Experts back calls for licensing to end ‘cowboy builders’

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Experts within the UK construction industry have urged the government to take action against cowboy builders by consulting an industry-wide licensing/certification scheme

In order to put an end to cowboy builders the government needs to adopt an industry-wide licensing/certification scheme to give end-users a recognisable mark of quality and trust, says the British Board of Agrément (BBA) and Westminster Sustainable Building Forum (WSBF).

Each year more than £8bn of building work fails to meet appropriate quality standards and has to be repeated or repaired. Anyone can set up as a builder and there is no requirement to register with recognised trade bodies or quality assurance schemes.

It is this situation, the BBA, working with WSBF, has convened a ‘Stop the Cowboys: Certification in Construction’ roundtable at the House of Commons.

A level playing field

Ken O’Sullivan, head of audit and inspection at the BBA, said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted the urgent requirement to improve standards. The Hackitt Review drew attention to the lack of skills and experience of those involved in the construction and maintenance of Higher Risk Residential Buildings.

“A licensing and/or certification scheme for all contractors would allow for a level playing field to avoid competent contractors being undercut by competitors that are not registered with a recognised scheme.”

The BBA is already working with the Federation of Masters Builders (FMB) to vet new federation members.

More than 75% of FMB members have given their backing to a licensing scheme to professionalise the industry, protect consumers and sideline cowboy builders. The FMB is also part of the ‘Construction Licensing Task Force’ which is examining how a scheme would work.

“The proposed model is for a scheme governed by a single body but integrated within existing structures to minimise administrative burden,” said FMB chief executive Brian Berry.

The roundtable, chaired by Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, made three recommendations:

  • Government should consult on an industry-wide licensing or certification scheme backed by a single body (such as Trustmark) or via existing Notified Bodies or UKAS-accredited organisations.
  • The scheme should adopt a ‘quality mark’ that consumers can look for.
  • Industry should work with lending/conveyancing sectors to back the scheme, with sales and home improvement loans tied to the use of a licensed contractor.

In addition, attendees agreed that the Homes, Communities and Local Government committee should review proposals for a mandatory licensing or certification scheme and the government consult via a Green Paper.

‘Confusing’ competency frameworks

A roundtable spokesman commented: “Consumers find the variety of competency frameworks currently on offer confusing. As a result around one third will enter the black market when commissioning home improvement projects.

“There should be a single, recognisable brand to demonstrate quality, with different trades covered beneath this. Trustmark is already working with key stakeholders such as the BBA, FMB and Homes England to put together a framework that supports this but consumer buy-in will be instrumental to making this viable.

“The current system is layered and allows for passing of responsibility between developer, contractor and manufacturer. Consumers find it difficult to determine which party has responsibility and often have very little redress when things go wrong.

“Costs for joining a mandatory licensing/certification scheme could be as low as £150 for small companies and there has been little opposition from FMB members. However, there has been some reluctance from larger contractors as they wait for clarity on how the scheme would be executed.”

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