4 September 2023

Explaining the ACT's new pool rules

| James Coleman
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two girls in pool

The new rules kick in from 1 May, 2024. Photo: File.

It’s been years in the making, but the rules around private swimming pools and spas are about to change in the ACT.

The ACT Government will “require all home swimming pools to have a barrier compliant with modern safety standards” by May 2028, with a grace period of four years to give homeowners time to install one.

Currently, pool owners in the ACT are only held to the standard that applied when their pool was constructed.

Since 2004, this meant any pool deeper than 30 centimetres must have a fence at least 1.2 metres high around it. But before that, requirements were even looser to include a “suitable barrier or safety fencing”, with no need to upgrade as standards improved.

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ACT Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti said the time for change was well overdue.

“The home swimming pool is the most common location for a drowning death and serious injury for children under the age of five,” she said.

“It is not only children who live in houses with swimming pools … children and relatives who may be visiting or children from neighbouring properties are also at risk.”

The proposed changes were opened to public consultation in February this year.

They require a pool to be surrounded by a fence at least 1.2 m high all the way around, with a “non-climbable zone” of at least 90 cm (i.e., no handles or footholds).

The gate must be self-closing from any open position (even slightly ajar) and the latch mechanism must be more than 1.5 m from the ground.

The rules apply to all ACT swimming pools and spas associated with residential buildings such as houses, units and townhouses, provided they’re capable of containing more than 30 cm of water.

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And yes, this includes paddling pools for kids but there is a loophole that stipulates as long as it’s not full of water for more than three days, there’s no need for a fence.

Other exemptions include if you’ve had to knock down part of a building or a protected tree to put up the barrier.

The framework will also not apply to public pools, which fall under a different legislation in the the Public Pools Act 2015.

Swimming pools and spas have been required to comply with the modern standard since 1 May, 2013, so as long as yours was built before then, you’re covered.

If not, you’ll have four years from 1 May, 2024, to either install a new barrier or obtain an exemption.

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA

Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said pool owners would be given four years to “plan for this financial commitment”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Ms Vassarotti said the rules had been made “conscious” of the financial impact on households.

“Owners may incur costs in needing to make their current barrier comply with the requirements and therefore government has provided a transition period to allow people to plan for this financial commitment,” she said.

“This transition period will also allow for the spreading out of upgrade work across the period to not unduly impact on the supply of materials or the available workforce.”

The cost of pool fencing varies from backyard to backyard, but typically ranges from $200 to $600 per metre. The total cost can range from $1500 to $10,000 or more, including materials and labour.

And the Government will be checking.

A ”certificate of compliance” must be issued every five years by a licensed building surveyor or approved installer. and then lodged with the Government. If the pool fails, the property owner or owners’ corporation has a maximum of six months to fix the issue.

The compliance status of a pool must also be disclosed to any buyers or renters of the property.

Ms Vassarotti described the bill as a “sensible and modest reform … focused on ensuring our collective responsibility to keep infants and children protected and safe in private homes”.

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Certifying old pools can be a stressful experience. Be aware that certifiers are process oriented not client oriented and do not see it as their role to guide you in the physical work to pass compliance. Although the pool owner pays them $6K or $7K their client is the public interest the pool owner. They just say yay or nay and that’s it. The process is they work with builders (who know the process) who submit DAs and plans that after negotiation are approved as complying with the relevant codes or exemptions, the builder constructs the dwelling and the certifier checks the site to certify what was built is in accordance with the approved plans. If the certifier is not familiar with the regulations or there are no approved plans, or what was built was not in accordance with the plans, particularly on corner blocks with a side fence doubling up as pool barrier and not built fully behind the building line then the certifier will try to fit his process onto the problems and further complicate the issue.

Yep, every 5 years is way too frequent. Maybe every 10 years would be a more reasonable time frame.

James-T-Kirk4:47 pm 07 Sep 23

I sold a property a couple of years ago that needed an inspector to come and inspect the fence because of an irregularity in the paperwork. The sale had $4k held back to cover rectification works….

His report simply said “Not Compliant”. Nothing else….. Totally a waste of the $600 that I paid for the inspection. The fence was 1.2m – the gate was perfect – it was made from older panels, but there was no mention that that would be a problem… Simply Not Compliant.

In the end I just gave up and left the $4k to the new owners – it is their problem now.

I don’t understand the need to do a compliance check every 5 years. It seems excessive

Now speaking of swimming pool compliance. How about the ACT government get Geocon to open the Phillip Swimming pool as promised.

What’s the bet the Minister is happier to take on everyday Canberra homeowners than high rise property developers?

I wonder how much the quinquennial inspection will cost? I’m guessing, based on other professionally licensed property services, about $500 a pop.

I keep hearing about these drowning stats without any actual references to where they got those stats. I’d like some evidence before I believe something they could’ve pulled out of thin air or exaggerated.

I’d also like to know how so many under 5 toddlers are running around outdoors without any parental supervision…
This debate needs to focus more on better parental responsibility instead of just blaming a lack of pool fences.

ACT government: You installed a woodfire heater in accordance with building standards? Well we changed those so now you have to pay to replace it. You installed gas in accordance with the building standards? Well we changed those and now you need to pay for it. You installed a pool and safety fencing in accordance with the building standards of the time? Yeah well we changed those so prepare to pay $10k to meet the new standards.

Anyone seeing a pattern here? All at the same time of large yearly rates increases to pay for junk like the light rail. It must be wonderful to be on a politicians salary.

GrumpyGrandpa4:02 pm 04 Sep 23

If I’m reading this articles correctly, people can get an exemption from putting up a protective pool fence if in doing so, it would damage a protected tree!

So, the pool fencing has been made complusory to protect little kids, (which I’m ok with), but it seems a tree is more important than a kid’s life.

I expect you also noticed the requirement for a ”certificate of compliance” every five years. No prize for guessing who is meeting the cost of the 5-yearly inspection.

I guess Government is doing their best to phase out private swimming pools too.

Of course they want to phase it out. The more dependent we are on them and the more control they have, the happier they are…

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