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Consumers warned of the dangers of using cowboy installers

The trading standards watchdog says it is “very concerned” over the number of rogue British gas fitters after “disturbing” figures showed unregistered tradesmen were carrying out as many as 250,000 gas jobs a year.

The Trading Standards Institute is this month issuing warnings to workers to ensure their accreditation is up-to-date in a bid to combat significant numbers of cowboy gas fitters.

The move comes as the Health and Safety Executive secured another in a string of prosecutions, this time against worker carrying out work to a boiler and gas fire in Lincolnshire without registration. It has prompted the regulator to also warn homeowners of the dangers of not using registered trades people.

Stephen McGill, of Whisby, Lincolnshire, was last week ordered to pay £2,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to breaches of the Gas Safety Regulations at Lincoln Magistrates Court. Mr McGill, trading as Plumbtek, had carried out the unregistered work in April and May 2008.

HSE inspector Judith McNulty-Green said: “The incident came to light after the Health and Safety Executive received a complaint from a genuine Corgi-registered gas installer about the substandard quality of the work that had been carried out.

“When the work was inspected, there were a number of faults in the installation, some of which were deemed to be immediately dangerous.

“Every year around 20 to 30 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with domestic gas appliances, due mainly to these appliances not having been properly installed or maintained. The householder in this case had a very lucky escape.”

The trading standards watchdog said it wanted tradesmen to understand that there were several different types of qualifications for various gas works, and that workers needed to ensure they had the correct accreditation.

It will also urge consumers to be more careful in appointing contractors as Britain approaches winter and boiler-related workloads increase.

TSI’s lead officer for crime and disorder Brian Smith said: “We are very concerned by new figures showing that a quarter of a million gas jobs are potentially botched every year by irresponsible traders who don’t have relevant skills or qualifications.

“Gas and cowboys can be a lethal mix and we’d urge anyone who needs gas work done in their home to not only make sure the trader carries a Gas Safe card, but that they check the back of the card where it states what appliances the gas engineer is qualified to work on.”

Recent research has shown that one in 10 of the illegal gas installations investigated in the past nine months were immediately dangerous and appliances had to be disabled straight away. Over a third were leaking gas and almost half had faults that could lead to lethal carbon monoxide exposure.

National investigations manager for Gas Safe Register – which replaced the Corgi gas registration scheme in Great Britain and Isle of Man on 1 April – Phill Brewster said: “We want everyone to understand that different types of gas work require different qualifications. Just because someone is qualified and registered to work on one gas appliance, for example gas boilers, does not mean that they are automatically qualified to put in a gas fire.”

The TSI also last week launched an urgent appeal to locate thousands of consumers who have had a Leisure, Flavel, New World or Belling cooker installed after it was discovered the products produced dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

It said nearly 40,000 of the affected cookers had been tracked down, but it estimated about 25,000 further had been installed that had not yet been found.