UK’s building stock responds to fire and other peril events. Poor workmanship and light-touch enforcement of building regulations have frequently resulted in buildings that offer poor levels of fire protection, and Zurich has long called for building safety reforms to ensure that robust procedures across the design, construction, and inhabitation phases are in place to better protect residents in all types of developments, not just high-rise residential buildings.
2.3 As such, as the Bill currently stands, only buildings over 18 metres or six storeys are in scope and we urge the Government to immediately expand the scope of the Bill to include buildings of any height in the UK accommodating vulnerable people. Indeed, whilst it is encouraging that the 18-metre threshold for new rules contained within it will be kept under review, we would urge that the risk of external fire spread should be considered for all residential buildings, irrespective of height, from the outset and should include materials, building height, vulnerability of residents, escape routes and the complexity of the building.
2.4 We would echo the comments of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and that the Bill must introduce a system that is able to incorporate a more holistic understanding of risk factors, including the vulnerability of building occupants. This would then necessitate a wider range of buildings to be brought into scope of the planning, and thereby that the construction and design side of the new regime ensures these buildings are built correctly to begin with. This is particularly important given that there is significant scope for ‘gaming’ hard parameters such as trigger heights, and aspects such as how buildings are measured.
2.5 Moreover, we would highlight that the current proposed 18-metre threshold creates additional ambiguity when considered alongside the current review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings. Given that it is widely expected the threshold will be reduced it is essential that any height threshold in the Bill aligns with the combustible cladding ban threshold.
Publicly Accessible Database of Building Materials
2.6 Given the increasing use of modern methods of construction (MMC) Zurich has been calling for a “digital construction passport” as part of a publicly accessible database of buildings materials and products as well as techniques used during its construction. This will improve the level of information available to consumers and the fire services as well as provide greater insight to insurers on the long-term durability, repairability and resilience of modern buildings. The Bill presents the opportunity to deliver this construction passport as part of the golden thread of information.
3.1 The draft Bill makes provision for an ‘accountable person’ to register a building in scope upon occupation and for a Building Safety Manager to be in place to manage the fire safety risks that have been identified as agreed with the accountable person/Building Owner. As outlined in our response to question 1; clear definitions of these roles and guidance on the required professional qualifications for those fulfilling these roles will be essential for insurer confidence. Measures taken to reduce the fire risk of a building also needs to be clearly set out in the legislation and be accessible to insurers.
3.2 The legislation should also allow any building work to be scrutinised by the regulator, either through referral or sampling; for example, individual builders or contractors could come under the scrutiny of the regulator if serious concerns were identified. This will ensure a greater level of accountability.
3.3 The Bill must take the opportunity to clear legal loopholes around building ownership and reform the current complex and confusing system. The roles and duties for the responsible body must be set out in statute to clearly establish liability. Having legal clarity on the responsibilities of the building owner will also be of benefit to the ongoing cladding remediation works on high rise residential blocks.
3.4 We would also echo the ABI’s comments regarding the competence of those responsible for maintaining building safety and the need for certification for all fire safety engineers and contractors to ensure they are suitably qualified to undertake relevant work.
4.1 The Grenfell Tower fire exposed serious failings across the whole system of building and managing high-rise homes and the need for major reform, particularly in terms of residents’ safety.
4.2 Following the numerous complaints from Grenfell residents that their concerns were not listened to before the events of June 2017, we welcome the provisions contained within the Bill for improved communication. The requirement for Building Safety Managers to “listen and respond to residents’ concerns” as well as occupants having access to safety information regarding their building are key steps to make residents safer and ensure that they are listened to when they have concerns about their building’s safety.
5.1 It is essential that the Government continues to engage with leaseholders on helping them avoid unaffordable costs for historic repairs and we welcome the Government’s collaborative approach to work with the finance and insurance sectors to protect leaseholders from these costs. Building safety insurance issues must be addressed and the new building safety charge is likely to make it easier for leaseholders to see, and know, what they are being charged for. To ensure these costs are affordable, we welcome that the Government has deliberately included powers to limit costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.
6.1 Zurich welcomes the powers for the regulator to withdraw dangerous products from the market where there are fire safety concerns as well as the requirement for ‘safety critical’ construction products to be placed on a statutory list. The requirements on manufacturers to ensure product safety are an important step forward and we would welcome further details on how this will be enforced in the final Bill.
7.1 We agree that the new Building Safety Regulator should be established under the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and we are encouraged that Dame Judith Hackitt is chairing the board to oversee the setup, transition and running of the new regulator, which will appoint a new chief inspector of buildings.
7.2 However, details of how this new regulator will be resourced and work in practice is currently lacking. The HSE is already facing significant resourcing pressures as a result of Covid-19. As such, an extension of the HSE fee for their intervention scheme, which currently enables the HSE to recover their costs of investigating potential breaches of health and safety legislation, to the new regulator could be the most sensible funding mechanism.
8.1 Very few people have ever died from a fire in a fully sprinklered building in the UK and the industry is calling for the draft legislation to extend the requirement for mandatory sprinkler installation in newly built, high risk buildings such as warehouses, care homes and schools, no matter what height the building is. Indeed, we welcomed the Government’s update to Approved Document B, to require sprinklers in residential blocks over 11 metres in height. Zurich and the wider insurance industry have long been calling for an extension of the requirement to install sprinklers and this announcement will lead to improvements in fire safety.