Contractor Pre-Qualification Schemes Explained

Contractor Pre-Qualification Schemes Explained

17th September 2014

Firstly we'll take a look at pre-qualification schemes for contractors and subcontractors - what they are designed to achieve and the advantages and disadvantages.  While we all recognise the need to making sure that contractors (whether they work for a large company, a medium sized local business or as a sole trader) have the knowledge and skills they will need to carry out the job at hand in a safe and secure manner.

Prequalification schemes for contractors seem to be on offer all over the UK and it's difficult for small and medium sized businesses to work out which schemes are best and whether the contractors they hire are covered by the appropriate pre-qualification scheme.  The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently collaborated with government and trade associations to simplify the hiring process and make it easier to ascertain whether the contractors you hire are adequately covered.  This is important information for workers across the UK, especially those who work at height using ladders and step units.

We all know that clients and principal contractors need to make sure that a subcontractor is competent to undertake the task at hand.  This is a legal requirement of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM).  However, over the last twenty years or so several schemes have been brought in that help to check contractors' basic health and safety competence using the Stage 1 or “core” criteria.

These criteria include the necessity of having a robust health and safety policy and arrangements for the correct employee training and an accident reporting process.  CDM also requires clients to carry out Stage 2 enquiries which ensure that a contractor is fit for a particular project.  Accreditation to a scheme prequalifies a contractor as competent under the Stage 1 criteria for clients signed up to that individual prequalification provider.

However, there are so many pre-qualification (PQ) schemes and clients usually like to use the one they feel most comfortable with.  This can result in contractors spending time and money (sometimes thousands of pounds per scheme together with regular reaccreditation fees) being checked against similar standards over and over again if they want to tender for work with a client who is registered to a different scheme.

Some schemes require extra information on issues that relate to subjects other than health and safety.  For instance extra competence information on quality and environmental management factors.

Whichever way you look at it, multiple accreditation is mostly duplication and this overlap leads to waste of both time and money.  Indeed, the National Specialist Contractors Council reckons it costs the construction industry as a whole somewhere in the region of £350 million annually!  A survey of 600 contractors revealed that they expect to pay £1,500 per scheme on average and lose nine work days per year attending PQ schemes.

Our next blog post will take a look at the solution to the plethora of PQ schemes that flooded the UK.  Join us for the ongoing story.