DETR insiders admit quality mark is in “big trouble” as BRE says assessment costs have doubled.

THE government is being forced to pour more cash into its ailing anti-cowboy scheme after the firm responsible for vetting applicant has said it cannot do so within the budget set.

The BRE, which is responsible for vetting applicants for the quality mark, has asked for extra money to cover the higher than expected assessment costs.

The BRE has said it cannot assess each firm for the £500 originally proposed and is understood to have told the government that the true cost of assessing even the smallest company is about £1000. The government has said it will make up the shortfall rather than pass it on to builders, who have already complained about the £500 fee.

In a further blow to the scheme, it has emerged that the UK Accreditation Service, the public-private body responsible for validation, is not satisfied with the level of information specified in the forms and will not give the quality mark its stamp of approval.

A spokesperson for the DETR said of the latest problems: “The BRE is having difficulty keeping costs within the scale. But they have only certified one builder so far, and we expect their costs to be reduced as more firms apply.” He denied that UKAS was not satisfied with the assessment criteria.

Construction minister Nick Raynsford criticised media coverage of the scheme this week, saying that more than 300 builders in Birmingham, where the scheme is being piloted, were “seriously looking” at the scheme.

However, senior DETR officials concede that the scheme is in such difficulty that the only way to rescue it would be for Raynsford to be promoted to another department. Insiders say this will provide an excuse to delay the scheme while another minister grapples with the brief. It has been rumoured for some time that Raynsford could be in line for a position at the Foreign Office.

One DETR insider said: “The scheme is in big trouble. Builders aren’t interested in paying the £500, and the government now faces a situation where it will have to subsidise the scheme quite heavily if it is to keep it on track.”

The recent problems are the latest to hit the initiative for tackling rogue traders. The Birmingham pilot was delayed because of low take-up among firms. The scheme has also been criticised for being overly bureaucratic and the application forms too detailed.

To tackle these problems, the government is about to launch a series of workshops and “one-to-one” visits to firms in Birmingham to provide help and advice.