Home owners can be reassured that WA’s building regulator is taking action on standards, compliance and dispute resolution across the industry, according to retiring Building Commissioner Ken Bowron.
Mr Bowron leaves Building and Energy (formerly the Building Commission and EnergySafety) today after 10 years, including 18 months at the helm of the combined division within the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
“I’m incredibly proud of the dedicated team at Building and Energy who have a genuine passion for achieving an industry that delivers safe, durable and high-quality buildings,” he said.
“I know that building a new home or renovating can be stressful, particularly if projects don’t go to plan after you’ve committed a lot of money and time.
“Improvement is needed in some areas of WA’s building sector, but a lot of high-quality work is being done and it’s important to put the issues in perspective. For example, out of more than 18,200 residential dwelling builds that commenced in WA in 2017-18, we received 730 building disputes concerning workmanship and contractual issues.”
Building and Energy’s building dispute resolution services are intended to be an efficient and cost-effective alternative to court proceedings for matters arising within six years of practical completion. In the past year, 83 per cent of these disputes have been completed in-house, with a small proportion of complex, intractable or high-value matters referred to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).
“Our average completion time for building disputes is around five months, compared to 18 months under the former Building Disputes Tribunal. So far this financial year, one-third of disputes have been finalised within three months,” Mr Bowron said.
“Each dispute is unique and can involve multiple claims about specific and complex areas of construction. Our staff remain impartial and make decisions based on verified information from both sides, with consideration of building standards and a framework that allows for some imperfections within a certain tolerance.”
Both parties in a building dispute are required to provide evidence, which could include a building inspection report. The associated costs are often reimbursed in the final outcome.
“Our staff are trained in mediation and many matters are resolved through conciliation and building remedy orders,” the Building Commissioner said. “We are also working with our Consumer Protection colleagues on ways that the dispute process could be more streamlined.”
As the volume and complexity of building work has grown in WA, the focus for the regulator’s in-house building inspectors and other technical experts is on vital proactive work such as audits, investigations and updates for industry.
“The community is far better served when our resources are deployed towards the cause of building issues and preventing disputes in the first place,” Mr Bowron said.
“There was a 30 per cent improvement in compliance on roof tie-down systems as a result of our intensive intervention in this area. We took similar swift action after a spate of ceiling failures.
“We’ve also developed a range of useful resources about important checks that consumers can do before choosing a builder, as well as their options if issues do occur. We continue to work closely with local government permit authorities to support their legislated responsibility to ensure buildings comply with the National Construction Code.”
The State Government is also taking action to strengthen building legislation after WA joined other states and territories in providing in-principle support for recommendations from a major national report, Building Confidence, which looked at improving compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia.
Three separate reviews of the building legislation framework in WA are now underway:
the residential building approval process;
the commercial building approval process; and
the registration requirements for building practitioners.
Discussion papers on the reviews will be released for public consultation in July and December this year. The State Government is also progressing the recommendations of a major report into security of payment, which aims to deliver a fairer system and more financial certainty for subcontractors and their families.
“Our priority is to ensure that buildings are safe and conform to the standards – and we recognise that improvements are needed in some areas,” Mr Bowron said.
“I leave Building and Energy with confidence that the team’s continued hard work, coupled with changes on the horizon, will deliver robust regulation, better buildings and fewer disputes.”
The appointment of WA’s new Building Commissioner will be announced in coming weeks.