Designers – know your responsibilities

Posted: 1 February 2018

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Under the Building Act 2004 people who take part in building work have certain responsibilities. In the last edition of Codewords we looked at builders’ responsibilities on-site, including those of licensed building practitioners (LBPs). This time we are looking at designers’ responsibilities.
Design licence class

Some of these responsibilities are highlighted under sections 14A–14G of the Act to ensure that if you take part in building work you are responsible for your part of the project.

Who is a designer?

Section 14D applies to designers. It states that, for the purposes of these responsibilities, a designer includes anyone who is preparing plans and specifications for building work (not necessarily under a building consent). It also includes giving advice about building work, compliance with the Building Code and whether or not the work requires a building consent.

This means that designers could include:

  • a person holding a Design licence (1, 2 or 3)
  • an architect who is preparing plans and specifications for a building consent application
  • an engineer engaged to inspect building work undertaken to ensure it is structurally compliant
  • a builder who takes on the role of a designer and drafts some plans for a client detailing building work that will not require building consent, such as a low-level deck.

Designers’ responsibilities

A designer has only one responsibility under section 14D, unlike a builder who has several under section 14E. The designer’s responsibility is to ensure that their advice or plans and specifications, if followed, will result in building work that complies with the Building Code. As the designer may not be involved in the construction, they are not responsible for whether the building work complies with the Building Code.

Designers’ obligations

It is important that designers are aware of their other obligations that relate to, but are not specifically mentioned in section 14D. This includes being aware of and not breaching any of the grounds for discipline for an LBP, which are set out under section 317. Other sections of the Act also state that you need to be licensed to carry out or supervise design restricted building work.

New competency added

In 2016, small changes were made to the competencies in the LBP rules for the Design licence class to keep them relevant and easier to understand. Also, a new competency was added for contract administration and construction observation, and applies to Design areas of practice 2 and 3. However, you should also be aware that contracting obligations were included in the other competencies for Design 1 licence class holders, as well as other minor changes.

Including elements of contract administration as a core competency indicates how important it is. A designer who acts inappropriately in their role of contract administration could face sanctions because such conduct might breach a ground for discipline relating to negligence or incompetence.

You can read more about the design competency changes in Codewords issue 76.

LBP competencies amended


1) As a designer, what are my obligations in relation to advice I give about building work?

a. You are responsible for ensuring that the builder carries out the building work in accordance with the Building Code.
b. Your advice should result in the work being compliant with the Building Code, as long as the advice is followed by others.
c. Everyone else must agree with your advice.

2) Did anything change last year for Design 1 licence holders?

a. No, the only change was a new competency for Design 2 and 3 licences.
b. Yes, some contracting obligations were included among other minor changes.
c. No, section 14D of the Building Act has not changed.

3) Is a designer responsible for ensuring Building Code compliance in plans when drafting plans for a small 2 m by 3 m shed on a property?

a. Yes, this responsibility applies to all building work.
b. No this work is exempt building work, only the builder is responsible for building it right.
c. No, but you need to get building consent for that.

Check answers

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: