Cowboy builders to be up against tougher self-check schemes

New measures designed to protect the public from incompetent “cowboy” builders were announced by the government on Wednesday and given a cautious welcome by MPs.

Tradesmen who operate self-check schemes, which allow them to assess their own work, will be required to meet higher standards, the Department for Communities and Local Government said. Under this system there are also 18 independent organisations that conduct intermittent prearranged inspections. They will instead conduct unannounced spot-checks, to make the scheme more rigorous.

The measures will enforce compulsory financial protection for householders, following a number of cases where self-check installers failed to finish work properly or were tracked down through the courts.

The communities minister, Andrew Stunell, said the measures are a significant step in combating bad workmanship.

“Cowboys builders that leave behind a trail of shoddy work costing householders thousands to put right, give the rest of the industry a bad name. We are determined to keep the cowboys from infecting self-check schemes, which let hardworking competent tradesman get on with providing high quality work, quickly and at fair prices.

“I’m determined to ensure that consumers are properly protected. By raising the bar even higher for self-check tradesmen, we are sorting the rogues from the professionals, making it easier for people to identify competent installers and giving them the confidence that they will receive a high quality of work – or be protected if they don’t,” he said.

About 85,000 complaints are made about building work in homes each year according to the Office of Fair Trading.

There are 18 competent person schemes that allow builders and workmen to regulate their own work. Scheme operators claim that about 2.5m to 3m jobs are self-certified under competent person schemes each year, compared with an estimate of half a million other notifiable jobs supervised by building control bodies. To become a competent person scheme operator, applicants are supposed to show they have the managerial, financial and technical ability to operate a self-certification scheme, according to the ministry. Installers of boilers who wish to self-certify must pay a membership fee to join a scheme and demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and technical competence to carry out a certain type of work.

In the year to March 2011, the government service Consumer Direct received 70,000 complaints about general home improvements, maintenance and repairs, and 15,000 specifically about the window and conservatory glazing sector.

Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish who has campaigned for greater protection for consumers from cowboy builders, welcomed the move but would want to see the details of the scheme and how it will be funded.

“On the face of it, these plans seem like an extension of the schemes that are already in place in many areas on a local level and appear to be a good idea. In my constituency, builders and workers can become part of a competency scheme but are monitored closely and can be kicked out if there are serious complaints against them. I look forward to reading the proposals in detail,” he said.

The new conditions of authorisation for competent person scheme operators have been published with an impact assessment and the summary of responses to consultation. Membership of a competent person scheme is voluntary. Installers carrying out certain types of work subject to the building regulations may choose to join a relevant scheme if they consider membership to be beneficial.

The new conditions were introduced after a public consultation in 2009/10 and further extensive consultation, through meetings and correspondence, with existing scheme operators and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.

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