Builders lay foundation for quality: Construction firms are trying to oust the cowboy image with guarantees, writes Paul Gosling

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The Independent Online
BUILDERS have set up a new scheme aimed at giving consumers assurances about quality in an industry which is notorious for its cowboys.

The Chartered Building Company Scheme was set up by the Chartered Institute of Building, an organisation representing builders who have passed examinations at degree level.

For a company to belong to the scheme, at least half its directors must be members of the Chartered Institute of Building, and 75 per cent of the board must be members of the chartered institute that applies to their profession, such as those which exist for surveyors and accountants. There are now 200 members of the scheme, including Bovis, Wimpey and other large contractors. However, small companies comprise the vast majority of the membership.

Creation of the Chartered Building Company Scheme involved four years of negotiation with the Privy Council, which controls the use of the word 'chartered'.

The Consumers' Association has welcomed the scheme, and is pleased that the CIOB has advised consumers not to pay in advance for building work. But it is concerned that the scheme does not include any form of guarantee to ensure people will receive refunds on faulty work if the member firm goes out of business or fails to put problems right. Several other building trade associations do run such schemes (see below).

The CIOB relies instead on a conciliation service, which is binding on members, although it admits that this may not always protect the consumer if a business ceases trading. The building industry's many trade associations have varied criteria for vetting and policing members. Terry Babbs, the assistant director of trading standards for Leicestershire County Council, said: 'The home improvement trade is characterised by many trade associations, and many, many builders not aligned to any association.'

The associations themselves warn that rogue builders may use an association logo on their letterhead without being members, and recommend that an association is contacted to confirm membership and to provide references. Some local authorities compile an approved list of builders, aimed at homeowners seeking renovation grants, but this does not guarantee that the work will be trouble-free.

Leicester City Council won the National Home Improvement Council's award last year for its advice service to owner-occupiers. Domini Gunn, the city council's area manager, says difficulties can arise even with builders on an approved list, particularly when it comes to work on damp-proofing.

The Chartered Institute of Building is at Inglemere, Kings Ride, Ascot, Berkshire. 0344 23355.

Schemes providing safeguards:

New homes, to be subject to a mortgage, must be built by members of the National House-Building Council. Membership provides a 10-year guarantee, underwritten by the NHBC, to cover any big structural problems in new homes, but not home improvements. The council will award membership only if it finds the applicant's finances to be in order, and previous and current work to be of good quality. Members must pay a fee.

Some members of the Building Employers Confederation are in the independently run Building Guarantee Scheme, underwritten by Aegon Insurance. The scheme guarantees all work for six months and structural work for a further two years, financed by a 1 per cent surcharge on work. To join the BEC, references are required from accountant, architect or surveyor, bank, supplier and two clients, along with a fee.

The National Registered Builders' Association underwrites an optional 10-year guarantee for its members, which is funded by a 2.5 per cent surcharge on work. Members must take out liability insurance, provide three client references, and pay a fee.

The Federation of Master Builders has an optional warranty scheme (called the National Register of Warrantied Builders), which applies for five years on structural matters, and two years for small defects. It is financed by a 1 per cent surcharge on work. Members must take out liability insurance, provide two client references, have traded for over a year, and pay a fee. The Guild of Master Craftsmen operates a mediation and arbitration service for disputes, which both parties must agree to abide by for it to be operational. Members must take out liability insurance, provide four client references, and pay a fee.

The League of Professional Craftsmen has a binding arbitration scheme for all its members. There is also an optional guarantee scheme, running for five or 10 years according to the type of work, which is funded by a 1 per cent surcharge on work and underwritten by Sentinel Securities. Members must take out liability insurance, provide three client references, and pay a fee.

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