A guide to creating an effective building safety and compliance strategy

In the current climate of uncertainty, it can be challenging for property managers to know how best to manage building safety and compliance. With a raft of changes in legislation incoming, many with crucial details still to be confirmed, managers need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly to change.

In this guide, we’ll introduce the key pillars of an effective building safety and compliance strategy, and explain how building managers can implement this in a way that allows for agile responses to changing legislation, as well as empathetic communication with residents and leaseholders.

We’ll also include insights from industry leaders on the steps they’re taking to manage their own building safety strategies.

What’s changing in building safety?

Since the publication of Dame Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety three years ago, there have been ongoing legislative changes relating to building safety. Even with many details still to be clarified, it’s clear that in the coming years there’ll be a requirement for transformative change across the industry.

Key areas that property managers need to be aware of include:

The Cladding Crisis

Fallout from the cladding crisis is ongoing, with property managers finding themselves in the middle of a highly emotionally-charged situation as leaseholders find themselves liable for the costs of remedial cladding works which could put them in severe financial jeopardy.

For property managers, the ability to support leaseholders with not only the implementation of remediation work, but to provide transparent information on the associated costs and any available funding or financial support with empathy and sensitivity is key.

Industry insights: Lorna Kassoul, Systems and Projects Manager at Fexco Property Services

“We’ve been doing everything we can to keep our leaseholders in the loop with the legislation as it comes. We’ve had meetings with management company directors on sites over 18 metres high and have produced an information pack for people to read at their leisure, as well as setting up meetings to start looking into funding.

It’s difficult from our customers’ point of view because we’ve heard horror stories on the news about people going bankrupt and we wouldn’t want that to happen to any of our customers. We’re doing everything we can to keep our customers in the loop on costs that are coming down the pipe to them.”

The Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill designed to address issues identified in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy is still in the process of being fully scoped, but one clear implication is the birth of the Building Safety Manager.

The definition of this role, as well as the implementation of the processes and tools to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities, will require a large-scale shift in how residential blocks are managed.

Industry insights: Benjamin Hume, Managing Director at Evolve Block Management.

“Industry and regulatory framework is expanding at lightning speed. There are so many areas to cover to make sure we keep our leaseholders safe.

We’ve employed a compliance manager in our business this year. Because of the way things are going and the complexity of some of our large estates, we thought it was best to bring in an expert to manage the operational compliance within our portfolio, so our property managers can do what they do which is relationships with our clients, residents and tenants.

Joining up the dots and binging everything together is the holy grail of information management for our blocks. Everything talks to each other, and there’s no chance of things getting lost.”

Fire Safety

Fire safety is an obvious priority as the fallout from Grenfell continues. In particular, the requirements for owners and landlords to actively listen to tenant concerns, and the concept of the “resident voice” will be transformational.

With a requirement for every building to have a resident engagement strategy, there are far-reaching implications for how property managers engage and communicate with residents.

Industry insights: Michael Toogood, Head of Residential Asset Management and Partner at Knight Frank

“There’s a quantum leap forward we’re going to have to make in a number of areas, and resident engagement is one key area. Going forward, the engagement we foresee is entirely different. We’ll be expected to disseminate information to tenants so they understand their responsibility to contribute to our management of the safety of the building. That’s going to be a huge change from what we normally do.”

The Golden Thread

Many of the new areas of legislation being introduced rely on a strong foundation of data being available for every building. The concept of the Golden Thread aims to make this possible, ensuring that key information is collected, maintained and shared throughout the life of a residential development, from design and construction through to ongoing management.

The division of responsibility for collecting and storing this data and the specific requirements are still to be fully defined, but it’s clear that block managers will need to update their processes to effectively handle Golden Thread information.

Industry insights: Michael Toogood, Head of Residential Asset Management and Partner at Knight Frank

“Very few buildings have this information. Many developers protect their position by taking charge of the management for a number of years post-completion, and it’s not in their interest to hand over information gained in these early years as it could be used to pursue a warranty claim or defects liability action.

This legislation will make it compulsory for developers to deliver this key information, and some buildings will have to create that information. That will be very expensive on existing leaseholders, but is absolutely critical. You can’t do your management job, particularly in health and safety, unless you have that Golden Thread of information.”

What does a successful safety and compliance strategy look like?

With so many anticipated changes to stay on top of, and so many details still to be confirmed, it’s not immediately clear what processes and systems will look like in practice. Instead of making concrete process changes, it’s instead necessary to build in agility and transparency at every stage possible, making it as straightforward as possible to manage not only the anticipated changes but future legislative developments too.

Industry experts are united in their agreement that a few key pillars are critical in building the foundation on which block managers can quickly and effectively respond to new building safety legislation:

Efficient information management

The collection and management of a huge range of data is likely to be necessary to maintain compliance with the Building Safety Act, from inspections of fire doors through to maintaining an audit trail proving that issues identified in inspections were promptly resolved.

Putting in place the required data collection to prepare for legislative changes such as the Golden Thread, and to ensure that Building Safety Managers have the appropriate information at their fingertips, requires a robust management platform. Reducing reliance on paper or manual processes will be key, as well reducing data silos or duplication across multiple systems to reach a single point of truth across all information relating to a residential development.

Automation of key processes

With an ever-increasing number of critical responsibilities for block managers to take action based on reports from residents or the outcome of inspections, it’s essential that robust processes are put in place to ensure that nothing is missed.

Automation plays a key role in ensuring that data collected during inspections is actioned, and that a clear audit trail is maintained. Setting up workflows to automatically manage task creation and monitor outcomes not only saves valuable time and resource, but helps block managers ensure that processes are fool proof, reducing the risk on noncompliance.

“Integration is key. If you have reports with a workflow right through to an action to raise a purchase order and monitor that action, the integration between reporting and property management is critical.”

Michael Toogood, Head of Residential Asset Management and Partner at Knight Frank

Visibility for customers throughout

Transparent communication with customers is set to become a legislative requirement with the advent of resident engagement strategies. However, visibility and transparency also impacts several other areas, from cladding remediation works to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents.

As residents and leaseholders are themselves face uncertain and frightening changes, it’s crucial that block managers have not only the right information but are also able to communicate with empathy and understanding, ensuring the best outcomes for their customers. This means implementing robust processes and maintaining high quality data, whilst freeing up resource within their teams to focus on the human aspect of building safety.

“Over the past few years people suddenly find that they are living in a home that, they once felt secure in, but that now feels significantly less secure. There’s a huge amount of uncertainly, loneliness, stress and isolation and a lot of confusion, and we have a responsibility to solve some of that.

We need to choose the right partners and the right employees with the right values. It’s not all about cost, but about other things too.”

Nygel Scourfield, Executive Director at ReSI Property Management.

Collaboration between stakeholders

With so many anticipated changes, it’s not surprising that block managers are anticipating a complex and uncertain period of process and systems transformation. Every organisation has its own unique challenges, which means that even as details of legislative changes are confirmed, the precise actions needed to ensure compliance will be different for every business.

During uncertain times it’s vital to have strong partnerships with stakeholders, and an open an honest relationship based on a shared vision of success. By working proactively to engage and collaborate with partners across all aspects of their businesses, block managers can ensure they’re primed to respond quickly to changing requirements and to offer the most appropriate support and solutions for their business’ individual circumstances.

“We’ve been delighted by the way that MRI has worked with us and some of our critical issues by getting under the skin of what Knight Frank’s key concerns are means we’ve got a fundamentally better solution that if we hadn’t allowed you to come in and get to know, warts and all, what is worrying us.”

Michael Toogood, Head of Residential Asset Management and Partner at Knight Frank

How we can help

At MRI Software we’re a trusted partner to more than 70 ARMA members and hundreds of recognised names in the residential sector. To find out how we can support you on your way to creating an effective building safety and compliance strategy, get in touch today or download our ebook – Plan ahead for the golden thread – the critical role of technology for residential property managers.

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