Know a bloke who can sort your electrics? For a good price? Well, only if you don’t include the £5000 fine from your newly empowered building control officer

Come on then, answer the question: “How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “There is nothing wrong with that light bulb and my client demands an immediate apology and damages!” The ODPM is having a kick at cowboy builders and a kick at those DIY folk by bringing in a set of rules for electrical work in the home.

From the start of last month the local authority building control officer has to be informed when you decide to light up your driveway with one of those 1000 W floods that burst into action at 2am when a moggy traipses by.

Put simply, from now on, if you intend to put in extra power points or lighting points in your bathroom, kitchen, or even carry out repairs in such tricky areas of the house, stop, pause, find the phone number of building control.

And, if you decide to phone a bricklayer friend with an interest in electrics or your uncle Fred, that won’t do.

Doing electrical work in the home is now covered by the Building Regulations for England and Wales. Scotland was ahead of the game; it has already addressed electrical safety. Look, the Building Regulations are all about standards for health and safety around buildings. True, they nudge into areas of energy conservation and access to buildings.

Another truth is that there is a legal presumption that you followed the guidance in the regulations. The building control officer is interested in whether you have complied with the principles upon which the regulations are based rather than a specific detail or design.

But if you give the regulations the elbow the local authority can bring you to the magistrates’ court, label you a criminal, give you a £5000 fine plus £50 for each day the contravention continues, to say nothing of an enforcement notice.

Okay, you decide that the electrical work is worthy of a phone call to building control. Likely you will be told to get an expert in. This person is “an installer who is registered with a competent person scheme”. There are two types. One is limited to doing electrical work “only if it is necessary when carrying out other work” (an example is the CORGI services) and the other is certified “to do all electrical installation work” (this chap may have a BRE certificate). There are a handful of certifiers, so check carefully. Of course you can bypass building control if you go straight to a contractor installer. You can check their credentials by speaking to the certifying body. Thereafter the electrician is responsible for looking after all regulations, so rest easy. On completion you will receive a certificate of compliance. There is also supposed to be an option to take out an insurance-backed guarantee for the work. If the fellow hasn’t behaved, the certifying bodies have a formal complaints procedure. Doing all this through a general building contractor sounds okay to me. But you builders will have to do all the checking and get the certificate on completion.

Plugging away
Plugging away

Two free booklets are available, courtesy of John Prescott, on the ODPM website. The first is Building Regulations Explanatory Booklet. It has a picture of the deputy prime minister on almost every page. Seriously, it’s easy to read. Full marks, ODPM. The booklet is wrong (now) where it says installing or replacing electrical wiring is beyond the remit of the regulations. So go to the second booklet The Building Regulations 2000, Electrical Safety Approved Document P.

Two more points. Selling a property may be difficult when you can’t produce the right safety certificate. I can see panic at conveyancing stage. Take it all seriously. The other is the bright idea of having licensed installers, certified tradesmen. Hurrah. Can we think about expanding this to those who install purported fire-rated elements of buildings?

A “two-hour fire-rated” ceiling or partition will not work at all if the fitter doesn’t follow the installation rules. So too the fire-rated door installer and others besides.

By the way the 1000 W light doesn’t work now. Nor does the cat. How many deputy prime ministers does it take to change that light bulb?

Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. Email him at

But if you give the regulations the elbow, the local authority can take you to the magistrates’ court and label you a criminal