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Installer threatens to sue CORGI over charter

A CORGI-registered heating engineer is threatening to take legal action against the gas safety registration body over the introduction of an initiative designed to improve customer service.


The CORGI First Customer Charter (CFC), which was launched into the market this year after undergoing a trail in the Midlands, is a five-point code of practice.


By paying £49.99 (plus VAT) and signing up to the scheme, CORGI-registered installers pledge to abide by a series of codes, which include providing written quotes and endeavouring to work with the customers to resolve any issues that may emerge as a result of work carried out.


However, Mike Hayes, managing director at Abbeymead Heating, considers the scheme to be discriminatory and therefore unlawful. “I believe this charter has created a two-tier system amongst installers, which I think is unfair,” he said.


'As the only gas registration body which I am forced to belong to, I don’t believe that CORGI has any right to promote one firm over the other. As I understand it, under the conditions set out by the HSE, CORGI must treat us all fairly and equally, it can’t engage in any activity that might be detrimental to my business.

'By promoting one installer above the other through this scheme, CORGI is giving a business a trade advantage over mine. If CORGI doesn’t drop this scheme I will consider taking legal action.”

 

Blane Judd, chief executive and secretary of the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, said: “If this service is deemed to be discriminatory to registered gas installers who are not in the customer first scheme, I would like CORGI to recongise that and stop this particular offering.”

'We will be sticking with our decision'
 

Elyse Taylor, CORGI head of membership development, said: “We are a little surprised to hear that some people are expressing concern over the CORGI Customer First Charter and to date, we have only had a very small number of people contact us regarding it.

 

“The decision to introduce the charter came after many years of CORGI members asking for CORGI to produce a quality charter that they could sign on to. Our research amongst 1,400 CORGI members (producing a 97% confidence rating) undertaken in October 2007, confirmed that there is indeed a strong installer appetite for such a charter.

 

“This demand also came from consumers who have contacted CORGI to complain about customer service issues with installers. Previously we have been unable to assist consumers in these issues and this has upset many of them as they perceive this responsibility to be part of CORGI’s role.

 

“The CORGI Customer First Charter has begun very positively with a pilot programme that was introduced with 800 installers in the Midlands. Due to this success we have taken the view to expand it to the whole of the UK. To date, we have around 350 members and over 40 outstanding enquiries into the offer. The Charter has been designed to support our members’ businesses and has been asked for by installers. As with all of CORGI’s other commercial activities, any funds that are generated through this activity will then be donated into The CORGI Trust and reinvested back into the gas industry.

 

“The CORGI Customer First Charter is purely a customer charter and is not designed as a robust professional membership body, such as the IPHE or the APHC. Our offer is entirely separate from the gas registration scheme and does not impact on the ability of an installer to do their job. This is a voluntary option for installers. The Charter was written by consumers through our research into the levels of customer service they expect from trades people. We will be sticking with our decision to roll the scheme out across the UK as we believe that it fills a gap in our current remit”.

Siân Wall, a solicitor and specialist in regulatory law at Manchester law firm, Pannone LLP, urged caution. “Installers have little choice but to sign up and pay the required fee if they want to be a member of the new Charter,” she said.

'At the moment, CORGI is the only body approved by the HSE to operate the gas installer registration scheme. As CORGI is separate to HSE, it is not subject to the same stringent codes of conduct which might prevent the promotion of one business over the other. Members will have to consider whether this new venture is in accordance with CORGI's own agreement terms with its members.”

She added: “CORGI’s approval runs out in April 2009 and the HSE is currently tendering to select a provider for a new gas installer registration scheme to start next spring. When in place, hopefully this new regime will ensure that both consumers and installers receive a fair deal.”


Clive Dickin (pictured), chief executive of the Association of Heating and Plumbing Contractors, said the CFC lacked robustness and created confusion in the market place.

“This scheme creates a level of confusion for consumers who will now have to [navigate through] the orange logo, the Competent Persons scheme logo and now the CFC logo,” he said. “I can’t understand the rationale behind CORGI launching this scheme other than as an additional income stream.

'I was also interested to understand the disciplinary element of this scheme. As far as I understand it, firms that breach the charter will only be removed from the scheme [they will not have their installer registration revoked]. Many trade bodies go much further than this. This scheme has no teeth.

He added: 'The customer charter is not a step in the right direction. It adds another layer of confusion to an already confusing CORGI brand of logos. It does not add any additional customer service. It adds the threat of removal from something that means nothing and the installer has to pay for it.