Mar 182013

Understanding the Concept of Competent Persons & Competency

a competent person

A qualified and registered “competent person” must prepare and submit all building plans to council.

When South Africa’s National Building Regulations were updated in 2008, several new definitions were added to the legislation, and some were rewritten. One of the most important changes was to the term competent person, because a “competent person” is now required to draw up plans and submit them to the local authority. In the past, an owner builder could do this without the mandatory assistance of an architect or designer, simply because the concept of competency, and more specifically the definition of “competent person” was vague in the extreme.

What the Law Used to Say About Competency

Previously the building regulations stated that: “‘competent person’ means a person who is qualified by virtue of his experience and training.” So if you knew how to draw plans, and followed the rules set out in Part A: Administration in the regs (as well as any additional requirements laid down by your local municipality), you could go the full DIY route.

In fact, when we first wrote The Complete Book of Owner-Building in South Africa, in 1992, having just owner built our own home (with the help of a qualified draughtsman), we got to know the head of planning at the Western Cape Regional Services Council, and had a few laughs about the standard of plans submitted by some people. On one occasion, he told us, somebody had submitted hand drawn plans on notepaper. I don’t know the ins and outs, or what changes were demanded by council, but the house was built without the owner having to employ any type of professional to help him with the shoddy plans.

At the time, an owner builder who claimed to have the required “experience” could often “walk” the plans through council to hurry the process up. Not any more.

What the Law Says Now

The new definition of a competent person means “a person who is qualified by virtue of his education, training, experience and contextual knowledge to make a determination regarding the performance of a build or part thereof in relation to a functional regulation or to undertake such duties as may be assigned to him in terms of these regulations.”

And that is just the beginning.

There is a completely new regulation in the 2008 legislation:

AZ.4 Complying with the requirements of the National Building Regulations

Apart from anything else, this regulation explains the concept of a “competent person” further, stating that he or she must be registered in “an appropriate category of registration” in terms of:

  • the Architectural Professions Act, 2000
  • the Engineering Profession Act, 2000
  • the Natural Scientific Professions Act, 2003,
  • any other relevant Act.
It also states that a competent person “shall prepare and submit to the local authority a rational design or rational assessment where compliance” of the regulations is satisfied. Furthermore, this person (be it an architect, a designer, draughtsman, engineer or architectural technologist) is required to inspect the building and certify (once it has been completed) that it has been constructed, erected or installed as specified on the approved plans.

 A1 Application

In spite of the vagueness of the old legislation, the authorities have always considered it necessary for qualified people to design houses and draw up plans. Previously the law stated that a person performing such function was required to be registered as an architect OR to have “a specified qualification, certificate, status or other attribute or to have had experience or training of a specified nature or for a specified period”.

It is clear that this was a loophole, which is why A1 now states that the “designing, planning and the supervision of the erection of any building or structure” must be a qualified professional, namely someone who has a qualification in terms of the laws listed above, or the Professional and Technical Surveyors’ Act, 1984.


Historically South Africa has a record of appallingly shoddy workmanship in the construction industry, with fly-by-night operators building structures that simply didn’t stand the test of time. So it stands to reason that professionals should take control of the industry.

If an owner builder wants to take full control of a project, the very least they will have to do is appoint and retain the services of somebody who is registered in a professional category of registration in terms of one of the councils for the professions identified in the Council for the Built Environment Act, 2000. Even if an owner builder is able to draw his or own plans according to the requirements of the Building Regulations (but isn’t a “competent person” in terms of the Act), the professional they “employ” will need to submit the plans to the local authority and make a declaration that specifies the complexity of the project (low, medium or high), specifies site sensitivity in environmental or heritage terms (low, medium or high), and state in a precise manner how the functional regulations will be satisfied.


  88 Responses to “A Competent Person”

Comments (74) Pingbacks (14)
  1. Hi Penny,

    I’m not as clued up on this “competent person” thing as i should be. I’m registered with SACAP for almost a year, but when it comes to signing off on the A19 form I’m not sure what needs to happen. Also, do you know where I can apply to do a course in XA regs?


    • Warren unfortunately no, but I do know that there are courses available. There is also some additional information about XA on our sister website – building regulations – that might be useful to you. And there is also a section that discusses XA.

  2. Hi there,

    I’m currently registered as a draughtsman with SACAP only. been drawing up plans and when I get requests from council to fill in A19 forms, I shy away and let the client know that he needs to go to a manufacturer or similar.
    Tell me, as i’m rather new to this, is there a way for me to complete the form myself? With this said, how and where do I become a competent person?


    • James if you are registered with SACAP then you are a competent person. I’m sure that you can compete the form yourself, or with the assistance of another professional who has additional – or more specific training – depending on what has to be filled in. Maybe someone as SACAP could help you. NB Regarding competent persons, sometimes they DO need the assistance of another professional, even though they take responsibility for the build – e.g. you might on occasion need to work with an engineer.

  3. I built my own home (a 70m2 A frame with wood floor) 8 years ago in a rural area. A neighbour has now contacted the municipality and asked them to make me supply building plans. I am obviously a competent person as i have built the house myself.

    What are my legal requirements? Do i have to submit plans? and if so, can i just get a draughtsperson to draw plans or do i need a structural engineer to check my structure out?


    • As I told you when I answered this same question on our sister website:
      Sean please read the article about competent persons on this site. A competent person must be qualified. You are legally obliged to submit plans drawn up by a competent person – and as you will see from the link, that person can be a draughtsperson. In some instances a structural engineer may be required, depending on the building. There are a number of forms set out in Part A of SANS 10400, General principles and requirements that give additional guidance. You can access these at an SABS library, buy Part A from the SABS online store, or ask your local authority if they can supply you with the necessary forms and guidance.

  4. hi

    I am looking at buyhing a house in an security estate where the outside shell and roof is complete.
    1. All plastering except 2 or 3 exterior walls has been completed.
    2. All coper piping and electrical piping has been installed for plumbing and electricity (except not connected or wired yet)
    3. Roof is on.
    Basically only the finishes remain and the finalising of the plumbing and electrical. Floor needs to be glazed …

    If i go ahead and buy it as is from the seller do i need to employ a “competent person” to go ahead and complete the finishes ?
    Would this also be required from the bank?


    • Hi Viking, Yes you need to have a registered electrician and a registered plumber to finish the installation and sign the work off for the council. Without this you will not get an occupation certificate from the council and the bank will not grant a loan without this being done. I am assuming that the previous owner had a “competent person” draw up the plans and that these were submitted for approval BEFORE building was started. Check this as well as this is important.

  5. Somebody ask me whether contractors should have competent person when involved with construction of RDP houses and i replied yes. Since the housing construction industry is regulated by NHBRC then is mandatory for contractors to involve the services competent person during the RDP construction. The construction of RDP houses is not immune to Built Enviroment legislations in the country.

    • Hi Moshweu, You are absolutely right, ALL new house building must be regulated by the NHBRC. It is the LAW and any construction company or contractor that tries to evade the law is commiting an offence. The NHBRC has a Fraud Hotline: 0800 203 698. Competent persons have to be involved in all aspects of the construction process from soil testing to plans and submissions to construction to final signing off and getting the occupancy certificate.

  6. Hello there,
    Please assist me with the following:
    (1) On what date did the new legislative definition of “competent person” become law?
    (2) Has the new definition been promulgated by Government Notice and if so, how or where can I find it?
    (3) Is there a link that will take me to AZ.4 “Complying with the regulations” as cited in the otherwise very helpful and informative article.
    Thanking you in anticipation,

    • Stan, the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act of 1977 was most recently amended in May 2008 which was when the new definition of competent persons was legislated. If you go to our sister site you can download the relevant documents. This link will take you to the free downloads page; the amendment is number two in this list. Compliance with Regulation AZA is covered in Part A of SANS 10400.

  7. Hi Janek

    Thank you for a site that is filled with useful information.

    I am about to start renovating my home by building a timber frame 1st floor. Where would I be able to find an engineer that is competent in designing for timber frame construction?

    • Hi Ian, The manufacturers usually will design the trusses to your spec so long as you order your trusses through them. There are quite a few but you can try MiTek or Pryde Trusses. Your other option is to contact the Architects Institute:

      • Hi Janek

        Thank you for your response.

        I am less worried about the truss design and am more worried about the design of the floor.
        I am building a first floor in timber frame on top of an existing brick building. My designer has recommended me to a civil structural engineer to do the structural design, which I have now received.

        My concern is that I do not believe that my engineer is competent in timber frame design. The design that he has proposed, I believe, is way over designed (and I used to be a registered structural engineer) and if I follow his design, it will add an additional 20% to my renovation project. This will probably cause me to cancel the renovations at considerable cost to myself as I have paid out a considerable deposit to the builder.

        What course of action do I have as he has already signed the building plans that have been submitted?
        I am in the process of getting additional opinions on the design, but am I able to replace this engineer?

        • Hi Ian, It appears that you are far more competent to make an assessment of the structural design than we are. Yes you can change any of the professionals you just have to inform the council in writing. If you do get a second opinion and go with a re-worked design all you will have to do is submit a rider plan after it is built to show an “as built” deviation. Get the opinion of your designer whether you do it before or after. There is an ombudsman for the Civil Engineering profession if it gets to that stage: The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Contact Numbers: Tel (011) 805-5947/48/53 Website:

  8. Hi.I am a student n I have N5 qualification in civil question is that am I qualified 2 b a competent person to design house plans?

    • Hi Nicholas, It is up to the local council planning department and the NHBRC to decide. The other body you can ask is the The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) they will know. Contact them here: Tel (011) 805-5947/48/53 or go to their website:

  9. Hi,
    I am a professional architect. I am designing a single storey house and want to know if a structural engineer is required .
    I will get the trusses signed off by the supppliers’ engineer, but is it possible for me t osign off the rest under the new regulations?

    • Hi Melissa Architect,
      With a single storey standard house on flat ground, with a roof truss engineers report, you can sign off all the other elements. But be aware that in South Africa in areas where there are Dolomitic soil types you will need an engineers report to accompany your submissions. And as long as there are not large openings that need purpose built lintels and or retaining walls then you should be fine, but local authorities vary in their approach, I suggest giving them a call first.

  10. Hi

    I’m a register Professional Mechanical Engineer with ECSA. As part of my work experience is to design structural supports and complex steel structures etc.

    I’ve now hired a building draftman for my new family home. Is it acceptable if I were to appoint myself as a competent person for my home building plans if I can sufficiently prove that the structural intergrity of my building meets the requirements of the building regulations?

    Your assistance will be appreciated

    • Hi Sibusiso,
      The NHBRC as well as the Local Council Planning department will be able to say if you can be approved as a “competent person” for your home. Have a look on this page: and scroll down to two documents: “Appointment of a Competent Person” & “Competent Persons Questionnaire” these will give you some idea what the NHBRC requires. If you are building your own home to live in for at least the next five (5) years you can register with the NHBRC as an owner builder. This might be a better option for you. Speak to them and ask what they suggest.

  11. Hello, I do the planing for a house. I´m not a competent person as required. The owner for whom I do the planing is not a competent person too. So, of course we need a “competent person”.

    We aim to delegate the erection to a building contractor who is registered at the NHBRC. Is such a building contractor a “competent person”?

    My question: Who is allowed by law to submit plans to the local authority? Does a request to the NHBRC for an exemption as an “owner builder” make sense?
    Is a registered building contractor according to the NHBRC a “competent person” and allowed to submit plans to the local authority for approval?

    In this case all minor building processes witch do not need an approval by law are aimed to be done without a regular building contractor.

    • If you read the references I gave you when you sent through a query on our sister web site, Tobi, you will see exactly what a competent person is. That person needs to be qualified and registered with a recognized organisation in SA – draughtsperson, architectural designer, architect – possibly an engineer. The building contractor is unlikely to be a competent person as defined by the law, but could be if, for example, an engineer is operating as a contractor.
      Only the competent person may submit plans to the local authority.
      The owner would only apply for an exemption if he was going to build himself – ie not use a registered builder (which you say the owner is going to do). In any event, even when owner builders get an exemption, they still need to comply with the legislation and have a competent person do the plans, submit them and ensure that the build complies with the NBR.
      Make sure you understand the minor building side of the regulations. All this implies is that plans won’t be required. The NBR must still be complied with and the local authority needs to be informed of any minor building work to be done.

  12. Hi I’m planing to build a house for my family with my own funds my plan was drawn by a profesional. Architect and aproved by council how do I aply tor exemption what documents is needed

    • Hi Anthony,
      We have the documents for download on this page here But what I suggest is that you contact the NHBRC directly and tell them how you are building and then ask for an exemption as an “owner builder”. They have a restriction that you can not sell the house for 5 years but as you do not want to sell that will be no problem. The NHBRC website with all contact details is here

  13. what does the regualation say when one need to build a house on 50/1 flood line area. how can one go about legally since the municipality refuse to approve plans, saying they need to take pre-cuation for the area with the engineers. does the regulation allow an individual to take pre-caution with his/her own engineer for thier own property so that the municipality can approve the plan?

    • If the municipality will not approve plans, then you can’t build. End of story. Apart from which it seems pretty stupid to build with the flood line. So the short answer to how you can build legally is – You can’t.

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