Employing subcontractors Services and utilities

Which? Archive

This article, Employing subcontractors, was last updated on 01 April 2009 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Home & garden articles.

Electrician

Recent changes in the law mean that more work than ever before has to be carried out by properly qualified electricians. They also have a new responsibility to carry out official checks on your electric system, and then give a certificate that confirms the work meets safety standards.

The work electricians do varies from re-wiring a home from top to bottom to adding a new socket or moving a light switch. They need to be able to read and implement wiring diagrams from architects and to create these themselves.

Electricians also need to be adept at chopping out plaster, drilling through walls, floors and ceilings and working out the best way to create the electrical system without too much visible wiring. They should come up with effective methods to hide any wiring that can’t be chased into the wall, such as running wires behind skirting boards. Electricians also take on work to install security or home automation systems.

Qualifications

Electricians should hold an Electrotechnical Services NVQ/SVQ at Level 3 and be ‘Part P Registered’ so they can legally approve electrical work. Some experienced electricians may have trained as an apprentice some time ago and won’t have the latest qualifications. In this case, they must make sure they have their current work assessed and, if necessary, re-train to continue working as an electrician.

It is important that your electrician is up to date with the latest regulations, so ask if this is the case and get written confirmation.

It is vitally important that your electrician is up to date with the latest regulations

Check whether your electrician is a member of organisations such as the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) or the National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers.

Both of these organisations are voluntary and members have to pay to join. But they do allow their members to issue certificates for all work carried out (even adding a plug or light switch) in accordance with national standards. Always check that your electrician’s membership hasn’t lapsed. Visit www.eca.co.uk and www.niceic.org.uk for more information and lists of contractors.

Don’t forget to check your insurance policy if you have an electrical or plumbing emergency to see if you are covered. You must contact the company first, not after you’ve called someone and incurred costs, as they often have their own tradespeople.

Gas fitters

Any work to do with gas requires a fully qualified Gas Safe-registered gas fitter – every person that is on the Gas Safe Register carries an identity card. The work they carry out can involve installing a gas cooker or fire through to installing gas pipe work for a new boiler and annual maintenance inspections to ensure gas appliances operate safely.

A gas fitter has to have the necessary knowledge to install pipe work from the gas meter to, for example, a gas boiler located in the kitchen. This can include lifting up floorboards, drilling through walls and installing ventilation ducts through the exterior wall to provide ventilation for a gas appliance.

The Gas Safe-registered gas installer may also be a competent electrician and registered with the Corgi building regulations electrical competent persons scheme. This enables him or her to install the necessary wiring and controls so the heating installation meets the requirements of the building regulations.

Gas Safe Register logo

Gas Safe Register took over the gas registration scheme from Corgi on 1 April 2009

The gas registration scheme, which was previously run by Corgi was taken over by Capita on 1 April 2009. The new scheme is called the Gas Safe Register.

Anyone proposing to carry out work on a gas appliance is required by law to be on the Gas Safe Register. You can check an engineer or firm's registration on the Gas Safe Register website or by calling directly on 0800 408 5500.

Qualifications

Some unscrupulous people wrongly claim to be qualified gas fitters. Check with CORGI

To be qualified as a gas fitter they need to have studied and passed the N/SVQ 6012 and have passed the relevant units of the Nationally Accredited Certification Scheme (ACS) for individual gas fitting operatives. Their ACS qualification has to be retaken every five years.

It is crucial that you ask to see their Gas Safe Register ID card. Some unscrupulous people claim to be a member when they are not, or their ACS qualification has lapsed. Do not accept any excuses. Check that the date on the front of their card is valid (currently the registration period is annual) and that the rear of their card stipulates they are entitled to carry out the gas work you want them to undertake. A date next to a work category indicates that the cardholder can no longer work on that particular appliance after the date stated.

If you feel uncomfortable asking for these details, then contact the Gas Safe Register – you can verify whether someone is a registered member on its website.

If you smell gas

  • Call the National Grid emergency line on 0800 111 999 (0800 002 001 in Northern Ireland). The service is free, 24 hours a day
  • If you are calling from a mobile phone, go outside or call from a neighbour’s property
  • Do NOT smoke
  • Do NOT turn light switches on or off
  • Do NOT do anything to create a spark
  • Turn off the supply at the meter (as long as you do not have to switch on a light to find it) and open doors and windows
  • Wait outside for the emergency tradespeople to arrive
Plumber

Ask about your plumber's training

Plumber

Plumbers need as much general building acumen as they do an understanding of plumbing. For example, for fitting showers, a general plumber needs to be able to lay pipes, chop out plaster/bricks and tiles, drill through walls, ensure that a bath is level and lay large pipes for waste, such as toilets or other drainage.

For this type of work, a plumber doesn’t currently need any type of qualification. For example, they could have trained as an apprentice on-site or with another plumber. However, most have a City and Guilds plumbing qualification or an NVQ Level 2 in plumbing.

There are many types of plumbers carrying out different kinds of work. Some do not need any qualifications at all

Another type of plumber is one that is able to fit a boiler and work with gas installations as well as water. Typically, these plumbers have a qualification level that allows them to work with electricity as well, or a colleague that is qualified to do so, and can certify that the work is accurate and safe.

To do this level of work, the plumber needs to be qualified not only in plumbing, but also on the Gas Safe Register and one of the electrical organisations given in the ‘electrician’ section above. Other qualifications, such as a Bpec in unvented hot water storage, may be required.

Fake qualifications

Research carried out by Which? showed that dozens of plumbers falsely claimed to be members of the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (IPHE). It is essential that you contact the relevant trade bodies to check that your plumber is a member before he or she starts work.

The growth in demand for plumbers has led some people to set up ‘training’ courses lasting just a few weeks. Be aware that someone who has taken this path may not be especially well trained – check with one of the trade bodies that they approve of the course the plumber has taken.

Further information

Relevant websites for the plumbing industry are The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering and Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors. In Scotland and Northern Ireland you can also visit www.needaplumber.org.