Toughen up on 'incompetent' electricians, say MPs

Electrician

Tougher rules are needed to ensure electricians have enough training to work on people's homes without putting them in danger, MPs have warned.

Rules in England state that people deemed "competent" by industry bodies can sign off work as safe and legal.

But the Communities and Local Government Committee said some had only a few weeks' training and called enforcement of rules "at best patchy".

The government said it would consider the findings "carefully".

In 2005, the Labour government brought most electrical work in the home under the system of building regulations, designed to ensure safety standards.

'Five-week wonder'

It was decided that only those deemed "competent persons" by a range of government-approved competent persons schemes should be able to hand customers certificates to show work was of good quality and legal.

The committee said safety overall had risen since 2005, but it raised concerns about the standards in place, saying some of those judged to be a "competent person" were signing off more than 3,400 competency notifications a year.

Start Quote

Somebody whose only electrical qualification is that they have attended a five-week training course simply should not be re-wiring houses”

End Quote Clive Betts MP

This led to questions over how much scrutiny of the work was going on.

In some cases, the MPs were told, people stood "as much chance of getting a competent person as asking a bloke down the pub to do the job".

The committee received evidence that some workers had done no more than take a "two-hour open book exam" before carrying out domestic electrical work, while others had taken internet-advertised "five-week wonder" courses.

Added to this, only 14% of the population were even aware of the system, fewer than a third of the number who knew about a similar scheme for gas fitters.

The committee recommended that, within five years, no-one should be allowed to carry out the electrical work covered by building regulations without an NVQ Level III or equivalent qualification and "a significant period of supervised on-the-job training".

A limit should be set on the number of cases each "competent person" could be responsible for approving, it added.

Resources call

Committee chairman Labour MP Clive Betts said: "Somebody whose only electrical qualification is that they have attended a five-week training course simply should not be re-wiring houses. Yet this is what we were told is happening.

"The person in the home wants to know that the person arriving on the doorstep is a qualified electrician.

"The current system does not guarantee this. Rather, it can brand the incompetent as competent."

Mr Betts called for councils to be given the resources to enforce the regulations.

Communities minister Stephen Williams said: "I'm pleased that the committee recognises the improvements since the building regulations covering electrical safety were introduced but there is always more work to be done to strike the right balance and we will consider the report's recommendations carefully, especially as part of our review of the impact of changes we've made to reduce unnecessary red tape in this area."

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