Trading on trust

Although the heating and plumbing industry is awash with qualified tradespeople, the issue of rogue trainers and traders has become more commonplace in recent years. Not only does this leave consumers in a vulnerable position, risking their homes, health and finances, but it creates a poor public perception of heating and plumbing professionals that is simply not accurate or fair.

Skills shortage The current lack of skilled installers has negatively impacted homeowners and businesses, widening the gap for rogue traders and trainers to infiltrate the heating and plumbing industry. The fact that increasing numbers of installers are retiring early is also having a large impact on the industry.

The dwindling number of trained installers means that consumers will have to wait longer for installers to visit. This isn’t too much of an issue when the weather is warm, but with boiler failures and the like commonplace in the colder months, wait times could be even longer this winter.

“Long waits for call-outs could be devastating for vulnerable people,” says Kevin Wellman, chief executive officer of the CIPHE. “All this has come at a time when we are already experiencing materials shortages and the ongoing impact of COVID-19. This, coupled with the continuing lack of training, is likely to make the situation over the next few years very bleak.”

Inside story

Stretching the current workforce beyond capacity will result in consumers struggling to get installers out to their homes. This in turn will leave them vulnerable to untrained individuals undertaking work they simply don’t have the skills to carry out safely. As a result, the CIPHE is calling for tighter licensing for the heating and plumbing industry, which would help prevent situations like this from occurring.

CIPHE member, Alan Marcon, has experienced his fair share of unskilled people attempting to carry out work on oil heating systems over the years and blames the lack of clarity in the sector.

“The oil heating industry is a small niche and there are a lot of have-a-go handy men,” says Marcon. “A lot of customers try to repair their boilers themselves which is a big problem. You don’t have to be OFTEC registered to be an oil engineer and the fact that there is little regulation surrounding oil heating systems leaves it open for anyone to have a go.

“The regulatory bodies need to up their game to stop customers trying to fix their own boilers as it can be very dangerous. I have seen leaks from tanks that haven’t been installed properly or well maintained. Plastic oil tanks are vulnerable to global warming, as UV rays are now stronger, so they don’t seem to last as long. There need to be more inspections to improve consumer and installer safety.

“I find that in the oil industry more people are carrying out poor installations. Customers are allowed to fit their own oil boilers and I am not allowed to condemn an oil boiler if it is leaking, I can only advise them to repair it or turn it off. However, if I determined a gas boiler was dangerous I could ring the gas provider and they would make sure the house is safe immediately. I just want people to be safe.”

Consumer impact

Poor quality workmanship can not only set consumers back financially, but can cost people their lives. With the risk of injuries caused by scalding from hot water appliances, in addition to burns and legionella, it’s vital that the industry cracks down on imposters.

The CIPHE’s manifesto states: “The CIPHE maintains accessible lists of qualified installers in plumbing, heating and renewables for the public benefit. However, the lack of publicised enforcement of Water, Building and Gas Safety Regulations is exacerbated by the fact that, with the exception of gas installers, anyone can establish a plumbing and heating business regardless of relevant and supporting qualifications. This has allowed a small, but undesirable rogue operator culture to arise, which puts public safety, health and welfare in jeopardy. The UK now sees more deaths each year due to poorly designed, installed and maintained plumbing systems than deaths caused by gas appliances.”

There have been instances where CIPHE members have provided expert witness statements for cases where children have been scalded or died, as well as cases where people have lost their lives due to gas leaks from boilers that have been serviced incorrectly by unqualified individuals.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), around 500 children, mainly under-fives, are admitted to hospital or A&E every year as a result of bath water scalds.

“Poor plumbing can cause consumers stress and anxiety in addition to the costs for rectification,” points out Wellman. “When plumbing goes wrong it can be fatal and the impact is devastating. We need more people to wake up to the reality and consider the implications of poor plumbing and the desperate need for licensing for our industry.”

According to Alexander Wildish, principal consultant at Engineering Forensics, it’s “extremely common” for insurance companies to be contacted about damage caused by escape water, following shoddy work carried out by untrained individuals at a cost of around £1.8m per day.

“Almost all escapes of water are attributable to unqualified or poor workmanship,” reveals Wildish. “Insurance companies will pay out if the person isn’t qualified unless there is a condition on the policy. However, if the claim arises during the works, then they may not pay.”

Building bridges

The UK’s qualified heating and plumbing engineers carry out quality work every day, but it just takes one bad story breaking in the news to tarnish the industry’s reputation.

“The credibility of the industry is impacted as a result of rogue trainers and installers, which is magnified because of the bad press coverage in the national media,” says Wellman. “Installers can build consumers’ confidence in their abilities by sharing their qualifications and proving that they are a member of the CIPHE. They should reinforce the idea that consumers should check that people who carry out work in their homes are qualified and competent.”

Installers should encourage all their customers to use the CIPHE verification tool, www.ciphe.org.uk/consumer/verify-member/, to ensure the tradespeople they are using are fully qualified and competent.

“We all need to raise our game and have a minimum qualification equivalent to Level 3 to help upskill everybody and provide a greater service to the public,” asserts Wellman. “For those wanting to get involved with renewable technologies and heat pumps there is no doubt that without adequate training they will not have the necessary skills to do that work. The CIPHE’s Low Temperature Heating and Hot Water Design qualification will go some way to address this and will also give installers greater competence and confidence when designing and installing these technologies.

“The call for ongoing CPD is essential for everybody and the government’s low carbon aspirations reaffirm that the industry has to adapt accordingly. There is no doubt that the plumbing and heating industry is a fantastic place to work and, for those that are qualified and experienced, it can be a fantastic vocation that can keep them in employment for many years. With the evolving technologies there is always plenty to do to keep everybody busy.

“For the competent installer, there should be many opportunities to grow their business, especially in view of government targets for renewable technologies and the net zero agenda. There is no doubt that there will be an enormous amount of work available in the future, which means that there is further reason to train and upskill sooner rather than later.”

Rogue trainers

It’s not just rogue traders that the industry is battling against – it’s rogue trainers too. There are unqualified trainers that are teaching people who believe they are paying for a recognised qualification.

“Installers should always use companies that are recognised training organisations,” advises Wellman. “Opt for City and Guilds, EAL, LCL and BPEC, and make sure the course itself is accredited by Ofqual.

“Manufacturers have helped to underpin the industry to provide high calibre training to ensure their products are installed right the first time, but colleges also have skills shortages too, which is part of the issue within the plumbing and heating industry.”

The CIPHE’s view

Our recommendations to government and industry are:

1 Vigorously enforce Water, Gas Safety & Building Regulations, with prosecutions and heavy penalties for those who do not comply.

2 Increase links between regulation enforcement and grass roots engineers.

3 Recognise the skilled and professional part of the workforce. Protect the title of ‘plumber’ by introducing statutory licensing of plumbing and heating engineers.

4 Introduce an evidence-based mandatory and relevant CPD requirement for those operating in the plumbing and heating industry.

5 Crack down on rogue training providers in the industry.

6 Provide an achievable route to recognition for the existing experienced workforce.


Building trust

Do your bit to maintain public confidence in our profession:

• KEEP QUALIFICATIONS UP TO DATE Don’t attempt to carry out work you’re not qualified to do, such as installing new technologies.

• OFFER ADVICE Point customers to the CIPHE verification tool on your website and through social media.

• BE TRANSPARENT Highlight CIPHE membership along with professional credentials, such as Gas Safe registered, on vans, invoices, websites, and marketing materials.

• SPREAD THE WORD Reach out to local media during peak times, such as autumn and winter, to remind the public to use qualified professionals.

• SPEAK OUT If you come across work that has been carried out incorrectly, report it to the Gas Safe Register. Find out more on the Gas Safe Register website.

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