Kevin Wellman, Chief Executive at the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, explains why he believes there’s a need to introduce a licence to practice plumbing. 

There is a strong case for statutory licensing, which includes prioritising the livelihoods of the professionals already operating, reducing the space in which rogue traders can operate, and raising the overall standards of the industry in order to better protect public health and wellbeing. 

Eliminate rogue operators

It is an inevitability that while there are no legal requirements needed to set up a plumbing business in the UK, it will attract the attention of unscrupulous people. This is why it is important to consider this as a solution to prevent the vulnerable from being preyed upon by unqualified ‘cowboys’, and to ensure that true professionals can more easily win and retain new business.

By providing clear guidance on what is necessary to gain and retain a license, professional plumbers and heating engineers can reassure customers that they are competent, insured and, when occasion requires it, allow a licensing body to dispassionately investigate and resolve issues. 

Be a trusted advisor 

To meet future net-zero legislation targets, installers will be required to change their own established working practices in order to adapt to new Building Regulations requirements. A licence that confirms an individual as having maintained and updated their professional skills would be a transparent way to manage this.

In fact, much like the Gas Safe Register does now, a license to practice that reflects the qualifications gained would provide professionals with the benefit of being listed on a public register. This register would become the gold standard for consumers to be able to check the legitimacy of a worker before they agree to hire them, and something for professionals to share with prospective clients to prove beyond doubt they are qualified.

Tackle the skills gap

Reasons for why there is a skills deficit in plumbing and heating are complex, but the number of people joining the industry remains outpaced by those leaving it. A sentiment to ‘leave the profession in a better position than when I started in it’ would be a fantastic to ethos to embed in the industry’s culture.

As apprenticeship numbers continue to fall, a licensed industry would also be a chance to look differently at education in the future. Work placements with professionally registered individuals to back up classroom education and training could be a thing of the future. 

Be proud 

It is important for individuals to be proud of their profession, to acknowledge their own status as engineers, and take genuine pride in the work that they do. A license to practice, only awarded based on meeting certain criteria, would be a proud achievement for any serious plumbing and heating engineer. 

And, while a license to practice may not yet be available, qualifications and experience can be recognised through membership of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE). Each and every individual’s experience is checked before they are accepted, so that the right entry point to membership can be given, with steps put in place to help members achieve what they want from their professional careers.

The CIPHE offers Member (MCIPHE) status to tradespeople who hold NVQ Level 3 or City & Guilds Advanced Craft Certificate, with appropriate practical experience. MCIPHE is also granted to those who have been assessed by one of our Professional Standards Inspectors to work to that standard in the plumbing and heating industry. 

The CIPHE is a licensed member of the Engineering Council, which means the Institute is authorised to recognise and award the very highest level of engineering status to our membership. This means that members who wish to reach Chartered Engineer (CEng) status can be supported by the CIPHE to help reach this goal in exactly the same way as members endeavouring to achieve Engineering Technician (EngTech) and Incorporated Engineer (IEng) status. 

Why we need change

There will be people in our industry who will feel that change isn’t needed but, in the same way that a doctor or pilot is formally recognised, plumbers and heating engineers deserve to have their hard-earned skills acknowledged too. 

There are still many barriers to introducing a licensing scheme, including who will enforce and police it, but an effective licensing scheme should be on the side of professionals and be developed with them in mind. Therefore, the only individuals who should be worried about a license to practice are the unscrupulous individuals who would never be able to obtain one in the first place.