How many complaints are there really in the construction sector?

The National Federation of Builders (NFB), which represents the broadest range of building and contracting businesses across England and Wales, is questioning the newly proposed licensing scheme targeted at tackling shoddy building work or poor business practice.

The construction sector is one of the highest regulated sectors, not only through contractual obligations scrutinised by its clients, but also planning, building, health and safety, environmental and financial regulations to name a few.

Over the past decade, several schemes have already improved contractors and builders’ work practices, quality control and ethics. Through recognising the value of corporate and social responsibility projects which have only further enhanced the reputation of the construction sector, many businesses have seen a significant improvement in relationships with customers, local communities and the public. In addition, levels of management and operative training aligned with onsite innovation have aided the delivery of excellent quality renovations, buildings and projects from domestic extensions to the largest buildings.

The reputation of the construction industry is generally built on the perceptions and experiences of homeowners and there is still a perception that there is a large number of poor quality builders, which requires yet further legislation and additional financial burden on a sector whose margins are already highly competitive. However, a licensing scheme would cover larger and smaller contractors who do not carry out domestic work.

For the licensing scheme to be truly beneficial, it will be required to be mandatory and enshrined in law. Lessons of previous voluntary schemes like the old Council of Register Gas Installers (CORGI) should be considered. At CORGI’s formation it had a low registration level, at approximately 30% of the market until it was made mandatory.

Yet the costs of mandatory schemes are often high. The NFB questions this additional burden, not only in direct costs on quality contracting businesses but also administrative demands making those businesses less competitive. Then there is the unknown cost of transfers, certification and warranting where work has been undertaken in other ways, such as DIY by a non-licensed contractor.

In the building sector there are multiple trades, most of which already have established and tested standards. The newly proposed scheme for the construction industry would result in a duplication of effort and confusion from the current systems already in place.

A compulsory scheme would require a form of enforcement, which would be complex and costly. For a scheme to be truly successful and ensure impartiality, a fully independent body from any trade association is necessary.

Based on the NFB’s own data, with only ten complaints received in 2018 from companies with a combined construction turnover in excess of £6.6 billion, it is evident that NFB members have the skills, expertise and knowledge to ensure that the work they carry out is of an excellent quality and standard.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB said:

“In every industry you will always get someone that pushes the boundaries and our industry is no different. While the majority of builders and contractors are highly competent, there is a minority that gives the industry a bad reputation. To help increase consumer confidence, the NFB allows consumers to contact reputable builders.

“We encourage consumers to do the same. Taking time to research a good builder through a referral and getting references from previous work they have carried out can help stamp out rogue builders.

“Most importantly, do not be fooled by a badge. There has been a substantial number of cases of bogus builders fraudulently claiming membership of a trade association, so call and make sure they really are a member. Also make sure that the badge has value, examples from local magazines and social media do not guarantee service and quality levels.”