Legal Insights

New Code of Conduct for Registered Building Surveyors – how will this affect Councils?

By Simone Holding, John Rantino, Frances Hall, Declan Manly & Eloise Crompton

• 02 July 2020 • 5 min read

After seeking feedback from the practitioners, consumers and industry, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has published a new Code of Conduct for building surveyors (Code) which will commence operation on 1 January 2021.

The Code affects all building surveyors, including those working as municipal building surveyors and in Council building departments.

The Code establishes eight core principles for professional conduct. It outlines the mandatory standards that all registered building surveyors in Victoria must, as a minimum, adhere to when providing building surveying services and provides that contravention of the Code may result in disciplinary action.

Under each core principle there are guiding rules and examples to help Building Surveyors understand their obligations and apply the Code. It expressly requires effective practices and procedures to be implemented to ensure the building department of a Council is run competently and with effective supervision.

Who does the Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors apply to?

The code applies to all registered building surveyors in Victoria, when providing building surveying services, including when they are:

  • Appointed as a municipal building surveyor
  • Acting as a delegate of a municipal building surveyor
  • Appointed as a relevant building surveyor
  • Assisting a relevant building surveyor to perform their functions
  • Employed by the VBA or other government body as a building surveyor, and
  • Providing services or undertaking work relying on their registration as a buildings surveyor or because they are registered as a building surveyor.

The 8 Principles of the Code and how they will affect Councils

Act in accordance with the law and in the public interest

For Councils this will mean:

  1. Acting within the context of the legislative framework and complying with relevant laws as applicable to you in your role as a building surveyor including, for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the Australian Consumer Law, planning laws and the Local Government Act 2020.
  2. When acting as a relevant building surveyor or a municipal building surveyor, understanding and complying with the requirements of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011.
  3. Ensuring you are aware of legislative and regulatory changes, reforms or other directions or decisions (for example, a Ministerial Guideline or Order) that could affect your statutory functions and how you provide building surveying services.
  4. Putting the public interest ahead of private interests and the interests of clients, colleagues and other practitioners.

Act with integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality

For Councils this will mean, in particular, it must ensure that when performing statutory functions, all decisions and resulting enforcement and actions are reasonable, fair and appropriate. This will include:

  1. Providing parties with a fair opportunity to respond in enforcement actions.
  2. Informing other building surveyors of any matters that may affect them including if: a dual appointment has occurred, or a different building surveyor is appointed to issue a permit for building work at the site (for example, fit out work), when there is another building surveyor who issued a permit for the base building.

Perform competently and within the required level of expertise and experience

For Councils, this will mean:

  1. Making sure your employees or other persons engaged to assist in undertaking statutory functions have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience and hold appropriate qualifications for the work they undertake on your behalf.
  2. Having systems of audit and quality control in place to ensure all work is performed to a professional standard and meets the requirements of this Code as applicable.
  3. If managing a Council’s building section, a company, partnership or firm you should have effective processes in place to manage relevant parties, your workload and priorities, and any enforcement action.
  4. For municipal building surveyors, effectively supervising and approving the work of your delegates, and managing the resources of the department appropriately.

Act independently

For Councils, this will mean avoiding situations that a reasonable person may conclude has or could compromise your impartiality or professional judgement.

Avoid conflicts of interest

For Councils, this will mean having policies and procedures in place to detect potential conflicts of interest, and how you have addressed them.

Document and maintain records

For Councils this will mean:

  1. Ensuring that all advice, opinions, decisions and actions (such as enforcement action) are reasonably supported by appropriate documentation including findings of fact and references to evidence or materials relied on.
  2. Ensuring the Council’s record-keeping procedures strictly comply with the requirements of the Building Act 1993 (Vic.) and ensuring that all team members comply with your council’s record keeping policies and procedures.

Communicate promptly and effectively

For Councils this will mean ensuring that Council’s systems for receiving and managing enquiries are strictly followed and that timeframes for responding to queries comply with Council’s policies for timeframes for response.

Provide a complaint handling process and address issues of non-compliance

For Councils this will mean:

  1. Having a complaints management process for the handling of complaints that explains the steps you will take to address and resolve a complaint.
  2. Ensuring that you keep records of any complaints you have received, and your actions taken to resolve the complaint.

Conclusion

The development of the Code of Conduct for building surveyors is a first for the VBA and will complement the existing legislative and regulatory framework for building practitioners. How it will operate in practice and the extent to which the VBA will actively scrutinise Council departments is as yet unknown.

To ensure compliance with the Code, it is critical that Councils’ building departments are working within a framework of effective practices and procedures, including for audit and quality control, receiving and managing enquiries, workload and priorities, any enforcement action, conflicts of interest, record keeping, complaints handling and professional development.

For the full content of the VBA’s new Code of Conduct, click here.

For more information about the implications of the new Code of Conduct, contact Simone Holding, John Rantino, Frances Hall or Declan Manly.

By Simone Holding, John Rantino, Frances Hall, Declan Manly & Eloise Crompton

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