External wall systems in existing multi-storey residential buildings - fire risk: advice note - version 2

Version 2.0 of this Scottish Advice Note provides advice for those responsible for fire safety in residential buildings including building owners/managers/residents groups responsible for determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems on existing multi-storey residential buildings.

This document is part of a collection

Annex 3: Building Standards in Scotland

The Building Standards System

The Building Standards system in Scotland is established by The Building (Scotland) Act 2003 and associated Regulations. The system is pre-emptive and is designed to check that proposals meet building regulations at the time of the building warrant application.

The purpose of the system is to protect the public interest. It is not intended to provide protection to a client in a contract with a builder.

The main principles of the system are:

  • that a building warrant must be obtained before work starts on site; and
  • prior to a building being occupied, a completion certificate must be accepted by a verifier if, after undertaking reasonable inquiry, they are satisfied with the declaration by the 'relevant person' that the work meets the building regulations.

The system applies to the design, construction or demolition of a building; the provisions of services, fittings or equipment in, or in connection with, a building; and the conversion of a building. It is intended to ensure that work on both new and existing buildings results in buildings that meet reasonable standards, which are set out in building regulations.

The regulations do not generally apply to existing buildings unless the owner intends to carry out a type of work that must meet building regulations, including significant alterations. In general terms, work must be carried out in a technically proper and workmanlike manner, and the materials used must be durable and fit for their intended purpose.

In Scotland, the thirty two local authorities are appointed by Scottish Ministers as verifiers to administer the building standards system for their own geographic area and are responsible for the interpretation of building standards legislation. Guidance on the building standards system is published in the Procedural Handbook.

New Work

From 1 June 2022, a building warrant is now required for replacement external wall cladding systems. This means the work should comply with current regulations, standards and guidance unless the work is for a minor repair. The term 'minor repair' means isolated repair or replacement of elements of cladding which are physically damaged or have degraded to the point that the element is no longer fit for its intended purpose.

A building warrant application will be granted by a local authority verifier where it is shown the building complies with the building regulations at the time of the assessment.

Once the building warrant has been granted it is the responsibility of the "relevant person" to ensure that the construction work meets the building regulations and is built in accordance with the building warrant. The "relevant person" is the building owner or developer in most cases. In the case of changes made on site to the approved specification e.g. product substitution, an amendment to the building warrant should be submitted to the verifier covering the changes.

The relevant person can appoint an agent to act on their behalf if they are unsure of their responsibilities. It is recommended that this person is a suitably qualified and experienced building professional, for example an architect, building surveyor or structural engineer. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the relevant person to make sure that design or construction work is carried out by qualified and experienced building professionals, ideally registered with a reputable trade or professional body.

Once the work has been completed the 'relevant person' must submit a completion certificate to the local authority. The 'relevant person' signs the certificate which confirms that the work has been completed in accordance with both the building regulations and the granted building warrant.

A local authority must accept a completion certificate if, after reasonable inquiry, it is satisfied as to the matters certified in the certificate. Acceptance of a completion certificate cannot be, nor is it intended to be, a guarantee that all workmanship and materials are suitable. Such a guarantee would require a constant supervisory presence on site and this is a matter for the developer/owner to put in place.

Building Regulations

The Act is supported by the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004, as amended. A schedule of mandatory building standards are provided in the building regulations and are expressed in terms of 'functional standards'. The standards which relate to fire are simply-stated fire safety objectives that the completed building must achieve.

The principal supporting guidance documents are the Technical Handbooks for domestic and non-domestic buildings. Following the guidance in the Handbooks is the usual route to compliance and may be relied on in any legal dispute as 'tending to negate liability' for an alleged contravention of building regulations. Alternative means of compliance is possible and the verifier has the power to decide whether or not alternative solutions fulfil the mandatory functional standards.

There is no requirement to retrospectively apply the current building regulations and associated guidance to existing buildings, unless Section 25 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 is enforced.


Email: BuildingStandards@gov.scot

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