Electrician legal issues

Electrician fixing a power boxThere is a wide range of legislation that you should be aware of. Some of the key areas where legislation is likely to affect your business are listed below.

What licences does an electrician need?

Electricians who do notifiable work on domestic premises in England and Wales must carry out the work to the standards of Part P of the Building Regulations. To avoid having to get each job approved and inspected it is possible to register as an approved 'competent person' who can self-certify their own work. If you are registered with a third party certification scheme for domestic work then you can sign off notifiable electrical work done by other people too. More information about the Building Regulations is available on the Planning Portal website. Details of approved competent person schemes are available on the Gov.uk website.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own separate building control and certification arrangements. You can find out more about Building Regulations in Northern Ireland on the Department of Finance website. There's more about Scottish Building Regulations on the Scottish Government website.

Becoming a competent person involves having the necessary training and qualifications and submitting a sample of work for inspection. Competent person approval schemes also involve quite regular assessment. There is a charge - normally several hundred pounds - to cover registration and assessment, and a similar charge for periodic renewal and reassessment. There are several competent person registration schemes for electricians to choose from, including those run by the main trade associations.

If you intend to carry out installations of microgeneration systems such as photovoltaic solar panels you'll need to be certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) or an equivalent recognised scheme to enable your clients to claim subsidy payments through the feed-in tariff. You can find out more about certification on the MCS website.

You should also be aware of the following:

  • skips placed on a public highway require a Skip Permit from the local authority. Certain conditions may be attached to the licence. Normally the skip hire company will arrange the necessary licences, but it is worth making certain of this
  • if you pay sub-contractors for work done within the Construction Industry Scheme for taxation (CIS) then you must register as a contractor with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). More information is available on the HMRC section of the Gov.uk website
  • if you to do any work involving asbestos - for example disturbing or removing old asbestos insulation - then you may need a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos Licensing Unit - or from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI). In practice, you'll probably use the services of a licensed specialist if you come across any asbestos that needs to be disturbed
  • if you offer an insurance backed warranty - even if you make no extra charge for this - then you may be covered by general insurance legislation administered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You may need to be either directly authorised by the FCA or an 'appointed representative' of an FCA approved principal. Note that installers who belong to a Part P competent person scheme must be able to offer their customers an insurance-backed warranty - this may be available from the scheme provider
  • if you are going to carry away waste that you have generated in the course of a job (and that isn't building waste) you'll need to register as a 'lower tier' waste carrier (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a professional collector or transporter of waste (Scotland). Registration is free of charge and lasts indefinitely. If you think that you will transport building waste, you will need a certificate of registration as an 'upper tier' waste carrier (waste carrier in Scotland), for which there is a charge. Waste registration is dealt with by the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland

Electrical work

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Wiring Regulations (BS 7671) is the principal British Standard that covers the safe design, installation and testing of electrical installations in the UK. UK contracts for electrical work nearly always specify that it is carried out to this standard.

Certain types of electrical installation work in domestic buildings falls within the controls of the Building Regulations. The IET Wiring Regulations form the basis of the mandatory standard. Building Control bodies have to carry out checks on electrical work in dwellings, unless the work has been carried out by an approved 'competent person' or signed off by someone who is registered with a third party certification scheme.

There are several competent person registration schemes to choose from, including those run by the main trade associations.

Specific legislation covers such things as safe electricity meter installation and essential safety requirements of electrical equipment. British and European Standards also cover the installation of fire safety equipment, lighting systems and security systems.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include:

Recruitment and employment contracts

Pay and pensions

Working time: hours, leave, flexible working

Employment policies

Sickness and sick pay

Maternity, paternity and adoption

Discrimination

Managing home workers, remote workers, lone workers

Discipline and grievance

Dismissals and redundancies

Employment tribunals

Hazardous substances

Ensure that your and any employees' exposure to potentially harmful substances is minimised. This might involve precautions such as using dust masks and goggles when drilling walls, floors or ceilings. Take particular precautions when it comes to asbestos and make sure that you comply with asbestos safety regulations at all times.

Waste disposal and environmental protection

All waste must be disposed of properly. In particular, old electrical equipment may be classified as hazardous waste and so must only be taken away and disposed of by registered, authorised waste carriers.

The Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland are responsible for waste disposal and environmental protection legislation.

The Gov.uk website includes guidance for businesses on a range of different environmental management issues.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations mainly affect manufacturers and retailers of electrical goods. However, if you make, import or brand any electrical products as your own, you will also have to comply with the regulations. If this is the case, you will be responsible for the recovery and recycling of waste electrical items that you replace.

Goods and services

There is a range of legislation that applies to all businesses to protect the interests of the customer. For example, goods and services - including the supply of electrical fixtures and fittings, repairs and installations - must not be misleadingly described, and you must not claim to be a member of a trade body or certification scheme if you are not. You are responsible for ensuring that the appropriate parts are used and that they are installed safely. All work done must be of satisfactory quality and carried out in a way that will ensure the safety of any future users - repairs must be done with care.

More information about many different aspects of consumer protection and fair trading legislation is available on the Trading Standard Business Companion website. Information is also available on the Gov.uk website. Local authority Trading Standards departments should be able to advise you on specific queries.

Insurance for an electrician

When you start up in business you will need insurance cover. Contact an insurer and explain how your business will operate. They will then be able to recommend what cover you should have, which might include:

  • employer's liability
  • public liability and professional indemnity, including indemnity cover for PAT and EICR testing if necessary
  • contractor's liability/contractor's all risks
  • unfixed materials, plant and equipment on site
  • hired plant and equipment
  • combined property/property worked on
  • product liability - possibly including alarm efficacy and performance of other critical systems like security and fire control devices
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • goods in transit (for example being collected or delivered)
  • cash
  • business interruption

It is worth noting that trade associations like the ECA, SELECT and NICEIC offer their members specialist business insurance services, which might save you money and provide the exact level of cover you need. They also operate guarantee schemes for clients who use the services of a participating member firm.

Several specialist insurers also offer insurance services aimed specifically at the electrical contracting industry. A web search for 'electrical contractors insurance' should give some helpful results.

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