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. Good day

    I have an Architectural Draughting Certificate and a Multi-discipline certificate. And I have 2 years of training in Architectural Design company, then I continued designing plans for people under a registered professional Architect for 4 years now. At the same time working as an Electrical Draughtsperson for 3 years.

    Where can I register as an Architectural Draughtsperson, to start submitting plans on my own and sign my own drawings?

    My experience has trained me to be able to do everything on my own except that I’m not registered yet.

  2. Hi,

    I would like to know if i have drawn up plans work in a professional architects company but not registered yet can i submit the drawings to council ? The drawings i am submitting would also be catergorised under minor works as it is a boundary wall.

    Please advise.

  3. thank you guys for having this page . A GREAT PLATFORM OF INFORMATION

  4. hi

    i am registered as candidate with ECSA and have a Btech in civil engineering. Do i qualify as a competent person and can i submit building plans to the local authorities?

  5. As I have a national vocational certificate L4 in civil and building construction, am I regarded as a competent person?

  6. Good Day,

    Can you please advise me on what to do?

    My building plans for addition where drawn up 10 years ago by a professional Architect (who since moved to another country)

    We never submitted the plans for approval due to financial reasons but are currently busy preparing everything for submission.

    I’m going use sub-contractors and manage the project myself.Do I need get another Architect to redraw the plans Or can any competent person sign the papers for submission?


    • You will definitely need new plans because the Building Regulations have changed radically in the past decade. If you want to manage the project yourself you will have to apply to the NHBRC for an owner builder’s exemption.
      Any “competent person” can alter the old plans or redraw them … but I am not sure whether you understand the concept of competent person! That would be a registered architect, draughtsperson, engineer … not just anyone who is competent.

  7. Busy working on a renewable energy project in the Northern Cape
    The main contractor is busy building a main control room with offices,the plant is been built on agricultural land and I am been told that the building does not need NHBRC approval as it is on agricultural land

    Please clarify as the building is in progress and there is no Municipal Approval as yet either

    • NHBRC is only involved with homes/houses. But you absolutely MUST have municipal approval. If you are already building, they could force you to demolish what has been built so far.

  8. Hi,

    I am also draftsman and as part of the curriculum we did Architectural design as well and did go through the regulatory and “engineering” principles part of building design however mostly residential development up to 500m2.

    I now practice in another discipline therefor I am not registered at SACAP. Can I draw new developments and modifications myself and have it checked and signed off by a “competent person”? This will save me time and money as I can do changes rapidly by myself.

    Kind regards,

    • Marci you are only considered to be a competent person if registered. But if you have the training, you certainly can do the work and get a “competent person” to sign it off for you – provided that person is happy to take responsibility for your work. Electricians and plumbers do similar.

  9. Hi

    I have always had a passion for house building, unfortunately i am stuck in a job that has nothing to do with construction. I cannot study full time, is there any diploma or degree courses that i can study that do not require me to have “in service” or practical work experience while i study. Something that would enable to to build a house from beginning to end and also be able to be registered as a contractor. There is just too many options out there, not sure which is appropriate for me, any help would be appreciated. (I also enjoyed your book)

    P.S – I would also buy a book that detailed a “modern” house build from beginning to end, just a thought for any future books you might want to publish. (the book could also come with a generic building plan 🙂 )

    Kind Regards

    • Have you looked at our book Owner Building in South Africa – it takes the project through from start to finish – from finding the land and getting finance to eventual decorating and landscaping. Is this the book that you are referring to?
      There are long-distance courses that deal with elements of building, but you won’t get a diploma or degree as such that will enable you to be registered as a contractor – and certainly not while you are working in another field.

  10. Can you please help me.

    It’s possible for someone to submit the plan using someone registration number of other person.

    As for me I believed that is a fraud.

    What can be the charge for it.

    What must I do to prevent it to happen.

    Please provide me feedbeck on the matter.

    • You must report this immediately to your inspectors at your local council planning department. You are correct that this does sound like fraud. The council will know what fines to impose.

  11. Good day, I am in the process of buying a property, the property have been build all the certificates from plumber, electrical, and engineer are in place except that the property was not enrolled with the NHBRC prior to the start of the construction. My question is, what is the process to be followed in order for the house to be enrolled as this is one of the requirements by the bank that has offered me a loan.

    • Then you must get hold of the NHBRC and register it right away. There will be a late registration penalty that will have to be paid. Why did your builder/contractor not tell you that the house must be registered with the NHBRC? He should have told you this as all registered contractors know that the house must be registered with the NHBRC. Tell the contractor that he must pay the late registration penalties because he did not inform you correctly. Visit the site here:

  12. Hi

    I would like to build a shipping container home in in SA. The area we are building in does not have any building restrictions.

    Apart from getting an architect to design the house, would I still need prior permission before submission of the plans, from the municipality to erect the structure?

    Kind regards

    • Yes you will need plans approved before you start building. Most councils will scrutinize sketch plans first before you go to the expense of full plans so you know what will and will not be allowed.

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