Planning, building and the environment

Getting tough on cowboy builders

Published 7 August 2007

The Government is today seeking views on plans to beef up powers for local authorities to tackle illegal or botched construction.

Currently, authorities only have six months from completion of non-compliant work to bring a prosecution for breaches of building regulations and Government has listened to concerns that a longer period is needed to make enforcement more effective, given that defects may not become immediately apparent.

Proposals in the consultation paper published today would increase the time limit in which a prosecution can be brought to two years. Within this period, a prosecution can be brought within six months of discovery of sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Iain Wright, Minister at Communities and Local Government said:"Local authority building control representatives have stressed the barrier to effective enforcement that the current six months allowed for prosecution can pose - it is not long enough. It is not right that those committing serious breaches and avoiding justified enforcement action are putting themselves and others at health and safety risk.

"They can also be reducing the energy efficiency potential of buildings - everyone should be striving to make buildings as environmentally friendly as possible. A more efficient enforcement regime should prove to be a more effective deterrent to non-compliance, ensuring that unscrupulous and lazy builders cannot benefit at the expense of the law-abiding majority".

The consultation document is clear that prosecution is aimed at flagrant, wilful or repeated non-compliance not one-off minor failures. The Government wants to ensure a level playing field for industry and these proposals will impose no additional burdens or risk of prosecution for those who comply with Building Regulation requirements.

Notes to Editors

1. The consultation document can be found here:http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1512082

2. Prosecutions for breaches of the Building Regulations are taken by local authorities under powers in Section 35 of the Building Act 1984. At present prosecutions can be brought only within six months of the commission of the offence, which in practice is usually the date of completion of the non-compliant work.

3. The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 amended the Building Act by inserting a new Section 35A which gives local authorities a two year period in which to bring prosecutions for breaches of the energy efficiency provisions of the Building Regulations. For this extended time period to become operative Section 35A requires the specific provisions to be designated and the consultation paper proposes that this be done in autumn 2007.

4. Ministers gave a public undertaking, at the time of the passage of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act, to seek the earliest opportunity to extend the longer time limits to all breaches of the Building Regulations. It is hoped that this can be done in the 2007/8 Session.

5. Local authorities employ a range of measures to secure compliance with the Building Regulations. The most common way is through informal advice and guidance which is effective in almost all cases. They also have powers to issue a notice under Section 36 of the Building Act requiring the building owner to bring the non-compliant work up to the required standards or to remove the work. A criminal prosecution is normally reserved as a last resort but is justified in some cases for wilful, flagrant or repeated breaches.

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