Builders merchants organisation the Builders Merchants’ Federation has welcomed the Government’s decision to scrap proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations.
Dubbed the ‘conservatory tax’ by parts of the mainstream media, the changes would have required householders to implement energy-efficiency consequential improvements when having conservatories, conversions or extensions done – or when replacing boilers or a number of windows.
The BMF lobbied against this because it believes trying to force such changes on residents is heavy-handed and counter-productive. Anything that makes small works more expensive will affect merchant sales. At a time when plumbers, builders and allied trades are vital in creating much-needed local growth, BMF said it was a bad move.
Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP agreed with the Federation and he decided it would be wrong to put an additional cost on owner-occupiers. In dropping the idea, Pickles effectively overruled his own Department’s consultation exercise, an unusual move for a Minister.
Research from the Energy Saving Trust endorses the BMF’s stand. It found 38% of households would be put off from doing improvements if they had to do consequential improvements too.
The EST research also revealed concern that there was greater potential for ‘cowboys’ to mislead customers over what consequential improvements would be required, namely:
Opposing the consultation, the thrust of the BMF argument was that the proposals would deter families and businesses from spending – the reverse effect of the original intention. This would spell lower sales for merchants and less work for their everyday SME customers.
The Federation said it was not clear whose responsibility it was to inform householders which additional measures will be required if the proposals went ahead. The BMF reckoned it was unlikely to be sufficient to rely upon Competent Persons Schemes – e.g. Gas Safe Register or FENSA – to advise householders on measures that fell outside their area of expertise.
It also argued that local authorities would be unlikely to enforce any new Regulations. Given the financial squeeze they face – and with Council Tax frozen again by many authorities – Trading Standards are under pressure to concentrate on other priorities.