VBA Mail – December 2020

Building tools with Christmas decorations

In a year that constantly challenged individuals and communities to work differently, Victoria’s building and plumbing industries united firmly over one goal – to keep the industry moving.

VBA CEO Sue Eddy reflects on the final quarter of 2020 – and the year itself.

A message from the CEO

As the weather warms up and the year draws to a close, it is safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other. Despite the challenges we faced – as individuals, organisations and an industry – there were also opportunities to learn, adapt and evolve.

After eight months of tiered restrictions introduced to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Victoria has now embarked on its economic recovery, led, in large part, by the building and construction industry.

Your collective efforts to keep the industry safe and open throughout the year have given us this opportunity – and it is up to all of us to ensure we promote our industry’s reputation by delivering high-quality building work for all Victorians.

Between January and the end of October this year, 93,684 building permits worth a combined $34.38 billion had been issued across Victoria. Compared to the same period last year, the number and value of all building permits increased 8.6 per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively.

While the full extent of building permit activity for 2020 will not be known until late January 2021, we already anticipate a significant volume of future building work, driven by economic stimulus programs at federal and state level. In early December, Victoria accounted for one-third of all HomeBuilder grant applications, while the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion investment in social housing will see 12,000 new homes built across the state in coming years. In further positive news, the Housing Industry Association recently predicted that Victorians would undertake $38.5 billion in home improvements this financial year –a $2 billion increase on 2019–20.

In September, new regulations were introduced to exempt social housing projects from the cladding rectification levy. The exemption applies to building work incorporating the construction of social housing that will be owned, controlled or managed by the Director of Housing or fully or partially funded under a program approved by the Director of Housing. If you lodged a building permit application for a social housing project in 2020 and paid the cladding rectification levy, you may be eligible for a refund. For more information, contact the VBA or your relevant building surveyor.

We know many people in the building and plumbing industries have been doing it tough this year, with the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions being felt across the community. While the industry is now gaining momentum, paying registration and licence fees can still be a stretch. That’s why we introduced our fee relief scheme for building practitioners and plumbers in mid-October. Under the scheme, eligible building practitioners and plumbers are exempt from paying application, accreditation and renewal fees, as well as the annual fees associated with registration and licensing. To qualify, you must be receiving JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments. The exemption applies to fees payable from 30 September 2020 to 30 June 2021. For more information, visit the VBA website.

In late October, the VBA endorsed three Registered Training Organisations to deliver our approved course in swimming pool and spa barrier inspection (VBAISP2020). The course provides students with the skills and knowledge (including relevant regulatory requirements and technical standards) required to carry out the functions of a swimming pool and spa barrier inspector in Victoria. Registration with the VBA as a Building Inspector (Pool Safety) requires successful completion of the approved course and at least six months’ practical experience. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a swimming pool and spa barrier inspector, we encourage you to enrol with one of our endorsed RTOs – currently IRLearning, Short Courses Australia and Masters in Building Training.

At the start of December, several reforms were made to the Building Act via the Building and Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (BEPLA) Act 2020. The reforms aimed to improve the rules and regulations governing the building and construction industry by requiring building surveyors to check whether the name of a builder and any partnership they are involved with match the corresponding names on a major domestic building contract and certificate of insurance.

The reforms also introduced changes to building product accreditation. For those of you who use or install building products accredited by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC), accreditation is now granted for periods up to three years. If you own an accredited building product, BRAC will advise you of your accreditation expiry date.

With almost 2500 building practitioners and plumbers completing a VBA examination every year, the VBA is launching an online examination portal to allow registration and licensing applicants to complete their exams remotely. Through the portal, applicants will be able to complete their exams securely and at any time of the day or night. For those of you who prefer to put pen to paper, we will continue offering supervised exam sessions throughout the year. With COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements disrupting our usual exam schedule, moving our exams online allows for a more accessible and efficient assessment process that will benefit the industry as a whole. More information about the new online exam system will be available early next year.

During Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions, our inspections schedule was revised in line with broader industry requirements. To enable us to continue working safely, we took the opportunity to trial a pilot program of virtual plumbing audits, during which we learnt what processes worked and what needed a new approach. By late November, we had completed 850 plumbing audits via video call. This use of digital technology has streamlined our Plumbing Audit Program and expanded our regulatory oversight far further into regional areas – saving plumbers time on site and giving consumers greater confidence that their plumbing work is compliant.

The information we obtain from our Plumbing Audit Program and our Proactive Inspections Program is vital for maintaining regulatory oversight of the industry and identifying emerging trends in product use, non-compliance and interpretation of standards. By proactively inspecting building and plumbing work during construction, we engage with industry to build trust and educate building practitioners and plumbers as potential faults are identified, allowing them to be addressed early on, when they are easier to fix. To better inform industry about the most common issues identified by our inspection teams, the VBA releases quarterly inspections reports providing detailed information and case studies on the compliance risks identified in domestic and commercial buildings.

On 1 December 2020, the VBA gained new powers to immediately suspend the small cohort of plumbers who put the health and safety of Victorians at serious risk. While we know the vast majority of plumbers do the right thing every day, as the state’s plumbing regulator, we cannot allow plumbers who cut corners and deliberately ignore rules and regulations regarding safety to bring the entire industry into disrepute.

In another legislative change that took place on 1 December, Cladding Safety Victoria (CSV) became a separate statutory authority. Originally established as a business unit of the VBA in July 2019, CSV was built on the knowledge of the Statewide Cladding Audit to ensure it had the technical expertise and resources to commence safety work without delay. With the separation now complete, the VBA will continue working closely with CSV, as we partner with apartment owners and owners corporations to resolve fire safety challenges specific to every building.

Throughout 2020, the VBA conducted extensive research into key topics such as fire safety systems and building product safety, working in collaboration with industry and academic partners. This research gave us the evidence to inform our regulatory decisions and influence improvements to the building regulatory system, benefitting us all.

As part of this research, in mid-December, the VBA published an Industry Update providing building industry professionals, manufacturers and the public with greater understanding of the fire behaviour of rendered expanded polystyrene (EPS) wall systems and its impact on building, occupant and public safety. The Industry Update summarises the findings of a full-scale façade fire test commissioned by the VBA and conducted by Warringtonfire Australia in June. The test was designed to replicate and evaluate fire behaviour as it would occur on the exterior of a Class 2 to 9 multi-storey building of typical Australian construction.

With multiple regulators overseeing different aspects of the building and plumbing industries, we know it can be challenging for small businesses to understand and act on their regulatory responsibilities. In October, the VBA, Energy Safe Victoria, Environment Protection Authority and WorkSafe Victoria became inaugural members of Victoria’s first Small Business Regulatory Engagement Charter, which requires members to adopt initiatives that make it easier for small businesses to interact with them. The initiatives follow guiding principles, which include:

  • communicating using clear, plain language
  • making information easily accessible
  • reducing the volume of information we ask of you.

Over coming months, you can expect to see gradual changes in our engagement with you, as we refine our systems, processes and services in response to industry and small business needs.

On 1 January 2021, Victoria’s first Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors will commence. Driven by industry demand and a recommendation in the 2018 Shergold–Weir Building Confidence report, the Code requires building surveyors to act in the public interest, comply with the law, act with integrity and avoid conflicts of interest, such as involving themselves in the design process when they also perform statutory functions. While we know the vast majority of building surveyors do the right thing, the Code clarifies the behaviours and accountabilities Victorians can expect from those working in the profession. With building surveyors essential for ensuring building safety and enforcing compliant building work, it is vital they follow the rules to help maintain public safety.

As 2021 approaches, we have much to look forward to as an industry. Our unique opportunity to lead Victoria’s economic recovery through large-scale and wide-ranging building and construction programs, including the HomeBuilder program, will leave a legacy that will support Victoria and Victorians for generations to come. As an industry – and a driving force for change – let’s build to the highest standard and make safety and compliance our greatest priority.

After this very challenging year, we wish everyone a safer, healthier and more prosperous year ahead.

Sue Eddy
Chief Executive Officer
Victorian Building Authority

In this edition...

Victorians urged to prepare their homes for fire season

As temperatures rise and summer approaches, the VBA is urging Victorians to prepare their homes for the 2020–21 fire season.

Rebuilding after a bushfire: Managing the building process as an owner-builder

If you’re planning to rebuild your home after a bushfire, you need to decide whether you will hire a builder registered with the Victorian Building Authority or manage the building process yourself.

VBA building expert on hand to advise on rebuilding

With many residents of East Gippsland, Towong and Alpine shires in the process of rebuilding their homes, the Victorian Building Authority is making building expert Peter Collina available to anyone who needs help or advice navigating the rebuilding process.

Always install an accredited bushfire shelter

As Victoria’s bushfire season approaches, the best way to stay safe is to follow the advice of your local fire service and leave your property when prompted. For those who stay to defend their homes or find themselves unable to leave, a private bushfire shelter can provide temporary refuge from the immediate life-threatening effects of a bushfire.

Insurance requirements for licensed plumbers

If you are a licensed plumber, you must hold insurance covering all aspects of the work you are permitted to do. Find out what the VBA requires of you.

Fee relief available for those builders and plumbers who need it most

Victorian building practitioners and plumbers receiving JobKeeper or JobKeeper payments can apply to have their fees waived if they fall due between 30 September 2020 and 30 June 2021.

Building surveyors to check names of partnerships match names on contracts and insurance

New rules that came into effect on 1 December 2020 require building surveyors to check whether the name of a builder and any partnership they are involved with match the corresponding names on a major domestic building contract and certificate of insurance.

Always identify your water supply before carrying out plumbing work

Plumbers working on a site with mains and recycled water must identify the source of a water supply before starting work.

VBA endorses first RTOs to deliver swimming pool and spa barrier inspection course

The VBA has endorsed the first Registered Training Organisations to deliver a VBA-approved course in swimming pool and spa barrier inspection.

Dangerous plumbers to face immediate suspension

Plumbers who put the health and safety of Victorians at risk through poor work practices could have their registration or licence immediately suspended under new powers given to the VBA.

Changes to building product accreditation

Building product accreditation is now valid for up to three years at a time. If you install or rely on building products accredited by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, find out more now.

New National Dictionary to help decode building and plumbing terms

With building and plumbing terms differing from state to state, Standards Australia and the Australian Building Codes Board have launched an online dictionary to help when words get lost in translation.

Nickolaos Andriotis v Victorian Building Authority comes to an end

The long-running case concluded with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal striking out Mr Andriotis’ application for a review of the VBA’s decision to refuse him registration as a waterproofer.

Plumbers: Be prepared for drainage inspections or face a $500 fine

With data revealing that Victorian plumbers were either not ready for, or failed to show up to, one-third of all below-ground sanitary drainage inspections in the past two financial years, the VBA is taking action.

Prosecutions, disciplinary action and enforcement