Part P rewrote the rules on domestic electrical installations. Self-certification avoids the need for local authority inspections, and several schemes now make this possible. Alex Smith, with a little help from the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, offers a guide to what's available

From 1 january 2005, electrical installations in dwellings in England and Wales have had to be carried out according to Part P of the Building Regulations.

The requirement applies to installations which operate at low voltage or extra-low voltage. To comply, electrical installers have to apply the "fundamental principles" for safety set out in BS 7671. The designs and installations then have to be inspected by a building control officer or be self-certified by an electrician registered with an approved competent person scheme.

The safety requirement is applicable to alterations and additions to existing installations (including rewires), as well as to new construction. There is a requirement to ensure that the parts of an existing installation upon which new work depends for safety (such as the earthing and bonding arrangement) also comply with the requirements of BS 7671.

Building control officers are still coming to terms with the new regulation. In a circular earlier this year, the ODPM acknowledged many building control departments lacked the expertise required to check electrical work. It rather churlishly suggested that local authorities could make up the deficit by making more resources available for the enforcement of Part P - possibly from the extra fees raised from carrying out Part P inspections.

The alternative to having work inspected by local authorities is to use an electrical installer who has gained certification through an approved competent person scheme. There are 10 schemes in total: five that offer full competency, and five that are designed to offer competency where electrical installation is not the primary trade.

There has been a surge of interest in self-certification schemes since 1 January. According to the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, it has received enquiries from 30,000 of the UK's 61,000 electrical firms about self-certification. By 30 June, more than 14,500 businesses had registered with the NICEIC's Domestic Installer Scheme.

A tendency for local authorities to only recognise the well-known schemes has led the government to sending them an official reminder that contracts for electrical work should be offered to all those registered with any of the 10 approved schemes.

To ensure compliance with Part P, knowledge of what work needs to be notified to building control is vital. Unless a business or individual has registration with a Part P competent person scheme, they must notify building control before any electrical installation work begins.

Work needs to be notified if it is being undertaken in a kitchen, bathroom or garden. Examples where notification is required in other rooms include a complete installation or rewire, installing electric ceiling or floor heating, and for installing solar photovoltaic power supply.

Some over-zealous councils have been insisting that homeowners use a certified person to check their work, which is not the case. To clear the misunderstanding, ODPM has issued a circular to local authorities stating that homeowners were indeed allowed to have their work inspected by building control.

Full Competence Schemes

BRE Certification

Operated with the support of the Electrical Contractors Association and the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

British Standards Institute
Known as the Kitemark Scheme.

Operated with the support of the British Board of Agrément.

National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers Certification

National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting
Known as the Domestic Installer Scheme.

Defined competence schemes

These are designed for those for whom electrical installation is a secondary operation, such as heating installers and kitchen fitters.

CORGI Services
Enables CORGI registered gas installers to self-certify their electrical installations.

A scheme operated as a joint venture between the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme and the British Board of Agrément, for tradesmen who undertake domestic electrical installation work.

National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers Certification

National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting

Oil Firing Technical Association for the Petroleum Industry
This scheme is designed only for members of the OFTEC installation of oil-fired combustion appliance competent person scheme.