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Building Safety: ‘A bespoke approach to communication with residents is necessary’

Building safety regulations in the UK have undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Property managers, alongside the wider industry, have been tasked with navigating complex statutory changes which guarantee additional measures are in place for the safety of their residents.

In an article originally published in Flat Living, Fleur Bowen, The FirstPort Group’s Director of Health and Safety, reflects on the considerations that must be taken to ensure buildings follow the new safety regulations and the challenges involved.   

Building safety legislation and costs

The Grenfell Tower tragedy exposed gaps in building safety regulations, prompting Government to implement reforms aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future. These changes have transformed the way the industry operates. For property managers like FirstPort, our work now extends beyond the traditional building freeholder and leasehold relationship. For example, we are required to share our communications with all residents of higher risk buildings who are over the age of 16. We’re also supporting our Resident Management Companies (RMC) to effectively manage these changes as Resident Directors take on additional responsibilities around building safety obligations.

Several new laws have been introduced in recent years which have impacted how property managers operate. Firstly, the Building Safety Act, which came into effect in 2022, and continues to introduce changes to the way we manage buildings. Secondly, the Fire Safety Act 2021 and Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 led to a series of new measures being implemented – such as fire door checks and increased wayfinding signage – to ensure buildings are in the best possible condition to withstand a fire, and to make sure residents know what to do in the event of a fire. We are also closely following the Welsh and Scottish Government’s progress with their building remediation obligations.

These are all positive steps in the right direction and property managers have a responsibility to make sure they are ready to adapt to new measures that are introduced. That’s why at FirstPort, we’ve expanded our health and safety team and equipped them with the training and resources needed to support our customers. This includes holding regular training events for colleagues and encouraging participation in courses provided by The Property Institute, which is the professional body for property managers in England, Scotland, and Wales.

It’s as important that any building safety measures are effectively communicated to leaseholders, and we must be transparent about the cost implications involved with these increased health and safety requirements. In particular, The Property Institute’s recent Service Charge Index found that health and safety related costs for leaseholders have increased by 40% over the past five years. There is an unavoidable cost associated with implementing these building safety requirements and we must clearly communicate these increases to leaseholders.

The introduction of the Building Safety Regulator also means that any major works requiring building control approval will need to be approved by the Regulator. Whilst these measures are essential for safeguarding the wellbeing of residents, this is a challenge that may lead to increased costs and delays for leaseholders which will need to be clearly explained.

Enhancing communication and resident engagement

Effective communication is at the heart of building safety. As property managers, we are always looking at how we can foster transparent and open channels of communication with our customers to make sure they are informed about the safety initiatives and risks at their developments.

As part of these new building safety obligations, we are required to extend our communication obligations into new areas. Traditionally, property managers communicate with the named leaseholder. But for higher risk buildings we manage, we are now required to communicate with everyone and not just the named leaseholder. This includes all residents of a higher risk buildings that are over the age of 16.

Each development has its own requirements, and our resident engagement strategies must reflect this. Ultimately, at the centre of our resident engagement approach is the need to ensure every voice has the opportunity to be heard.

Whilst this is a huge amount of work, leveraging technology to make sure we can reach every customer, and implementing robust communication protocols will enable us to update residents on important building safety information.

Considerations going forward

Against this backdrop of legislative change, we are working hard to champion this new era of building safety. At FirstPort, we are committed to continuing this cultural shift within the industry that places safety at the forefront of the decision-making process. By championing transparency and communication with our residents, we are working to deliver a new standard for excellence in building safety management.

If you’d like to learn more about FirstPort’s health and safety services, click here.