MBIE building watchdog battles rising workload

11:48 am on 5 December 2017

The country's main building regulator is struggling to recruit and retain staff, at a time when complaints against builders have increased.

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Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's building systems performance branch has shed at least 33 staff in the past 18 months, according to documents released under the Official Information Act.

It also has at least 42 roles - 40 percent - vacant, with 23 of those because of new positions created by a restructure and expansion that kicked off in October.

The branch was rated the worst-performing of the ministry's seven regulatory arms before the restructure, and has been criticised for changing fire regulations in a way that left the construction industry feeling ambushed.

The branch's unplanned rate of attrition, as shown in the documents, is more than twice the public service average.

The high staff turnover comes at a time when complaints against builders have doubled in the past two years.

Just under 220 new complaints were laid in the year to mid-2017. A total of four staff are responsible for dealing with them. In 2012, when the licensed builders regime began, three staff dealt with an average of 13 complaints.

In Auckland, the council's building control unit takes six to eight months to resolve complaints against builders laid by their own inspectors.

It has one quality auditor dedicated to this work, Denise Whelan, who also handles all the complaints against five other industry sectors including architects, engineers and plumbers.

"We would probably look to recruiting in the near future to get some assistance," Ms Whelan said.

She would not comment further but said the council "could always use more resources".

New figures show the council is clearing just seven complaints against builders a year.

This appears out of step with the ongoing litany of complaints from both the council and the public about multiple aspects of poor construction.

However the council says it does not have a backlog of complaints.

The new figures don't include direct complaints by Aucklanders to the Licencing Building Practitioners (LBP) board.

Industry insiders said it could take 80 to 100 hours to investigate a single complaint and that could be deterring the council.

One insider said that for small councils this was too big an ask so they tended not to raise their own complaints against builders.

Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa declined to be interviewed.

"I am confident the LBP team has sufficient resourcing for their current duties," Ms Salesa said in a statement.

"I have been advised that targets for dealing with complaints are currently being exceeded therefore I have no concerns at this."

The construction boom and consumer campaigns had boosted complaints, which showed the system was working, she said.

As for the ministry's building branch, she said she fully supported it creating new roles as that was in line with the government's aim of building 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years.

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