The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has confirmed that it is looking at how licensing schemes for contractors protect consumers in other countries, including the Home Improvement Contractor Licenses required to work for homeowners in some states in the US.
The research is also likely to examine the licenses demanded by legislation in Australia, such as South Australia’s Building Work Contractors’ Regulations, first introduced in 1995.
The internal BIS research has apparently been prompted by members of the public contacting the government in support of "Meg’s Campaign to License the Building Trade".
This was set up by the family of Meg Burgess, a three-year-old killed in July 2008 when an unsafe wall built as part of house extension by Welsh contractor George Collier collapsed on top of her. Collier was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and jailed for two years in October 2012.
However, a BIS spokesperson played down speculation that licensing for domestic builders could be introduced here, saying: “It’s purely fact-finding, officials are just making sure they’re up to speed with what’s happening elsewhere. Is there anything we can learn from other countries, what are other countries doing on this issue?”
The Meg's Campaign Facebook page shows that it has been contacted by an Australian builder commending the operation of the country’s state-run schemes. Judging by documents available online contractors have to comply with rigorous performance criteria on business issues and construction project management.
The move comes as the industry’s seven-year-old consumer protection scheme TrustMark is reviewing its “core criteria” to bring them into line with consumer expectations today.
TrustMark operates under licence from BIS, and its core criteria were written in conjunction with government in 2005.
These government-endorsed standards lay down the rules that TrustMark’s scheme operators must abide by when they vet, inspect and monitor traders applying for the TrustMark badge. There are currently 30 operators, including the FMB, the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, B&Q and double glazing body FENSA. However, the actual procedures on issues such as insurance warranties and complaints handling can vary between the various scheme operators.
Home Improvement Contractor Licenses are required to work for homeowners in the US
According to TrustMark chairman Liz Male, the review process began over six months ago, and the organisation’s proposals will be submitted to BIS for discussion in a few months.
She explained: “In 2005, the core criteria looked stretching, but now it's time we updated them, as they don’t necessarily meet customer expectations. We now have a number of other consumer protection schemes in the market, including the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and the Green Deal, which have slightly different approaches. It’s a confusing landscape, but we want to ensure there’s some consistency with other organisations for consumers.”
But TrustMark is essentially a voluntary scheme, while the overseas examples cited above – and likely to form part of the current BIS review – are mandatory.
However, Male argued that wider recognition of the TrustMark scheme, possibly linked to requirements from banks and insurance companies that work they fund should be carried out by a TrustMark contractor, could give consumers additional protection without introducing any element of compulsion on contractors.