Home Contractor's CornerApex Roofing Construction: a license to build

Construction: a license to build

by Matt Downs

Extra paperwork can be a hassle – whatever industry you are in – but Jackie Biswell (below), of Apex Roofing, explains why she’s pleased plans to introduce a mandatory licensing scheme for all UK construction firms is being widely embraced across the sector.

Cowboy builders; rogue traders; rip-off roofers. They all give our profession a bad name.

So much so, in fact, that last year a study by the Federation of Master Builders revealed that these charlatans are causing a third of homeowners to put off making home improvements.

This came swiftly in the wake of another scandal exposed by BBC journalists who were able to set up a fake handyman profile on MyBuilder.com, a website which helps consumers find tradesmen.

The reporter was also able to pretend to be one of his customers, submitting glowing reviews to give his profile extra credibility.

It’s little wonder that the FMB, which estimates that the UK economy is missing out on £10 billion of work every year because of the problem, has campaigned for the Government and industry to back the introduction of a licensing scheme for the UK construction sector.

What does it mean?

Currently, too few builders and contractors are subject to meaningful checks to ensure competence. This is because, unlike the gas and electrical trades, anyone in the UK can set themselves up as a builder.

On top of this, there are plenty of builders who take on labourers – also known as their mates from the pub – uninsured, untaxed and with no scaffold or hoisting for cash in hand.

The proposal is to make licensing mandatory across the construction industry – essentially barring anyone shown to be incompetent or who undermines the standards of the industry.

A report, Licence to build: A pathway to licensing UK construction, which follows independent research by Pye Tait, was officially launched at the House of Lords in June explaining its implementation and how it aims to improve both the quality and reputation of the sector.

The model put forward recommends that the licence is administered by a central body and that the licence itself would not be a prohibition in terms of cost nor bureaucracy. The fee would be set according to turnover, with the largest firms in our sector paying something in the region of £1,000 every three years and the smallest firms would pay around £150 every three years.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The vast majority of builders and homeowners want to see the construction industry professionalised and it is time for the government to act. It’s unacceptable that more than half of consumers have had a negative experience with their builder. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by this given that in the UK, it is perfectly legal for anyone to set up a building firm and start selling their services without any prior experience or qualifications. This cannot be right given the nature of the work and the potential health and safety risks when something goes wrong. In countries like Australia and Germany, building firms require a licence and we want to see the UK government regulate our industry in a similar manner.”

What happens now?

Construction is often accused of falling behind other industries – in terms of its uptake of new technologies, its diversity record and its working practices.

Some of this might be unfair. But what has never been in dispute is that it lags behind hugely in terms of ensuring competence and consumer protection.

This explains why it is consistently shamed by widespread media reports of rogue traders.

A mandatory licensing scheme is the only way to stamp this out and a group of major construction industry bodies has now joined forces to create a Construction Licensing Task Force which will be chaired by Liz Peace, former Chief Executive of the British Property Federation.

On the board will be representatives from a series of professional bodies in our industry which want to transform our industry into a world-leading sector.

But it is not just the large organisations which are striving for change here.

In an unusual display of support for additional ‘red tape’, almost 80% of small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms want to see a licensing scheme introduced.

And we are one of them…

We welcome advancements within the sector and are proud members of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), Safe Contractor and CHAS, who all push for competency within the industry. After all, by increasing consumer protection and driving up quality, we can ultimately improve the image of the whole industry.


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