Problems with existing rules

The existing rules have been criticised as inconsistent and cumbersome. The Act is implemented by local councils, and there are no strict guidelines for how those councils should act. Some councils consider garden ponds and other water hazards as a 'pool' to be fenced, while others do not. Only some councils will provide a (costly) fencing exemption to spas that are otherwise child-resistant, and some councils carry out regular compliance inspections while others not at all.

The Act allows part of your house to form part of the pool fence; however, it can be difficult for your council to consent to a door opening directly into the pool area. Existing rules only allow this where your council is satisfied that to do otherwise is impossible or unreasonable – leaving inconsistent results with different councils and leaving owners with fewer choices on how they can best restrict access to their pools.

The Ministry of Building and Construction has released consultation documents and taken submissions on proposed changes to the Act, and has indicated that existing laws will soon be updated. No clear timeframe has been provided for the implementation of the proposed changes.

Proposed changes

All pools must be inspected by your council every five years. This ensures all areas of the country are regularly inspecting pool fencing, and that each council is working with the same standards and time frames.

Access to portable pools must be restricted if they contain more than 30 centimetres of water (reduced from the current 40 centimetres).

Spas do not need to be fenced off if they are child resistant (e.g. have locked lids) and will not need regular inspection from your council. This will mean spa owners will not longer need to apply for a costly exemption if their spa as a full lockable child-resistant lid and they do not want a fence.

Rules around house doors opening directly into the pool area are to be relaxed. Doors must still be self-closing and be fitted with an adequate locking device, but the proposed changes should allow more flexibility where the house is intended to form part of the fence.

Obligations to be placed on retailers to inform customers who purchase swimming pools and spa pools of their obligations

Your council can inspect properties where it believes pools (including spa pools) may be non-compliant and issue warning and infringement notices.

What do the proposed changes mean for you?

For most pool owners – not a lot. Existing fences that meet the current rules will still meet the new proposed rules. Regular council inspections will however become compulsory to ensure continued compliance with the Act.

For new pool owners, there will be more flexibility around how access to pools can be restricted.

Finally, more portable pools than ever will need to be adequately fenced. Portable pool owners will need to ensure that they comply with the proposed changes, as councils will be able to issue infringement notices if they do not.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.