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Part P Still Playing its Part

Release Date: 24/02/2012

As the Government is set to overhaul England’s Building Regulations, Chris Beedel, Certification Director for ECA, explores the proposals surrounding Part P from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Part P has been an integral part of the domestic electrical safety landscape since 2005 yet fundamental changes are afoot as the Government is reviewing its record as part of a broader consultation on the Building Regulations in England.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has asked the constituents of those impacted by any changes to Part P - electrical contractors, local authorities and Competent Person Scheme providers including ECA and its certification arm, ELECSA - for feedback on its favoured course to make the regulations less complex and bureaucratic. The deadline for responses is 27th April 2012 with a view that any changes would be implemented by April 2013.

There is no doubt that there are some complexities surrounding Part P, not least the understanding of what work is notifiable and issues surrounding enforcement.  However, Part P has been a success and the consultation document acknowledges this, but I would make two key points about the terms of reference of the review:

• Finding a better approach needs to preserve the integrity of safety surrounding domestic electrical work

• That the role of competent Persons Schemes (CPSs) provides the most cost effective route for compliance with the Building Regulations

History

What Part P established when it became part of the Building Regulations on 1 January 2005 was the minimum electrical safety required within dwellings. It was based upon statistics about the levels of serious injuries caused by electrical accidents. There were 43 deaths, almost 3000 serious injuries requiring hospital treatment and damage to almost 7000 properties. At the time it was estimated that the introduction of Part P and moreover, the ability to allow installers to self-certify their work via registration with a Competent Person Scheme (CPS) would prevent at least 8 deaths, 550 injuries and reduce the incidents of damage by more than 1500 which, when monetised, revealed a net benefit of £10 million per year.*

The CPS was put in place to offer an alternative route to Building Regulations compliance and to reduce the administrative burden on local authority building control departments.

To qualify for CPS, installers are required to undergo annual assessment to determine their competence in electrical and Building Regulations knowledge as well as demonstrate safe working practices. To date there are have been almost 40,000 installers registered with more than 1000 new installers coming forward for registration each year since the scheme’s inception. This level of registration means that householders have a straightforward way to identify competent electrical contractors in their area.

Registered contractors are notifying in excess of 1.25 million jobs per year.  This is work that the Local Authority Building Control would not have otherwise been able to monitor without significant changes to structure and staffing.

In addition to Part P, the industry has also seen changes to the Wiring Regulations.  CPS schemes played a vital part in getting the information on these changes out to contractors, the end result being that electricians are kept better informed on industry practices by being part of a scheme.  CPS’s also had a role to play in identifying those contractors that needed to update their qualifications in order to maintain their CPS registration, helping to keep overall standards high.

The purpose of the latest consultation is to identify ways of reducing the administrative burden of the Building Regulations, with the main purpose focussed on cost savings. When it identified three options for going forward, the document agreed that revoking Part P was not an option because of the confirmed health, safety and financial benefits it has delivered over the last seven years. Its preferred option is to slightly move the goal posts so that less domestic electrical work becomes ‘notifiable’ under the terms of Part P, although it would retain the requirement that all work be undertaken by competent persons.

Major house rewires are unaffected by these changes, but the kind of jobs that are being suggested as no longer needing to be notifiable include alterations in kitchens, bathrooms and outdoor areas. These were locations that were originally identified as possible areas of higher risk to home occupiers.

Those that argue for a reduced list of notifiable work make their case on the back of the perceived confusion of what does need to be notified. We would take the alternative position that reducing the list further could compound and exacerbate the problem as the message to householders and the industry about notifiable work is more straightforward if it is inclusive of most electrical works.

Another of the proposals under consideration is to allow qualified people to carry out third party testing on work carried out by homeowners or other persons not registered to a CPS. Whilst we acknowledge that this practice does currently exist, contractors should be aware that by signing off other peoples work they are taking full responsibility and liability for the work done. Self certifying work as compliant to the Building Regulations means not just Part P but all applicable parts of the regulations including good workmanship and materials.

ECA concerns

The Government is trying to reduce the bureaucratic burden on councils and cost on business. Local Authority Building Control has an average charge of £231 per notifiable job, compared to a cost of £8.90** for a contractor registered with a CPS – this takes into account their annual assessment fee and a per job notification fee of £1.50.

Furthermore, in seeking to simplify what work is notifiable and allowing third parties to sign off jobs without the need for CPS registration, will lead to even greater confusion amongst householders, local authorities and contractors.  The landscape will become uneven as different interpretations of the guidelines emerge in different parts of the country.

Without CPS and without support by rigorous and consistent local authority enforcement, potentially dangerous installations could go unchecked and the good work that Part P has installed over the last seven years could quickly become unravelled.   Any changes could lead to confusion resulting in fewer contractors registering for CPSs because they will incorrectly assume that they no longer need to.

There is an argument for reducing bureaucracy and if cost reduction is a by-product of that process that is not a bad thing for the industry. However, if cost is the main driver then we all must play our part to ensure that complacency and confusion do not reign and hazardous electrical work does not go undetected. In that respect April 27 is an important date. Stakeholders in Part P should send a clear message to the Government that any changes should be thought through and part of that process would include the effective marketing and communication of the new regime to avoid any confusion and make sure no one has their wires crossed.


*2012 consultation on Changes to the Building Regulations in England Section 3 Part P by the Department for Communities and Local Government 
**In this example, we have calculated this figure based on 50 notifiable jobs per year.