The government's quality mark scheme will be launched on 22 May in Birmingham and Somerset after 275 builders took up the DETR's cut-price offer to join up.
Construction minister Nick Raynsford announced the date in parliament on Wednesday in a written response to a question from Labour MP Andrew Love.

A DETR spokesperson said 165 builders from Birmingham had completed applications and 110 from Somerset. They are a mixture of contractors, electricians, plumbers and roofers.

The spokesperson said: "We are very pleased with the response that we have had. The mixture of the trades is very wide." The spokesperson said the department expected the number to increase on a weekly basis. Seven firms have been vetted and accepted for inclusion on the quality mark list.

When the scheme gets under way, customers will be able to phone a call centre where their requests will be handled. The DETR intends to spend money on an advertising campaign in the two pilot areas to coincide with the launch.

The DETR is expecting to hold a six-month review of the pilot schemes in November.

The launch is a massive boost to the scheme, which has been slow to take off after firms insisted they already had enough work.

We are very pleased with the response that we have had. The mixture of the trades is very wide

DETR spokesperson

The £350 discount was a last-ditch attempt to boost recruitment.

The DETR also contacted 11 trade bodies and asked them to find between five and 10 firms to sign up in the pilot areas. Their fees and application costs are to be covered by the government.

The pilots were launched last April, after a DETR working party inquiry into cowboy building practices.

A number of amendments were then made to the way the scheme operated. Changes to the registration form were introduced in July when firms complained that it was overly bureaucratic.

Trade associations were called in last November after complaining that they had not been involved closely enough in the operation of the scheme.