Does the Building Safety Act 2022 apply to student accommodation?

The Building Safety Act 2022 (“the Act”) received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022 and has brought about the most far-reaching developments to the construction and built environment industry in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. The implications of the Act reach far and wide.  One of the questions being asked is: does the Act apply to student accommodation?

The purpose of the Act is to establish a new regime that will protect those living in “higher-risk buildings”.  Section 65 of the Act defines a “higher-risk building” as “a building in England that— (a) is at least 18 metres in height or has at least 7 storeys, and (b) contains at least 2 residential units.”  A “residential unit” has been widely defined, it means “a dwelling or any other unit of living accommodation”.

When the Building Safety Bill (“the Bill”) was first presented to Parliament in July 2020, it was intended that the definition of a “higher risk building” would expressly include student accommodation and expressly exclude buildings such as residential care homes, prisons, hotels and hospitals.

The definition in section 65 of the Act is not so narrowly defined. Contrary to the original intention, the Act does not expressly exclude any particular type of residential building.  It was anticipated that regulations would be published alongside the Act to provide more clarity on its scope.  Section 65(3) of the Act gives the Secretary the State the power to exclude buildings of a prescribed description from the definition of a "higher-risk building” but, currently, no such regulations have been published.  In fact, during the debates of the Bill by the Public Bill Committee, Christopher Pincher MP (the Housing Minister at the time), specifically confirmed that “in scope building” would include student accommodation.  Therefore, until such time as regulations are published which amend the definition in section 65, it must be interpreted that the Act does apply to student accommodation where the building qualifies as a “higher-risk building”.

That will mean that owners of student accommodation buildings at least 18 metres in height or of at least 7 storeys will need to become intimately familiar with the provisions of the Act.  For example, the obligations on the principal accountable person, or accountable person, such as registering the building with the Building Safety Regulator and complying with the mandatory reporting requirements. The accountable person will also need to carry out an assessment of the building safety risks, take all reasonable steps to manage building safety risks, and display prescribed information about the building.  Those are just some of the applicable duties created by the Act.  Not all the provisions in the Act are yet in force and the Government has not published all of the necessary consequent regulations. As such, those responsible for “higher risk buildings”, including student accommodation, will need to keep a close eye on the secondary legislation published and publications from the Building Safety Regulator.

Samantha Jones is a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers.  She co-leads the 39 Essex Chambers Fire Law Group