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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1851-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Communities and Local Government Committee
Building Regulations Applying to Electrical and Gas Installation and Repairs in Dwellings
Monday 27 February 2012
Andrew Stunell and Peter Brown
Evidence heard in Public Questions 78 - 164
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee
on Monday 27 February 2012
Mr Clive Betts (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Andrew Stunell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, and Peter Brown, Divisional Director, Work Environment, Radiation and Gas, Health and Safety Executive, gave evidence.
Q78 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to our second and final evidence session for the inquiry into building regulations applying to electrical and gas installation and repairs in dwellings. Minister, you are most welcome, as always, to join us this afternoon. Thank you for your evidence so far. Mr Brown, could I ask you to, for the sake of our records, identify yourself and the organisation that you represent?
Peter Brown: My name is Peter Brown. I work for the Health and Safety Executive, and I am head of the HSE’s Work Environment, Radiation and Gas division.
Q79 Chair: Thank you both for coming. The Government has embarked on an extensive review of building regulations. We do not want to go into the whole of building regulations this afternoon, but to focus on electrical and gas. With regard to Part P of building regulations, what is the perceived problem that the Government is trying to address?
Andrew Stunell: If I put it in a slightly wider context, we have carried out a review that is intended to identify where building regulations need to be improved and extended, and also where we might reduce the regulatory burden and achieve better levels of compliance. The proposals that are in consultation in relation to Part P recognise that, since Part P was introduced, there has clearly been some significant progress, and I am sure you will want to ask about that. There is also some evidence that it is capable of improvement and getting at least as good a result for less of a bureaucratic burden. We are consulting on that and we are going to take into account the responses we get, including from this Committee. The consultation is open as we speak. The overall aim is to reduce the regulatory burden on the industry without in any way compromising safety.
Q80 Chair: As an idea of how much money might be saved from a more streamlined approach, I presume that the intention is not simply to save money but to have regulations that are effective in this regard. Can they be made more effective so that, at the same time, they might actually be less costly?
Andrew Stunell: Yes. In terms of the saving, you will see from the impact assessment that we took stock of the possibility of completely abolishing Part P. If we did that, there would be a net cost, because the safety would be prejudiced. What we have looked at is something that is a more proportionate set of proposals, which would, as the impact assessment sets out, save a net of £6 million. That is the estimate you will see there.
Q81 Chair: That will make them more effective as well, will it?
Andrew Stunell: We do not think there is any risk of a worsening but, in parallel to that, we are taking measures overall to aim to improve compliance with the building regulations. In fact, that is one of the tasks that I have set myself-to look not just at what regulations we set but whether those regulations are being conformed to, which is a function of: first, whether people understand the regulations that are in place; secondly, whether they accept and take ownership of them; and thirdly, whether the regime that monitors them is capable of telling whether they are complying or not. All three of those are matters for consideration when you are looking at how you improve compliance.
Chair: We will come on to compliance again in a minute.
Q82 Mark Pawsey: Minister, we can all agree that reducing bureaucracy and improving compliance are very worthy aims, but what are the consequences of removing or reducing Part P? Have you done an assessment as to what might happen if that were to take place?
Andrew Stunell: What we are saying is that the proposed reductions in the requirement to get building regulation approval are going to be replaced by the option of getting competent advisers to do that. We do not believe that will do anything other than reduce the cost of the inspection; it will not reduce the level of inspection. The second part of this is to look at whether there are some very simple tasks that technically require having building regulation approval but are commonly done by DIYers and probably getting in under the radar, at the moment, in any case. There is an argument there-it is not one that we particularly stated in the impact assessment was a measurable one-that there may be some impact from people understanding that, if it is not going to cost them £200 but they could get a much cheaper inspection, they will in fact be prepared to pay that sum of money rather than the higher sum.
Q83 Mark Pawsey: Is it your belief that people are not willing to pay those sums? What is driving this change in regulation? Is it because the regulations are not currently working?
Andrew Stunell: In some respects, they clearly have performed. We want to make sure that they are proportionate and effective. Both of those are what we are challenging in the consultation we are carrying out. Are they proportionate? We have set out a view that there is scope for changing the way in which the applicant has to approach the regulatory system, and also, in very minor works, it would not be necessary to go into the regulatory system at all.
Q84 Mark Pawsey: I suppose my question is one of "why now?" Is it because this has not been recognised up to now? Have we been running with a system that has not been working terribly effectively for some time? Should the previous Government have acted sooner? What is your view?
Andrew Stunell: Part P was only introduced in 2005, and I think it would be good practice in any case to review new regulations and see whether or not they were doing what was required and were proportionate. As I did say briefly at the start, it is part of a wider review we have done to look at not just building regulations but all the regulations that this Department is responsible for, and of course right across Government, to see whether we have proportionate and effective regulation.
Q85 Mark Pawsey: Wouldn’t you agree, Minister, that Part P has been working, because the incidence of fires attributed to mains wiring, which I understand Part P relates to, has declined from 1,057 in 2004 to 872 in 2008? Isn’t that an indication that Part P has been effective?
Andrew Stunell: It is certainly an indication that something has been effective. Several things have worked to achieve that. It is certainly not part of our case that Part P has not been effective; it is about whether it has been proportionate. Actually, the much more widespread use of circuit breakers has probably had quite a lot to do with that as well. Of course, I do not think the figures distinguish whether the balance of fires that are still occurring is mostly in property that has been subject to Part P or, in fact, in property that has not been touched since 2005 and to which Part P would not apply. I certainly acknowledge that there has been an improvement, but we need to be careful in attributing specific improvement to specific measures.
Q86 Mark Pawsey: You think that there has been improvement, but it could have been for reasons other than Part P. In our evidence session last week, we heard that there are no national statistics being collected with regard to compliance with Part P. Is that an omission? Should that have been taking place? If that were taking place, would you have better evidence for the changes that you wish to make?
Andrew Stunell: The evidence that you took last week included some information about prosecutions that had been held. I have to say to the Committee that it has been something I have been challenging the system on, as to whether we have got compliance where it should be as far as regulations go. There is, I am sure, more work that could be done, but we need to be proportionate in the search for information about what needs to be done, as well as making sure we have good information to take decisions on.
Q87 Bob Blackman: Minister, the consultation on Part P suggests that the Government is minded to remove the regulations on kitchens, gardens and some parts of bathrooms as well. How can you convince us that it would be a safe position to do that?
Andrew Stunell: The question we are posing is, if you like, to test that assertion that there are types of work being carried out at the moment that are within the regulatory framework and, in all probability, a high proportion of them are carried out without anybody actually making reference to the regulatory framework. We are not excluding kitchens and bathrooms; we are not proposing that kitchens and bathrooms should be taken out of what is in the consultation document, but it would be open to people to argue that case, if they wish to do so.
Q88 Bob Blackman: My reading of the consultation suggests that you are minded to do that. Is that not the case? Are we reading it as something we should not?
Andrew Stunell: I do not think that is quite right. It would perhaps be sensible for me to give the Committee a written note on that, just so that we do not have any misunderstanding between us.
Q89 Bob Blackman: I think that would be very helpful. If the regulations are being changed to reduce the burden, we can understand that. However, in the evidence we have taken, everyone has been quite surprised about some of the issues in relation to doityourself work and also ensuring that competent individuals are carrying out work in the first place. One of the concerns that I think we would all have-and we will go on to the competent persons scheme in a minute-is making sure that it is people who know what they are doing who are carrying out this particular work. One of the issues is what happens about compliance. We were all quite surprised to identify that the onus is on the householder to ensure compliance, rather than the individual carrying out the work. Do you not think that we should be shifting the onus to the person carrying out the work, rather than the householder, who probably does not know whether someone is competent or not to do the job?
Andrew Stunell: If the householder employs an electrician who is not a competent person, that electrician is required to apply for building regulation approval. That is where the cost comes in. The driver for electricians to become competent persons was very much the new framework of Part P, which would allow them to selfcertify, provided they had trained and been authorised as a competent person. The burden is therefore on them, as a competent person, to do that job in an appropriate way. If work is carried out on a DIY basis, it is very much a question of whether the DIYer is aware that the job even needs to have a regulatory framework or not. I know you took some evidence on that-about how suppliers of electrical equipment to DIYers might inform people-and that is something where I think there is work that can reasonably be added to the lists of tasks to be done.
Q90 Bob Blackman: If someone is buying a house and work has been carried out, what is the duty there?
Andrew Stunell: The duty is on the person selling the house to demonstrate that it has an appropriate level of electrical safety. Just as, if they have an extension, they will need to be able to show that they have building regulation approval, if the house has been rewired, they need to show that they have approval for it, if not by the building control system then by the competent person, having done the work and notified the local authority within the 30day period.
Q91 Bob Blackman: There is no change to the current position proposed by the Government.
Andrew Stunell: Correct, yes.
Q92 Chair: Minister, coming back to what you said about someone looking to employ tradespeople to come to do work checking that they are either a member of the competent persons scheme or that the person doing the work is notifying the local authority or whoever about building regulations, if you, before you became a Minister and had all these civil servants to advise you, had gone and ordered a new kitchen from a supplier, would the first question you asked them be, "Is the electrician who is going to do the electrical work on this part of a competent persons scheme or are they going to notify the building inspectors that this work is going on?" You would not actually know to ask that question, would you?
Andrew Stunell: No, and one of the things that has happened over the last few years is that it has become more of a saleable commodity. One of the reasons why electricians have been keen to become competent persons, and the number has expanded rapidly, is the gateway that it provides for them to offer an enhanced service-"I can not only do this; I can also deliver you the saving on building control."
Q93 Chair: Fine, but wouldn’t it therefore be better if the obligation was on the tradesperson rather than on the consumer to ensure either they are a member of the competent persons scheme or notifying building control about it?
Andrew Stunell: If you are a competent person, you have that obligation. It is one of the things that you have. Whether you are a DIYer or an electrician who is not registered as a competent person, you have the duty to inform the building control authorities if you are carrying out work that reaches the threshold.
Q94 Chair: Or the kitchen installer who is employing those people. Shouldn’t the responsibility be somewhere there-on the person who has been employed to do the work, rather than the person actually commissioning the work?
Andrew Stunell: They are going to have a duty of care anyway in offering that service, but the obligation arises from common law, rather than from the building regulations, to make sure that they are complying with the legislation that applies to doing that job.
Q95 Chair: Would the building regulations be better enforced if it was the other way round-that the person doing the work was the one who was responsible?
Andrew Stunell: I think we need to just look at what the differences are in the different systems that one can have. It seems right, in the UK context, to have the liability resting with the building owner, the commissioner of the works, rather than delegating that to, in effect, a subcontractor to that person.
Peter Brown: There is another level of security here, in that the Electricity at Work Regulations require anyone carrying out electrical work to be competent to do that work. There is a duty on the tradesperson coming in and their employer to be competent to do the work that they are coming to do in domestic premises, so there is an onus on the employer and the tradesperson.
Q96 Heidi Alexander: Minister, you said in the UK it makes sense for that obligation to rest with the homeowner as opposed to the contractor carrying out the work. Why? I do not understand. Can you explain to me why, in your view, that makes sense?
Andrew Stunell: The important point here is to make sure that we have a safe installation. As Mr Brown has said, there is a general duty for the tradesperson to proceed in a workmanlike way and to comply with the broader regulations. An installer who failed to do that could be prosecuted under building regulations for putting in an installation that does not comply with those regulations. If we take away the general duty that there is to the person who commissions the work, then I think the system would be that much weaker.
Q97 Chair: Why?
Andrew Stunell: It would be weaker because there would be every opportunity for that person to attempt to pass off his or her responsibility to the person around the corner or whatever. Placing the obligation on the owner, the commissioner of that work, to make sure that the works that they have commissioned are lawful and done properly is, I think, an important safeguard to the whole process.
Q98 Heidi Alexander: Minister, the point is the vast majority of people in the UK who are having this sort of work done in their home have absolutely no idea about the competent persons scheme, Part P of the building regulations or anything. Actually, the people who should know about the rules and regulations are the people who are doing the work. I cannot understand what makes it better that the responsibility lies with the householder about the works that are being carried out, as opposed to the contractor, who should know about all the rules that pertain to the business that they are in.
Andrew Stunell: Chairman, it is somewhat analogous to having a roadworthy car. Clearly it is important that your car should be roadworthy; it is important it should be MOT’d; and it is important that those who carry out MOT repairs and so on do so properly, and that they do not deceive the customer about what they have done, but it is ultimately the driver or the owner of that vehicle’s responsibility to have a roadworthy vehicle. The same is true as far as buildings go. Clearly, and I absolutely accept the point that the Committee is making to me, there is scope for wholesale improvement in public awareness. As people have public awareness of their obligations for a roadworthy vehicle, so it should be for having an electrically safe home that they live in and that they have adapted.
Q99 George Hollingbery: I am afraid for me the MOT analogy simply does not work. You cannot get insurance and drive your car, and you cannot go down the garage, if it fails the MOT. There are all sorts of mechanisms in place to ensure that you comply. Everybody knows you have to; it is right there in front of you. If you do not do it, you cannot get insurance; you cannot get a new tax disc; you cannot go out on the road or, if you do, you will almost certainly get your car taken away and crushed. How is that analogous to people having no idea at all that these regulations are in place and they are supposed to comply with them? It is not analogous. This is a very difficult situation for householders, even though they do not know it is. It seems to me, on the balance of reasonableness, the obligation is in the wrong place in this regard.
Andrew Stunell: I want to stay with my point and say that I think there is an ultimate obligation and it should be kept there. Obviously if work is carried out by contractors that is unlawful, if they go absent, if they disappear-all of those things can happen-the owner of the building, the commissioner of the works, cannot escape that obligation. The installer has a duty, and if it is not fulfilled, prosecution of the tradesman or the company that has wrongly carried out the work or failed to carry out the work can result. In the absence of that, there still has to be an ultimate liability on the owner or the commissioner of the building.
Q100 Bob Blackman: I keep coming back to this, because I can picture a scenario of an elderly couple who have just retired. They decide to have their bathroom and kitchen redone. They commission someone to do it. They may have done something completely different in their lives; they will not have a clue about electrical work or whether the people coming in are competent or not. It is all hidden; they will never be able to see it, witness it and know whether it has been done properly and, yet, if something goes wrong with it, they are responsible. That cannot be right. I am sorry; I just cannot accept that that can be right. It must be that the onus is on the people who are doing that job to make sure that they have qualified this and registered it properly to demonstrate that they are competent to do the job. It cannot be that the onus is on that poor retired couple, just pulling an example out of the air.
Andrew Stunell: First of all, I think perhaps we need to take it in steps. The person who has been appointed or commissioned to carry out the work has an obligation to do it in a lawful way and to comply with building regulations. That includes going through the full compliance procedure. If the person the elderly couple has taken on board is a competent person, then that is a very clear route to getting compliance, because they can selfcertify themselves. If they employ somebody who is not such a person, then that other person can, at the moment, apply through the building regulatory system to get approval for the work that they have done. The proposal we are bringing forward is that, as well as having the option of going to the building regulatory system, they can themselves get a competent person to come and examine the work that they have done, which will be a much simpler route and which, I believe-and I think there is some evidence to support it-will tend to mean that more of these jobs are actually looked at and checked, because there will be a second and potentially substantially cheaper route to getting that examination carried out.
There is a broader point that the Committee is making about whether the commissioner or the owner of the building should have any ultimate liability if things go wrong. I would put to the Committee that that is actually analogous to owning a motor vehicle, where again you might be a little old lady who does not know whether or not it has a bald tyre, but you still have that obligation to make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. That is precisely the case that we have here.
Q101 Stephen Gilbert: Can I ask about the point Mr Brown made, which is that, whoever does the work, they have an obligation to get the work right? Can you develop that point slightly, because I think it is potentially putting the onus in two places rather than the point that my colleagues are exploring?
Peter Brown: It does. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, there is a set of regulations, the Electricity at Work Regulations, whereby anyone carrying out electrical work needs to be competent to do that work. In theory, the duty is there on a contractor, an installer, coming in to do the work safely. They could be open to prosecution if the work was not done safely.
Q102 Stephen Gilbert: Just to be clear: that is a duty regardless of whether the contractor is a member of a competent persons scheme.
Peter Brown: Yes, it is their duty as an employer or selfemployed person, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.
Q103 Bob Blackman: Can I just come back on that one? If I was an elderly man and decided to commission this work, how would I know someone was competent or not? They produce a piece of paper; I assume that is okay. The onus is on me then to make sure that this person has done the work properly. It still does not seem right.
Andrew Stunell: If the person doing the work or quoting to do the work is a competent person, it is highly likely that they will show their card, which illustrates that point. It will be a strong marketing point for any electrical firm or contractor to do that, and of course it would be just the same if it was an electrician who was carrying out work, say, for a kitchen installer. It would be very much to the advantage of the electrician to demonstrate their membership of a competent persons scheme. There is, if you like, a selfpromotion point as far as that goes. Of course, having a higher level of public and client awareness would be highly desirable and, indeed, there is a new requirement on scheme providers-that is to say the people who hold the registration of competent persons-to improve public awareness. It is a new requirement being placed on them, as part of their job, to make sure that awareness of their schemes is increased.
Q104 Mark Pawsey: Could I just ask one question? Doesn’t fear of these schemes and this awareness mean that people might actually be put off from having works that would improve their home, boost the economy and probably, ultimately, be safer than the existing installation? Isn’t there a worry that this will be detrimental to the trade generally?
Andrew Stunell: That comes back to the reason we are looking at this at all, which is to see whether the regulatory system we have at the moment is proportionate. If I take the current situation, if a householder was extremely diligent and fully aware of their responsibilities, then it might be that an application for regulatory approval for a comparatively minor electrical job that was going to cost them £200 might be a deterrent. It might also encourage a different client with a lower level of responsibility to bypass the system altogether and simply carry out the work. What I think is opening up with what we have in our consultation document is the opportunity for the diligent commissioner to get his work done with a lower regulatory cost by employing an electrician of his choice but getting a competent person to inspect the work, rather than the building control authority, and also perhaps by having a lower financial barrier, which will induce more people to actually go through a process of having their installation checked in the first place.
Q105 George Hollingbery: Who ensures that the people running the competent persons schemes are competent?
Andrew Stunell: The ownership of the whole process is in the Department, but we do have the UKAS providing the overall technical support for those schemes.
Q106 George Hollingbery: Does anybody inspect them directly? In short, is there somebody in the Department, a licensing authority, that says, "You are a reasonable organisation to be running a competent persons scheme"? Is that monitored on a regular basis?
Andrew Stunell: Yes, it is. We obviously take advice from those who have made an assessment of those schemes, but we do indeed have the ultimate responsibility.
Q107 George Hollingbery: Can you just describe to me how that inspection happens?
Andrew Stunell: Again, I would want to write to give you the details of the process. I know how it comes on to my desk, because I see recommendations that a particular scheme should or should not be approved or adjusted but, if you wanted more detail on that, it would probably be sensible for me to write separately to the Committee.
Q108 George Hollingbery: That is fair enough; we are talking about some fairly small details. If you could, that would be useful, Minister. We have had some representations giving us concern that there is a conflict of interest in some of these organisations. They are commercial businesses after all. They profit from the fact that people have to register with them and, therefore, you can envisage a difficulty that they might have in being entirely strict about whether people are or are not competent persons under the scheme. There is some perverse incentive in there to allow people to continue when they should not. Is any work being done on that at all?
Andrew Stunell: The same exists in all of these freestanding warranty schemes. One always has to ask the question of what is in it for them in turning people away or setting standards that are too high. That is where there is an overall supervisory function, which we briefly alluded to. Also, and I think you took some evidence on this in your last session, the schemes set themselves standards internally. They do check, they are required to check and there is an overlapping check carried out by the supervisory body. If we have reasonable grounds for thinking that standards are not being maintained, those are the kinds of cases that come on to my desk for me to take advice.
Q109 George Hollingbery: The Chief Executive of the NICEIC, Emma Clancy, was in front of us last week, and you may have read her evidence. She was talking about 10% of their members disappearing from the scheme each year either because the contractors have gone out of business or they have revoked their certificates or removed them for whatever reason. In your estimate, is that the sort of turnover-about 5% of the register in fact, each year-that you would expect from a business doing a rigorous job of checking its representatives?
Andrew Stunell: You would need to match that up against what evidence there is from the additional checking inspections that are held to see how many of those have safetycritical faults. The proportion with safetycritical faults is very much lower than that. I am not saying that there might not be other reasons for getting somebody off your register, which is not just about safety criticality, but there does not appear to be, at the moment, taking schemes as a whole, evidence that there are low standards. Indeed, the evidence that you have in front of you shows that, on the whole, standards are high and have been improving.
Q110 George Hollingbery: Just finally on this particular issue, there does some to be some difficulty. We heard from the gentleman who was the head of building regulations for local government last week, and had been in the Department-
Andrew Stunell: Mr Everall.
George Hollingbery: Indeed, Mr Everall-that there was some distance between the competent persons schemes and local authorities, or rather it was very patchy: that there were lots of different relationships in different areas. How do you think that local authorities and these competent persons schemes could work together to improve the situation for all?
Andrew Stunell: Most of the competent persons schemes work across a wide range of different local authorities. They will be in touch with many different local authorities and local authorities will also be in touch with many different competent persons schemes or their representatives. I do not have any evidence that that is a particularly difficult set of relationships, and I would be interested in hearing whether the Committee thinks that there is a problem. It is clearly important that there should be positive relationships to make sure that inspections are done, that they are registered and that the process works in that sense. In terms of marketing the need for Part P to be complied with and for people to understand, that is a specific new requirement that is now coming on to the competent persons schemes. Local authorities, generally speaking, have their own way of informing applicants of what their requirements are, as far as building regulations go. For instance, they produce booklets, leaflets or whatever so that, commonly when somebody applies for planning permission or puts in an application for building works, they will be supplied with some information about "Do not forget that you need to comply with this particular area of construction and get the regulations right." As to whether there are ways of linking those two initiatives in a more effective way, I am sure there are, and it would be interesting to see how we could do that in a proportionate way.
Q111 Heather Wheeler: Because we have been taking evidence about whether there ought to be a mandatory requirement for a competent persons scheme, it is getting round to having it like the gasfitters. The difficulty is we have heard evidence from two groups: the Residential Landlords Association in particular have their own boys who do work for them, and they would feel put to one side if there were a mandatory scheme. Do you think that you are getting to that stage? Are you considering that we will have an electrical competence scheme that will be mandatory?
Andrew Stunell: No, what we have is a competent persons scheme, which you can use if you want to. If you do not want to, you can use the building regulation local authority route. We could, at least in theory, have a system similar to the French or the Germans, which is basically that everything has to be done by a competent person, a special tradesman, which would obviously be quite different from the model we have in this country, where there is a high level of DIY and selfbuild works carried out. It would be quite a significant change in the culture of the building and home improvement industry, if we went to the requirement and obligation to use a competent person for all those kinds of jobs.
Q112 Heather Wheeler: Have you picked up on the fact that there is some suggestion that it might be a barrier to trade under EU requirements, if you went down that route? Is that one of the reasons why you are shy of doing it?
Andrew Stunell: I think there would only be a reason to do it if we thought there would be a significant improvement in safety. We do not believe it is justified by the evidence we have. The further question you raise is an interesting one. I do not want to get into a discussion about how the French have got away with it, but quite clearly there is a different model in one or two European countries, which is historical-these are not recent developments on their part-and really quite different from the nature of our own home selfimprovement, which is perhaps less prevalent in countries where home ownership is at a lower level.
Q113 Heather Wheeler: This is a cultural thing rather than the fact that your civil servants and advisers have actually come up with an evaluated cost benefit that we should not go down the mandatory route.
Andrew Stunell: No. In fact, the previous Government looked quite hard at this. Although I do not have at my fingertips the impact assessment and the conclusion they reached, I know that they did look at this and decided that it was not going to be a costeffective way forward. In the climate of the current Government, it would be a major regulatory step, which we would want to see real justification for before we considered doing it.
Q114 Chair: Presumably with this answer about not having a mandatory scheme because of the extent of DIY in this country, wouldn’t it be possible to have a mandatory scheme for all work that had to be paid for? Wouldn’t that get around the DIY point?
Andrew Stunell: You could indeed devise a scheme, I am sure, that would not be quite mandatory in that sense but, for all paidfor work, there are plenty of circumstances in which people get an electrician in to finish off some work or to do a job. What we have at the moment is a requirement that that should be approved through the local authority building regulatory framework. We have already discussed that there are perhaps a proportion of those jobs that, for a variety of reasons, do not ever get reported to the local authority. We think that we are actually getting something that will capture more of those, by giving an alternative route through the competent person being called in and delivering that approval at, foreseeably, a considerably reduced cost.
Q115 Simon Danczuk: Minister, you are insistent upon the onus being on the homeowner for regulating this work that is being done. What percentage of homeowners are unaware of the electrical building regulations?
Andrew Stunell: Perhaps I should slightly correct what you have said. What has to be the case and is the case at the moment is that the ultimate residual responsibility rests with the person who commissioned the work. It might be a homeowner; it might not be a homeowner. What proportion of people are aware of that is a question on which I do not have a number. What we do know is that a very large number of applications are made to the building regulatory system for electrical work each year, which suggests that a significant number of people, or, at least, that the contractors or electricians they use, are well aware of the fact that they have to make an application. There is a question to which I am not sure it is possible to have an answer, which is how many should have been applied for that were not, because that will be the fraction of people who did not know.
Q116 Simon Danczuk: That is your question, isn’t it, not mine? My question is what proportion of building owners or homeowners, call them what you will-commissioners of this type of work-are unaware of the electrical building regulations. I accept that you do not know the answer but, if there is an answer, if you could provide the Committee with it in due course, that would be appreciated. You mentioned earlier that the scheme managers have a new requirement to promote and publicise the regulations. Could you tell us just a little bit more about what you are asking them to do, whether it is compulsory and what the duty on them is in terms of publicising these regulations?
Andrew Stunell: Yes. Of course there is a linkage between the product that they are marketing and the regulations. The scheme owners themselves again gave you evidence last week that it is actually in their selfinterest to have a larger awareness of the need, because it is business for the people who are the competent persons they register. They accept that it would be valuable for them, as well as valuable more broadly, if they play a much stronger part in doing that. The requirement that we are putting on them is to develop a way of doing that. We have not, as far as I am aware at this moment, got from them an action plan about how that is going to happen.
Q117 Simon Danczuk: In terms of the new requirements on these scheme managers to publicise these regulations that we believe the vast majority are unaware of, you are unsure as to what the new requirements are yet. It is not set out; it is not clear.
Andrew Stunell: The details of how the scheme managers set about the requirement we have placed on them are not settled yet. I am happy to give the Committee what insight is available as to the direction of travel on that, but I think we are some way away from being able to say to you, "This is what you will see on the ground."
Q118 Simon Danczuk: Finally, if it turns out you are unaware of what awareness the commissioners, the homeowners, the building owners have around these regulations, then it will be very difficult for you to measure what effect the scheme managers are having in terms of you new requirements. Do you follow what I am saying there?
Andrew Stunell: I do, but I think you just need to look at the number of applications that are made. Clearly, if there is a significant deficit or shortfall in the number of applications for approval, and this activity results in a surge of new applications, then that would be some indication that it was working, and that there was a deficit. As I say, a very large number of applications have already been made, and the extent to which there is a failure to apply for approval is, in the nature of things, an unknown. The prosecutions that I think were reported to you last week were in cases where both work had not been approved at all and places where it had been done incorrectly. Those are the kinds of pieces of evidence that would have to emerge.
Q119 Simon Danczuk: The simple thing to do would be to do a survey of homeowners and say, "Are you aware of the electrical building regulations?" Then you have a baseline. Let us presume that 20% of them are aware of them, just for argument’s sake. That is a baseline from which you can measure in future years whether the scheme managers’ new requirements are effective or not. If that increases from 20% to 30% or 40%, they would be having some success in publicising the regulations. Would that not be a way forward?
Andrew Stunell: It would be a possibility. If we were to go down that route, we would need to make sure we were asking the right question. The question is not: do you know anything about Part P? The question is: if you carry out serious electrical work, did you realise you need permission? That is actually the question that matters. The evidence from the number of applications is that a very large number of people do know that or they employ people who know that, and that may be sufficient, as it is with the gas regulations. One could ask this about quite a lot of things, as to what levels of awareness people have got. I think it is absolutely right to make sure that more people do understand that, if they carry out serious electrical work, they have to get permission.
Q120 Chair: Moving on to the gas situation: Mr Brown, if we were developing a new system completely from scratch for gas installations, would we devise one where requirements were in two completely different legislative regimes, the building regulations and gas safety regulations? It almost seems to be a system designed to create some confusion.
Peter Brown: I think it is a system that is understood by the people who operate within it, but I accept that there is some confusion. You have responsibilities going in two directions. We are certainly looking at the overlap between the two schemes to see if it can be simplified. The schemes have arisen for different reasons. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations came out of a concern about the number of gas explosions, and the decision to look at the competence and quality of fitting work. The building regulations are looking at the installation and correct ventilation of gas within buildings. There is an overlap, but there are different origins. If we had our time again and could start from scratch, we might bring them together but, at the moment, we manage to make them work pretty well.
Q121 Chair: You do not think there is a case for fundamental reform.
Peter Brown: I do not think so. The challenge is to look at that overlap and to try to simplify the lines of notification, potentially looking at putting notifications through the Gas Safe Register and then also meeting your building regulations duties at the same time. That is one route we would like to explore.
Q122 Simon Danczuk: Is the fact that at least 50% of all gas work carried out in the UK is considered to be illegal a failure of the regulation or of noncompliance?
Peter Brown: I would have to disagree with those figures, and I can give you our figures, if you like, in a written submission. Our own estimates, based on survey work done by the Gas Safe Register, is that there are about 7,000 illegal operations going on, which comprise about 6% of gas work. We would say about 6% of gas work is illegal. There is another set of figures that says about 50% of work is not notified, which is clearly a problem under the building regulations, but in terms of work done by nonregistered gas operatives, we think it is about 6%. I will let you have the figures that came to us from the Gas Safe Register.
Q123 Simon Danczuk: Just for clarity, that figure comes from the Association of Registered Gas Installers. You are aware of where it has come from, are you? You just do not think they have got it right.
Peter Brown: I am aware of it, but I do not think they have got it right. I would not like to comment on where the figures have come from, but I can give you our figures, which are based on recent survey work by the Register of current operations.
Q124 Simon Danczuk: Have you spoken to them about their figures?
Peter Brown: No, not yet.
Q125 Simon Danczuk: But you will do. It seems a large difference, doesn’t it?
Peter Brown: Yes. There are about 130,000 registered engineers. If you added on the potential number of illegal workers on top of that, you would have a phenomenal number out there of illegal operatives. It does not seem to hang together to us. We feel that 6% seems a much more likely figure.
Q126 Simon Danczuk: Minister, are there any proposals to streamline or remove areas of Part J, in terms of the regulations? It is around combustion and things like that, I think, rather than gas.
Andrew Stunell: There was a full review in 2010, and we have not seen any evidence to suggest that further changes are needed. There are no proposals in our current consultation.
Q127 Simon Danczuk: Peter, you are comfortable with that fact-how Part J interfaces with gas regulations and everything else. There is no need for change.
Peter Brown: We are, other than that we would like to look at the overlap of notifications.
Q128 Simon Danczuk: You do want to look at it.
Peter Brown: With our colleagues in DCLG.
Q129 Simon Danczuk: You are saying, Minister, that there is not a need to do that.
Andrew Stunell: You asked me the question, and there is no proposal in our consultation to make changes. Obviously, if there are issues about notification and enforcement, the consultation does include compliance. We are working closely with colleagues in HSE to see if there is any change that is needed on that front.
Q130 George Hollingbery: On the inspection point, the 50% noncompliance point, if 50% of works are not notified, how do you know to inspect them and know they are safe? Therefore, how can you be confident that only 6% are improperly fitted? Do you understand what I am saying here? I am slightly confusing myself.
Peter Brown: Yes, there are a large number of-Donald Rumsfeld-unknowns out there that we are not getting to. The Gas Safe Register believes that they are picking up information about illegal work, and it will not always be through the notification route. There will be information coming from legal operations that are aware of illegal work going on.
Q131 George Hollingbery: You understand my point. If 50% are not being notified to building regulations, you do not know they have happened, so how do you inspect them and know that they are compliant? You do not.
Peter Brown: We would not be able to, no.
Q132 George Hollingbery: Minister, this is, I am afraid, slightly from left field, and it is the result of a meeting I had last week. It is about Part L and propane gas. Now you may very well not be briefed on this, and I would understand why, and perhaps you might want to write to us if you do not know the answer, but there seems to be some move towards not allowing propane to be used for new developments in the countryside in Part L, or at least there has been some talk of that happening. Do you have any information on that at all, as we sit here today?
Andrew Stunell: There is nothing in the building control system that governs what fuel should be used at all. There are rules, for instance, about combustion and dealing with noxious fumes and so on, but that is independent of the fuel source. I am not aware of the point that you are making.
Q133 George Hollingbery: I think the question here is about energy compliance, the source of propane and its carbon content. Because we were talking about gas, I thought it was reasonable, in terms of the brief today, to talk about it. Builders were given a break previously on propanedriven systems, because they were recognised as energy inefficient, but the new regulations may well outlaw them, because the source is coal, I believe. Therefore, they are ultimately going to be deemed not to be energy compliant. Is that something you are consulting on?
Andrew Stunell: Yes, indeed. Currently there is a discount in terms of the energy performance that a building has to achieve in certain circumstances. We are consulting on whether that discount should continue in place or not. I may be jumping to a conclusion here to a question that, as was said, is slightly outside the immediate brief, but yes, we are consulting on whether that discount should be removed. The logic behind that is there is no particular reason why people in rural offgrid houses should have homes built to a lower energy performance standard than those in urban and ongrid places. Therefore, there should be the same standard, comfort level, build arrangements and so on. It is a matter for consultation and obviously there will be those who will comment adversely on the proposal.
Q134 George Hollingbery: In conclusion, ultimately what you are saying is that people who live in rural homes, off grid, should pay more for their homes.
Andrew Stunell: Of course, it cuts both ways, doesn’t it, Chairman, because if they have homes that require far less fuel to heat, because they have been built to a higher standard, they will in the long term spend less money? That is the question that is in the consultation: should there be a lower standard of energy performance required of those homes, which is the current situation, if they are built new, or should we require the same standard of energy performance from homes right across the country?
George Hollingbery: I do not want to pursue it too much further, but I think the point actually is that, in terms of energy performance, these offgrid solutions like propane perform just as well as mains gas. It is the production of them that produces the carbon deficit rather than anything else, but I think I am going to be throttled by colleagues if I carry on with this for too long, so I shall leave it there.
Q135 Bob Blackman: Much of the evidence we have had so far about the electrical industry suggests that a similar type of scheme to Gas Safe should be introduced for electrical installations. We have had presented to us today a fairly thick booklet on Gas Safe but, Mr Brown, could you give us a brief overview of what Gas Safe does? I have some questions I would like to ask about whether that might be applicable to electrical installations as well.
Peter Brown: Sure. It might help if I very briefly refer to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations, which make it a legal requirement that the installation and maintenance of gas appliances should be done by a suitably qualified person. From that point, we then treat "suitably qualified" as someone who is on the Gas Safe Register. The Gas Safe Register will only accept people on to the Register if they can demonstrate competence through the possession of a number of exam passes, certificates, whatever, in competence exams that are established by the industry. You have a legal requirement under the regulations. You have competence schemes developed by the industry and they come together with a register.
The Register is then available for a consumer to consult about the skills and competence of registered operatives. It also checks the quality of work and the performance of engineers. It also has been tasked by the HSE to improve consumer awareness of gas safety, and has run a number of public awareness campaigns. Last year was the first Gas Safety Week. Recently there was a story on EastEnders about CO poisoning. It holds a register available to the public; it carries out quality assurance; it carries out inspection activities and promotes consumer awareness.
Q136 Bob Blackman: That is very helpful. How confident are you, both Mr Brown and the Minister, that the scheme is working so that people are actually competent, they are doing the job and there are not all sorts of ne’erdowells out there taking on work in this way?
Peter Brown: One set of figures that to me demonstrates improvements is that, in the late 1990s, there were approximately 30 deaths a year from CO poisoning from mains gas. That has fallen to about half that level over the last 20 years. Certainly in the last five years, we have seen 12 to 15 deaths a year, so again it is hard to make the exact link, but something is going right out there. In terms of consumer awareness, we asked the Register to carry out surveys each year to see what the levels of consumer awareness are, and again you can measure a rise in the rate of awareness. Something similar could be done around the electricity sector.
Q137 Bob Blackman: Minister, are you content that this is working as a scheme, as it stands?
Andrew Stunell: Yes.
Q138 Bob Blackman: Do you see a need for any improvements to the scheme?
Andrew Stunell: Mr Brown has made the point about making sure that the overlap between the two systems is effective. The competent persons scheme, as it applies, say, to electrical work, has a broader edge in increasing the awareness of the competent person of other aspects of building regulations that they need to take into account. If I can give an apparently trivial example, putting in electrical cabling may result in penetrating a wall and reducing its energy performance or creating other problems. Under the competent persons scheme, the person is required to be competent in the understanding of what they can and cannot do to the rest of the building. That is a more extensive approach, to have a competent person there, than being a Gas Safe installer, which is concerned with making sure the gas does not leak and so on. There are some differences that perhaps could usefully be brought together in the future.
Q139 Bob Blackman: What is the process for discovering fraud? Are people either registering things that are not competently done or spotting work that has not been registered? What is the process? Talk me through what happens.
Peter Brown: In terms of the Register, it has a riskbased inspection process, and I can provide details of how the Register targets its inspection work, along with the figures on illegal work. It might be quite helpful to have both those bits of data.
Bob Blackman: I think that would be helpful to have as background.
Peter Brown: As I was saying earlier, some of that is feedback from other businesses, including concerns about poor performance. Some of it is a response from consumers who have noticed problems themselves or have had other tradespeople into the house who have said, "Look, that really is not a safe piece of work. You need to contact someone about that." Clearly there is reactiveaftertheevent inspection insurance, when unfortunately something has gone wrong.
Q140 Bob Blackman: Is there a process of spot checks on sampling a number of installations?
Peter Brown: There is sampling, yes.
Q141 Bob Blackman: How many samples would there be, for example?
Peter Brown: I would have to find the figures on that.
Q142 Bob Blackman: That sort of detail would be quite interesting. Finally from me, there is obviously a lot of concern about DIY electrical installations, but there is also an allowance for doityourself gas installations, assuming they consider themselves competent. How does the HSE take into account the fact of doityourself operations within the regulations?
Peter Brown: There is provision within the regulations to do it yourself, if you feel you are competent. We would not target our attention on that area. Our main focus is on-
Q143 Bob Blackman: On tradespeople?
Peter Brown: -on tradespeople under the Act. Do it yourself is outside the Act, except clearly, if something goes wrong, we would be interested in working out exactly what had happened.
Q144 Bob Blackman: Have you got any feel for the numbers of installations that are done on a doityourself basis, on gas installations?
Peter Brown: I do not have any figures. I can ask, but I suspect there may not be figures.
Q145 Bob Blackman: It is just a feel for the extent of it that I am looking for.
Peter Brown: I would hope the numbers are relatively small, given the awareness campaigns that have been going on.
Bob Blackman: So would I.
Q146 Stephen Gilbert: Can I just push a bit further on the numbers that you cited on those who may have died as a result of poisoning from carbon monoxide? Last week, the Gas Industry Safety Group gave us Department of Health figures that suggested that 4,000 people get symptoms; 200 have to stay over at A&E; and there about 50 deaths a year. I think you just said, in answer to a question from a colleague, about 12 deaths.
Peter Brown: From mains gas. You need to add in that there are many sources of CO. The 50 figure includes suicides, unfortunately. There are 12 to 15, mains gas. There are about seven or eight, solid fuel, then there is a miscellany of other sources, such as car engines and barbecues brought inside buildings. It can be broken down.
Q147 Stephen Gilbert: Could you perhaps, through the Chair, just circulate the breakdown over recent years, just to see trends within that?
Peter Brown: Yes.
Q148 Mark Pawsey: Minister, if I heard you correctly, you said earlier that there was a review of gas safety regulations in 2010, most recently. Is that right?
Andrew Stunell: Yes.
Q149 Mark Pawsey: Were there any changes made to the regulations at that time?
Andrew Stunell: I am not aware that there were, but I will check that point.
Q150 Mark Pawsey: They were looked at and broadly seen to be satisfactory.
Andrew Stunell: Yes.
Q151 Mark Pawsey: Is there a plan for any future look at those regulations, in the near future?
Andrew Stunell: Perhaps I should say that the system of reviewing building regulations is on a threeyear cycle. There was an update in 2010, and the consultation we are carrying out now is with a view to introducing any changes in 2013. That is to allow time for industry to adapt to any changes. The next change after that one we would normally anticipate being in 2016, so there would be a threeyear cycle. Obviously, if a particular issue emerges-say perhaps in relation to a new technology or a suddenly perceived threat-there is scope to make alterations more frequently, but that is the general pattern of change.
Q152 Mark Pawsey: Generally at the last review, the regulations were found to be fit for purpose and there were no further changes necessary.
Andrew Stunell: Yes.
Q153 Mark Pawsey: Can I just ask one question? Consumers often see gas and electricity in similar terms. They are services that are provided at their home; they are often bought from the same supplier; they know that specialists are needed, in most instances, to come and bring those in. Doesn’t it make sense to have a regime that is identical for both systems? Wouldn’t that be simpler for everybody?
Andrew Stunell: When Part P was first introduced in 2005, that was one of the considerations. Would it make sense to have essentially a parallel or identical scheme? The decision then-obviously I did not participate in that decision-was not to do so, on the grounds of the cost and bureaucracy not being justified in terms of the benefit. Gas installation failures are much more likely to cause wider risks of explosion, multiple fatalities and fires, which is very rarely the case with electrical faults. There is a high level of DIY work going on, and we have already discussed the question of whether people are actually driven out of the regulatory system by it being too expensive or too difficult. It was seen in 2005 as more likely to drive people underground than to produce a better regulated scheme, so what we have now is a competent persons scheme that we are proposing to make more flexible in the ways that I have described, which I think is a proportionate way to deal with the risks that we are trying to tackle here. It might look kind of symmetrical to make it the same as gas, but there are two different problems and different risks, which have to be accommodated.
Q154 Simon Danczuk: Peter, just to clarify something briefly, before I go on to my final question, about the amount of illegal gas work that is being done, I quoted the Association of Registered Gas Installers saying about 50% of gas work was illegal. We had a look at the evidence that was given last week to the Committee. Simon Ayers, who I questioned, the Service Director at the Gas Safe Register, estimated 55% illegal work. Is it only you who thinks it is under 10%?
Peter Brown: My figures come from the Register, so Simon and I will need to have a discussion. The figures I have suggest, and these do come from the Register, that there are about 7,500 gas operatives working illegally, generating about 250,000 jobs a year, which comprise about 6% of the total of all gas work. I think Simon may have been referring to the 55% of jobs that fail to be notified under the building regulations. It is a simple task for me to check with Simon and provide you with the material.
Q155 Simon Danczuk: What they say in their evidence is: "From work inspected, 6% has been identified to be unsafe. This compares to an unsafe defect rate of 55% from work that was carried out illegally by unregistered workers with the work not notified to LABC," local authority building control, presumably. Perhaps you can clarify and come back to us.
Peter Brown: Yes, I will do.
Q156 Simon Danczuk: Minister, we have heard lots of written and oral evidence urging for the requirement for CO alarms to be fitted in buildings containing gas appliances. Why is this not part of the proposed changes to the building regulations? Why aren’t you proposing this change?
Andrew Stunell: The current building regulations require CO detectors where there are solid fuel appliances. Solid fuel appliances are about 10 times more likely than gas to generate CO2 emissions when they should not do. It is a question of proportionality in terms of the risk or the threat that there is of CO2 poisoning, and making sure that we have a proportional regime.
Q157 Simon Danczuk: You do not feel there is a need for CO alarms basically. You do not feel there is a need.
Andrew Stunell: Basically, the regulations would be applied in situations where new gas installations were being put in, because that is when the regulations would bite. Those are put in in accordance with the gas fitting regulations. There is a requirement there for the testing and so on, so it would not be a proportionate response, no.
Q158 Simon Danczuk: Gregory Barker MP, the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, your colleague, supports the idea of proposals to include CO alarm requirements as part of the Green Deal initiative. Does that contradict what you were saying or is that fine?
Andrew Stunell: I was not aware of that, but what I would say is that clearly the requirements of the Green Deal are a matter for that Department to decide. It would not be a regulatory requirement; it would be a condition for delivering a grant. Clearly it is open to the designers of that scheme to decide what additional provisions they want to include.
Q159 Simon Danczuk: They obviously think it is important. Peter, finally, from an HSE perspective, do you have a view on this?
Peter Brown: I would say that we recommend the fitting of CO alarms and the use of CO alarms, but our focus is primarily on getting people to install their appliances professionally and service them regularly to take the problem out at source. CO alarms are very useful, but it is much better to ensure that there will not be a leak in the first place, through using professionals to install and maintain gas appliances.
Q160 Chair: It does seem, Minister, that it is a bit like one Department not quite knowing what the other one is doing in respect of CO alarms. Given it has been an issue that your Department clearly has looked at, for another Department to then bring out some rules connected with Government grants, it does appear that it is not quite a joinedup approach.
Andrew Stunell: The advice I have received is that the Green Deal CO details have not yet been set out, so I do not know what information you have that I have not, Chairman, but I would be very happy to provide you with a further note, depending on the outcome.
Q161 Chair: That would be helpful, because the information we had was that there was going to be a requirement on installers to check whether the air tightness of properties had changed and, in the light of that, to look at putting a mandatory requirement for carbon monoxide alarms to go in. That does seem a very complicated way. Wouldn’t it just be easier to link the Green Deal funding to a carbon monoxide alarm system, full stop?
Andrew Stunell: I cannot comment on what would or would not be a good idea for the Green Deal, certainly not in this session, but I am very happy to supply you with a note when we have had some discussions.
Q162 Chair: Finally, going back to public awareness, which we talked about on the electrical issues, is there more that needs to be done to raise public awareness about these issues and, if so, who should be responsible for it?
Andrew Stunell: We are certainly saying that, in terms of having competent persons schemes, the owners of those schemes have got an obligation, which we are seeking to work with them on to deliver. We have already raised the question of where the local authorities have a role to play, and most local authorities and building control authorities would routinely supply applicants with information about the scope of building regulations and what they needed to do to comply with them. I certainly share the view of the Committee that there is more that could be done in both of those areas.
Q163 Chair: In gas safety, are there any particular further issues, Mr Brown, which you would like to raise?
Peter Brown: No, other than that I think raising awareness is critical for gas safety. From our experience, it is expensive and you need sustained efforts. I suspect it would be very similar for the electrical issue as well.
Q164 Chair: We talked about local authorities. We talked about the competent persons scheme. Is there a need for Government to take a lead and pull all this together because, in the end, the public does not compartmentalise these issues into different bits? They just see gas issues and I wonder whether the Government has a responsibility to take a lead to try to improve awareness.
Andrew Stunell: We are making sure that the competent persons schemes take those responsibilities seriously. It is worth reminding the Committee that there are 39,000 people who are registered competent persons to do electrical work. It is to their personal advantage to make sure that all the installations are done by competent persons. It is to the advantage of the schemes to promote the competent person route to compliance, and I think it is right for us to put the primary responsibility, which goes with their marketing interest as well as any other ethical interest, on to them, and that is what we are doing. As I said to the Chairman earlier, we are very happy to update the Committee when we have a clearer view of how that is going to be achieved.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed to both of you for coming in today.