Membership of Elecsa’s Part P certification scheme is soaring under ECA ownership. Tracy Edwards asks director Steve Mitchell what’s on offer

Have members benefited from any enhancements since Elecsa came under ECA ownership?

The ECA has brought benefits such as Bupa to Elecsa. We can also offer instalment plans for registrants now as well. Essentially, there are things that a large institution can offer that a small organisation can’t. The status and pedigree of the ECA has been brought to Elecsa as well.

The ECA also has a stake in the BRE Certification scheme. Have you ever considered joining forces?

There are plans to merge the two schemes together. We’re only licensed to use the BRE mark until the end of October, so we’ll be looking into it quite some time before then.

The BRE members are now recognising the benefits of being an Elecsa member and are slowly migrating over.

Why do you think that is?

It’s partly the branding. We offer a lot of technical support that is branded Elecsa and it gives contractors that badge, which shows them to be professionals. BRE didn’t feel the need to do that, because its registrants mostly consisted of ECA members, so the ECA was providing them with that support already.

There is talk of applying risk assessment to certification. How would this work?

The issue we have at the moment is that the frequency is nailed down. The Communities and Local Government (CLG) department insists on annual surveillance visits. But people are calling for a risk-based approach. The government has released a consultation document on it.

What it means is that if there is nothing raised during the assessment visit that might be a cause for concern, an assessor can extend the period between surveillance visits to 18 months or maybe two years. The limit for UKAS-accredited schemes is three years.

However, the next assessment might then take more than the current half-day, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The real downside is that an assessor might then decide that a contractor who is borderline has to be seen twice a year.

I like the approach, though, because it puts a carrot there for contractors to raise their standards.

There are still many contractors out there who are not Part P-accredited, and there have been very few prosecutions. Why should they feel the need to join up?

There are a fair few contractors who aren’t doing it, but the enforcement regime is increasing. The LABC (local authority building control services) has a whistle-blowers scheme, so that if a registered contractor knows that they have lost a job to a non-registered contractor, they can inform the LABC, which will take that up.

At the moment, though, the government is doing nowhere near enough. The LABC is strapped for cash and hasn’t got enough people enforcing it.

Perhaps another reason that many contractors aren’t joining is that the public are not aware of the Part P scheme?

Very few members of the public are clued up as to what Part P means, but five years is a very short period, in certification terms. It took 12 years before Corgi was firmly within the psyche of the consumer. The first five years are always the hardest.

Elecsa claims to be the the first UKAS-accredited Part P provider. Yet others insist they too are UKAS-accredited, with NICEIC claiming to have been so since 2007. How do you explain this discrepancy?

NICEIC has its Domestic Installer scheme accredited, which is the technical element, but Part P is more than just a technical assessment, it’s how you issue your warranties to customers and the customer care side, for example. Ours includes this – theirs doesn’t.

I don’t know how many contractors have dealt with converting DC to AC since they left college. Then there are the tariffs you sell back to the local electricity board. Understanding all of that requires an extra assessment

When the Part P scheme was introduced back in 2005, the stipulation was that providers should be UKAS-accredited. Why did Elecsa wait until this February?

The technical requirements were very easy to conform with, and we’ve all been assessing to those for as long as the scheme has been in place. But UKAS and CLG couldn’t make up their minds about the additional things, such as the provision of an insurance-backed warranty. They were arguing for perhaps two years. In the intervening period, before we joined, goalposts were changing as well.

What makes Elecsa the Part P scheme of choice?

The key difference between Elecsa and other schemes is that ours is run by electricians.

I’m at the top, and I’ve been an electrician. The technical manager and the assessors have too. We can identify with the contractors – we’re on their side.

We know what it’s like going into Mrs Jones’ house, moving all the furniture around and keeping the door closed so the cat doesn’t run off.

Like any organisation, we’re not going to get it right all the time. We do get letters of complaint. I say, “You’re a free agent, you don’t have to stay with us. Try another scheme for a year – then you’ll see how good we are.”

And we get a lot of people coming back saying, “Actually, you weren’t as bad as I thought you were.” That’s always great. We have 4300 members at the moment.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has introduced a new Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), and Elecsa has taken a licence to run it. What does this cover?

It covers a large variety of technologies. With regards to energy, you’ve got solar and wind turbines, then on the heat production side, it covers solar thermal and heat pumps.

It’s £530 for a one-technology assessment. It’s a minimum of one day, and we can definitely get one technology done in a day. The best economy of delivery is that, if you opt for certain MCS technologies, you can have the Part P added on. The Part P is usually £270, but if you’re doing an MCS scheme, we can put the Part P in there for £100.

When contractors have already proved competence, why should they have to jump through yet more hoops?

The technologies involved are significantly different. If you take photovoltaics, for instance, they are DC-generation. I don’t know how many contractors have dealt with converting DC to AC since they left college. And then there’s the tariffs you sell to the local electricity board. Understanding all that requires an extra assessment.

If you are accredited, you can get grants from the government to help with the installation of microgeneration technologies.

Admittedly, there aren’t many grants around at the moment. The government seems to open the window for applications at midnight and close it at 12:15am when you try to get one. There’s a very limited amount of money. In fact, they’re virtually non-existent.

The grants have got to be on the increase for things to work, especially on the photovoltaics side, because it’s such an expensive technology to install.

How do you feel about some of the other schemes out there?

I think we’re leaders – that’s what I like. They’re always copying us. We introduced a pre-paid instalment plan to help contractors, for instance, and now NAPIT (National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers) and NICEIC have one, but theirs aren’t as flexible as ours.

NICEIC even copied the squidgy van toy we released for marketing purposes. They’ve now got a squidgy taxi!