I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022 to the House. Many examples of building failure as a result of non-compliance with building regulations have come to light in recent years and more may continue to emerge in the coming months and years. The Government's plan for housing, Housing for All, sets out an ambitious target of 300,000 new homes by the end of the decade to address our national housing crisis. As part of that plan, addressing the legacy of poor workmanship and regulatory failure while ensuring it never happens again has been a priority for the Government and me, as the Minister responsible.
The establishment of an independent working group on defective housing was a key commitment in the programme for Government. For many years, many of my colleagues from both sides of the House and I have been highlighting the plight of homeowners who were left with the consequences of poor workmanship or the supply of defective materials. I have visited homes with fire safety or structural defects in my constituency and right across the country. I have seen at first hand the relentless worry and stress that this has caused these families.
As someone who took part in negotiating the programme for Government, I was pleased, as were many people, to see a range of commitments set out in that programme in respect of tackling the issue of housing defects. I have said time and again that we must, and will, grasp this nettle and give hope to these families. The Government has not shied away from our responsibilities. Since coming into office, I have established the independent working group on defective housing and have brought forward the enhanced defective concrete blocks scheme. The independent working group encompasses key stakeholders. I pay tribute to those stakeholders in my Department, the local authorities, the Apartment Owners' Network and the Construction Defects Alliance and its member organisations. They are playing a key role in comprehensively assessing the scale of the problem and outlining solutions. The working group will report to me in the coming months. It has a timeframe to adhere to. I will work with my colleagues in government to make sure that affected owners of homes and apartments are supported appropriately. I use this opportunity to again state that very clearly in the House.
I will also take this opportunity to inform the House that the working group to examine defects in housing will be launching online surveys in the coming weeks. These will seek the views of current and former homeowners, landlords, directors of owners' management companies and property management agents on their experiences of defects relating to fire safety, structural safety and water ingress in purpose-built apartment and duplex buildings constructed in Ireland between 1991 and 2013. Views are sought from people regardless of whether such defects in those properties are currently known and where no such defects have arisen to date. The information will be used as part of work to examine the scale and nature of the problem of defects in housing. I encourage all those stakeholders to complete these online surveys to assist in the work of the working group. Further details will be publicised next week.
The issue of defective concrete blocks is very well known. This is due, in no small part, to the efforts of the homeowners in the west and north west in particular, but also those in other parts of the country. Significant enhancements to the defective concrete blocks scheme have been announced and legislation to underpin these changes is being developed in my Department and will be published this session as a matter of priority. I expect the co-operation of the House in getting that legislation, which is needed to underpin the enhanced scheme, through the House as quickly as possible. It is a commitment of €2.2 billion to the homeowners in question. Work is also ongoing with the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland in respect of the rate. I expect to receive the results of that work in February or March.
Today's Bill forms part of a suite of measures to meet our housing needs and strengthen regulation and oversight while helping those impacted by past mistakes. The main objective of the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2021 is to develop and promote a culture of competence, good practice and compliance with the building regulations in the construction sector. It will benefit consumers and the general public and is long overdue.
The establishment of a robust, mandatory, statutory register is critical for the development of a culture of competence and compliance in the construction sector. Mandatory statutory regulation is necessary to protect the public from the risks posed by defective buildings as it is the only way to ensure that builders can only take on work they are competent to complete and registered to undertake. Stronger compliance with building standards and the broader building control reform agenda are critical to meeting key commitments made by the Government under the Construction 2020 strategy. Under Housing for All, Construction 2020 and the Action Plan for Jobs, the Government has signalled its commitment to placing the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, on a statutory footing.
Statutory registration of builders, as provided for in the proposed Bill, is seen as an essential consumer protection measure, giving those who engage a registered builder assurance that they are dealing with a competent and compliant operator. It is also seen as a critical step forward in addressing shadow economic activity in the construction sector and ensuring fairer competition for compliant operators in the industry.
CIRI was established by the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, on a voluntary basis in 2014 and approximately 800 building and contracting entities are currently included on the register. When the register is operating on a statutory footing post the passing of this legislation, it is envisaged that at least 5,000 entities will be required to register. The legislation will require providers of building services to register with CIRI. This will apply to entities or individuals who hold themselves out for consideration as a provider of building works for both residential and non-residential buildings. It does not include employees of such entities but does include sole traders. This will have a significant impact on all sections of the construction industry, from small contractors and craftspeople up to larger construction companies.
Housing for All sets a target of building an average of 33,000 dwellings per annum. The State plans to invest €20 billion over the next five years, more than €4 billion a year. This is the largest investment in housing in the history of the State. Housing for All seeks to eradicate homelessness and promote social inclusion over its lifetime. This requires a vibrant and innovative construction sector that supports the development of its existing workforce and presents an attractive and sustainable career for those preparing to enter the labour force. This legislation will set out minimum competence requirements for the sector, which will greatly help in the achievement of shared ambitions for upskilling and reskilling. It will also underpin the opportunities presented by the 27,000 new construction jobs this plan will create. It will ensure greater safety and competency for workers across the construction sector and will aid in making the sector a more attractive career for all involved.
It will also complement a number of key measures government has put in place to strengthen the arrangements in place for the control of building activity following the widespread building failures that have emerged in recent years. These measures include the revised Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, the activation of registration arrangements for construction professionals provided for in the Building Control Act 2007, the development of the nationwide online building control management system and the move to risk-based, standardised inspections by local building control authorities. In addition to these reforms, I am also committed to establishing an independent building standards regulator to strengthen the oversight role of the State with the aim of further reducing the risk of building failures and enhancing public confidence in construction-related activity. I have received Cabinet approval to proceed with preparing that legislation.
I will now turn briefly to the main provisions of the Bill. It comprises 64 sections divided into seven Parts and two Schedules. Part 1 sets out standard provisions relating to the Short Title, commencement, interpretations, exemptions and general powers to make orders and regulations. It defines a "provider of building services", that is, who is covered by the Bill. The legislation will apply to any builders holding themselves out for consideration or receiving payment for carrying out building works which are subject to the building regulations. It also outlines exemptions from registration. For example, there is an exemption for electrical works as these are covered under separate legislation. Also exempt are those who do works on their own buildings. This exemption does not apply to any contractor or subcontractor engaged.
Part 2 provides for the appointment of a registration body, the requirements for such a body, the functions and obligations of the body and the transfer of functions, if required. It provides for the remuneration of the boards, registrar and staff and contains provisions in relation to funding and fees that may be charged by the registration body. It provides for the specification of fees in respect of registration and related activities and the publication of an annual report by the registration body on the discharge of its functions under the Bill.
The registration body requires the consent of the Minister to set the registration fees. The registration body is required to publish an annual report of its activities under the Act, which shall be laid before the Oireachtas. The Minister may direct the body to provide any other information required, including any document or account prepared by it. This Part also provides that the accounts of the registration body shall be audited and published as appropriate and contains provisions to provide funding from the Exchequer and policy regarding the code of practice.
Part 3 provides for the establishment of the admissions and registration board, committees of the board and the appeals committee. It provides that all members of the admissions and registration board and the appeals committee shall be appointed by the Minister and that the Minister shall have a majority of nominees on these. It also contains appropriate safeguards to ensure the independence and objectivity of the registration board and the appeals committee.
Part 4 provides for establishment of a mandatory statutory register of providers of building works to which the building regulations apply. The registration body will have delegated responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the register within the confines of the specific and limited parameters set out in the Bill. This Part also provides for the registration of builders, including builders specialising in specific building elements and technologies. This will be achieved by establishing different divisions and subdivisions across different elements of building works. The criteria to be used to determine the competence required is set out in this Part. Those criteria will be used to determine the specific criteria required to be considered competent to be registered in each division. Eligibility for registration can be achieved through qualifications or experience, and I wish to be clear about this point, or a combination of both. Part 4 also provides that a competent person must fulfil the criteria for registration and outlines the procedures whereby a competent person leaves an entity and how that person would be replaced. In addition, this Part provides that a subsidiary of an entity may fulfil the competence criteria for registration.
Part 5 provides for the operation of the register, and outlines prohibitions against operating as a provider of building services while not registered. It outlines the application process and the requirements for registration, and the renewal of registration. These include a requirement to complete an induction course, undertake continuous professional development, CPD, and provide evidence of tax clearance. This Part provides that the admissions and registration board may grant registration where it is satisfied the applicant is eligible and may refuse registration where it is not satisfied that is the case. It also provides for appeals of any such decisions.
Part 6 provides for the handling of complaints and appeals from applicants regarding registration decisions and from complainants in respect of the activities or conduct of registered members. It outlines the role and powers of the inspector who may investigate the complaint and the roles of the board, the appeals committee and the High Court in the imposition of sanctions. The board may impose major sanctions, for example, removal or suspension from the register. Such sanctions are subject to the appeals process and require confirmation by the High Court.
Part 7 contains some miscellaneous provisions including provisions for offences and penalties. It provides for the publication of sanctions and convictions, arrangements for restoration to the register and transitional arrangements in the event of a change in the appointment of the registration body.
Schedule 1 details the provisions applicable to oral hearings held by the admissions and registration board.
Schedule 2 contains miscellaneous matters concerning the board and appeals committee, including provisions concerning the tenure of members and the procedures to be observed at meetings.
In addition to these Parts, I will be bringing forward amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage regarding data processing and governance. These will be in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019. I will also bring forward amendments to allow for the sharing of information by building control authorities on enforcement and prosecutions with the registration body, once it is established. Entry on the register is open to all builders, whether sole traders, partnerships or registered companies, that: demonstrate competence in construction at the appropriate level of registration; commit to the continuous development of knowledge of building practice; confirm tax compliance; declare any convictions under health and safety or building control legislation or both in any jurisdiction, not just here in the Republic; have the appropriate public liability insurance and employer's liability insurance, if it applies; undertake to adhere to a code of conduct; and complete the CIRI induction module online.
The independence and objectivity of the registration board and the appeals committee will be critical to acceptance and success in this regard. Several provisions are included in the Bill to uphold the independence of the registration system at all times. Although it is proposed that the registration body will be delegated the statutory powers and functions to independently operate and maintain the register, in practice the powers it is to be given are narrow and prescribed to guard against any potential conflict of interests.
To be fair, discussions and engagement with the industry highlighted the ready acceptance by the sector of the critical role that the register must play in re-establishing public trust in the industry. The administrative and cost burden of the proposed mandatory register on builders, and on small builders in particular, was a key element in the development of the proposed register. In this regard, the level of any fee must be approved by the Minister. The requirement for continuing professional development must be proportionate to the complexity of the work for which the builder is registered to carry out. The voluntary register has been in operation since 2014 and has approximately 800 registered members. This number will increase substantially once the register becomes mandatory, and therefore a transition period will be required to provide sufficient time for builders to adapt to their new obligations.
To ensure insofar as possible that the register will not discriminate against builders established in other jurisdictions, my Department has engaged with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure that the registration requirements for inclusion on the register do not discriminate against those seeking registration from other EU member states and to facilitate applications from third countries. In that regard, it is provided for that the registration process may be completed online. In addition, work undertaken in other jurisdictions may be submitted to the board to demonstrate the required level of competence, as we have set out in this legislation. The minimum competence requirements and CPD obligations will ensure that existing providers of building services continue to upskill as required.
The establishment of a statutory register requiring minimum competence for providers of building services will support the development of the skills required to achieve several actions under the climate action plan. These include the delivery of 33,000 nearly zero energy building, NZEB, dwellings per year, the retrofitting of 500,000 homes to a building energy rating, BER, of B2 by 2030 and the installation of 600,000 renewable energy heating sources in both new and existing buildings.
Once the CIRI legislation is enacted and the registration body is nominated, the registration body will incur a substantial pre-commencement establishment cost. To establish the register and enable a smooth operational transition, the CIRI registration body will need sufficient funding to establish the statutory regime. An initial grant will be provided of approximately €1.8 million, which will be subject to appropriate governance in accordance with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circular 13/2014 regarding the management of and accountability for grants from Exchequer funds. The registration body is required to submit an annual report to the Minister and that will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In conclusion, I emphasise the importance of this legislation. Statutory registration of builders will be an essential consumer protection measure. It will give those who engage a registered builder the assurance that they are dealing with a competent and compliant operator. The establishment of a robust, mandatory and statutory register is critical for the development of competence and compliance in the construction sector. It is a key regulatory measure in the context of the broader building control reform agenda and the Housing for All objective of delivering quality housing. I look forward to the contributions from Members on Second Stage and to working with them during the passage of this legislation through the Committee, Report and Fifth Stages of the Bill in this House and on into the Seanad.