If the answer is ‘Yes’ to the above, here are some important facts that as a consumer you really should be aware of, hopefully these will help you avoid becoming a ‘victim’ of incompetence or worse!

It is probable if you are thinking about acquiring something to place in that cold and unused living room/lounge fireplace it will be a wood burning stove, let’s face it, a multi-million pound industry whose monitory interests far outweigh installation safety and compliance whilst mass media offers the consumer images of fireplace ‘bonhomie’ are not about to provide the end user and purchaser with anything likely to curtail their revenue income stream.

In fact, the entire solid fuel industry denies the existence of wrongdoing or consumer complaint as if neither existed hence the lack of statistical reference on this prickly subject.

The first port of call for many when seeking a new appliance will be the internet, once hooked by the overt glossy images and reviews the content within will be seen as an expression of excellence when in reality no one cares to validate the comments from; Mrs P of Ilford or Mr N from Luton when seeking information on a product or service or in fact the validity and competence of the business they’re about to purchase from and have their installation carried out by. Thus unfounded comments and reviews found on such websites should be taken with a pinch of salt as should the information offered within which is often connived, technically incompetent and designed to mislead the reader.

Sadly, for an industry worth many millions of pounds it cannot bring itself to appoint or recognise an independent source for the providence of competent advice, the consumer therefore left to indulge their space heating fantasies upon nothing more than grossly misleading and incompetent website images, unadulterated claptrap and non-technical gibberish designed to misinform the uninitiated and naive.

So, to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of ‘oh how lovely, I want one, when can you start’ to ‘something’s wrong why are you not answering your phone’ and then to litigation here is an A to Z list of home truths to help avoid these scenarios from occurring!

a. Competent Person Schemes. These are private membership businesses licensed by MHCLG. Schemes such as Oftec, Hetas etc. have no regulatory and/or statutory authority whatsoever.

b. Competent Person Schemes and their members have no authority to override the Building Regulations, these supersede any scheme regulations that are in-house membership related only and must not be confused with those relating to the Building Regulations.

c. Installation work of any nature surrounding the installation of a stove, fireplace and/or associated products and components can be carried out by anyone reasonably skilled such as a DIY enthusiast by applying via a Building Application to their local authority.

d. The route to becoming a competent person and member of a scheme and thus able to trade without any accountability requires applicants with virtually no experience to pay scheme/private businesses £1500 for 3/5 days of third party classroom training without any physical learning involved before being allowed to sign off potentially ‘life-changing’ work!. This should be borne in mind when appointing a fitter/installer belonging to a competent person scheme or anyone related to an association who cannot support or verify their competence.

e. Competent Person Schemes have no authority to enforce the return of its members to correct defective/dangerous and/or negligent non-compliant workmanship, however, scheme fitters can be held liable for costs incurred to correct their work by a professional third party.

f. Consumers are not legally obliged in accordance with the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to endure the return of a business and/or fitter/installer where demonstrated incompetence, negligence and/or dangerous non-compliant workmanship has been identified.

g. Competent Person Schemes are not an employer, therefore their members are not required to work to any recognise ‘code-of-conduct’, contract or similar concept.

h. Competent Person Scheme members are in the majority self-employed therefore scheme managers have no authority over their members although not directly liable they are culpable in many instances as they license their members and of course their members ‘trade off’ their relationship with these private businesses.

i. Competent Person Schemes are not liable for the actions of their members, irrespective that their members carry out work in their name and clearly gain advantage by referring to scheme organisations when marketing their businesses. Schemes do not accept any liability attached to the work their members carry out.

j. Contrary to current opinion and belief, Competent Person Scheme rules only apply to their members and not to the general public, any suggestion that the consumer must comply with information or guidance issued by a scheme or its members is grossly misleading and unlawful.

k. Competent Person Schemes must, in accordance with their MHCLG terms of license provide the consumer with access to a fund if claiming against defective, negligent, dangerous and/or non-compliant workmanship.

l. Members of a Competent Person Scheme must, in accordance with the terms and conditions of their scheme license provide a six (6) year guarantee to the consumer against defective, negligent, dangerous and/or non-compliant workmanship from the date of work completion.

m. Certificates of compliance issued to the consumer by a Competent Person Scheme fitter/installer via a scheme are ‘NOT’ a guarantee of workmanship quality or that the issuer of the certificate has in fact carried out their work in compliance with the Building Regulations, the certificate is nothing more than an ‘assumption’ this has occurred and should never be accepted as a guarantee!.

n. Once a scheme certificate has been issued it ‘cannot’ be rescinded or altered, therefore, if work carried out is found after completion not to comply with the Building Regulations and/or is defective, negligent, incompetent, non-compliant and/or a direct fire risk the certificate becomes null & void, however, it remains lodged with local authority.

o. Often house owners will suddenly find either when selling or buying a property that an installation has no certification attached to it, it is therefore foolish and potentially lethal to simply assume that a certificate can then be retrospectively issued by either local authority or worse another scheme fitter when the entire installation may not have been carried out compliantly in the first instance and may represent a fire and/or safety hazard to the owners.

p. In such instances do not under any circumstances expect to have your uncertificated and unlawful installation ‘signed-off’ by another person who will then become entirely liable, this is unlikely to occur, if it does and someone is willing to accept this level of liability you should be extremely wary and avoid any such offer! If it becomes apparent you have an uncertificated and thus unlawful installation irrespective that it may be a stove, fireplace and/or chimney related component/alteration it is essential to employ a peer recognised independent expert to inspect the installation and provide a professionally technical as well as competently written report so that an informed judgement may be arrived at with regard to action and if it should involve the original fitter/installer and any intended litigation.

q. Contrary to common belief and in accordance with the Building Regulations alterations to an existing fireplace require a regulatory Building Application made to local authority before any such work commences as such work is deemed structural. Competent Person Scheme members and other tradespeople do not have the authority, training, license or technical skill set to undertake work of a structural nature nor are they likely to be members of the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) or RICS. (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) allowing for work of this type to occur without supervision and third party authority.

r. Structural chimney and/or fireplace building/alteration work such as the removal/alteration of a masonry chimney, enlarging a fireplace opening and/or similar flue related alteration work is, in accordance with the Building Regulations, ‘Notifiable Work’ therefore attracting structural calculations and design drawings presented to local authority on a Building Application, failure to comply beforehand and irrespective of the work having been carried out by a third party fitter/installer any contravention will result in the home owner being held liable and potentially issued with an enforcement notice leaving the property owner facing litigation as a means of obtaining recompense.

s. Competent Person Schemes state clearly in their membership ‘Rules of Registration’ that the consumer must be given a works contract and notice of cancelation, these are a consumers statutory right. The consumer is also legally entitled to a Scope of Works, a detailed method Statement listing components and their costs, refund policy and terms of cancelation as well as copies of both Public Liability as well as Professional Indemnity insurance cover.

t. Any type of work be it of a building and/or alteration/installation nature on or to a shared boundary wall found within a terraced, semi-detached or multi-occupancy building will be liable to meet the requirements of the ‘Party Wall Regulations 1995’. If the occupier/owner does not provide their neighbour with an undertaking in accordance with this statutory instrument before work commences the liability and responsibility for doing so immediately passes to the fitter/installer/contractor, if they have commenced working on a party wall they then become entirely liable for the issue and management of any Party Wall agreement and for any defect and/or damage caused by their works ‘ad-infinitum’!

u. Work cannot commence until both parties on a party/boundary wall have agreed with the terms of the Party Wall Regulations and these issued in writing.

v. General Service providers, fitters, installers and builders etc. and those registered with competent person schemes categorically ‘do not’ have the authority to undertake repairs and/or installation works to or on masonry chimney within a grade listed building or a building of historical interest, this includes controlled services and any controlled appliance/fittings. Any such work be it the installation of a stove, chimney component and/or intended structural alteration work will require written permission/authority from a conservation officer before any such work commences with this supported by way of a Building Application.

w. Consumers should be aware there are no formal apprenticeships within the solid fuel industry, therefore training and learning are restricted to a 3/5 day classroom activity. The solid fuel industry remains unregulated and unaccountable, similarly, there are no industry qualifications available that represent verified competence in the workplace, therefore, it is the responsibility of the owner/occupier to confirm whomever they appoint is/are technically and mechanically competent, properly and correctly insured and provide a clear audit trail of documentation to include a consumer contract.

x. The lining/relining of a masonry chimney is not a ‘mandatory’ activity or is this a requirement. The lining/relining of a masonry chimney and installation aspect of any such project rests entirely on the established condition of a masonry chimney correctly interpreted by a recognised controlled services expert, this would be a person with:

1. Considerable building design knowledge
2. Period materials knowledge
3. Fire and safety risk assessment experience
4. Flue defect recognition expertise
5. Structural experience and building awareness.

y) Inspection of a masonry chimney prior to any alteration and/or of a lining, relining activity should only be undertaken by a recognised controlled services expert.

z) Simply because you have a stove or a fireplace installed and probably your chimney relined does not immediately confirm that your appliance will work accordingly or efficiently as and when you want it to! It is advisable to ask your service provider/contractor/fitter or installer how they intend to prove your shiny new installation will work! This cannot be proven by simply igniting a 20p smoke pellet or lighting of a small amount of kindling, these are infantile methods employed by an industry and those within it in lieu of any alternative competent procedure, instrumentation must be employed to provide base line information.

There are procedures that must be undertaken to prove an appliance/stove/fireplace will operate safely, compliantly and in accordance within manufacturer’s optimum ranges, these should include:

I. A pre-installation report based upon structural building fitness.
II. Structural fire and safety risk assessment.
III. Neighbour and Neighbourhood impact
IV. Nuisance implication
V. Instrumentation report both pre and post installation
VI. Building proximity to high rise buildings, treelines or overbearing structures.
VII. Boundary distances to open windows and Velux openings.
VIII. Atmospheric and meteorological weather patterns and conditions
IX. Building Topography
X. Expert chimney inspection
XI. Audit trail evidence.

If buying a property it is essential that your solicitor obtains access to audit trail evidence of stove/fireplace installation and of any chimney related work/component installation as well as documented certification. This applies to installation of a combustion appliance be it wood, coal, gas or oil and similarly for any work to or on a masonry chimney where lining/relining has occurred or a system chimney installation taken place where a chimney did not exist before. Obtaining audit trail documentation does not in any way confirm that an installation and/or alteration/building work actually complies, has been carried out safely and/or compliantly or that such work will not represent a fire and/or safety hazard, what an audit trail will provide is known access to those responsible!

There are a number of lining components and relining products, most fitters/installers will attempt to ‘flog a flexible metal liner, this is the easiest and simplest of all the available lining systems to install and the cheapest to purchase allowing for maximum profit. Flexible metal liners are merely referred to as a ‘temporary repair’ and should never be used as either a method of by-passing a defect or providing permanent longevity. User abuse, the burning of incorrect fuels at incorrect temperatures, uninsulated chimneys and poorly installed components and liners will reduce the life span of these products unlike other alternatives that may offer an extended life span. As a consumer you have the right to know what these are and the differences between each.

Allowing any worker to access a roof and/or an existing chimney structure using a ladder instead of either scaffolding or scissor type lift is a contravention of the ‘Working at Height Regulations’, apart from ladder access placing stress on ridge tiles that cannot be confirmed fit to support weight, a fall could occur that you may very well be held responsible and/or liable for.

More often than not, fitters, installers, builders and roofers will use ladder access because it is cheap not because this method is particularly safe, this is not an advisable method to have a chimney lined or relined given the worker will be balanced on a ridge, you could be held liable if damage is caused to a neighbouring property or if this type of work causes an injury or health hazard to someone nearby or the your worker falls off!.

The fitting of a chimney cowl or chimney pot cover is ‘not a mandatory’ requirement’ irrespective that the activity of fitting one occurs at almost every opportunity. The fitting of a chimney cowl to an existing chimney pot or a new system chimney is not driven by mechanical logic or statistical proof but as a means of making money without having to provide a logical reason for doing so based upon any known theory or hypotheses. Invariably, cowls are mindlessly fitted without any mechanical, technical or scientific reason.

Unless the consumer has identified vermin infestation, the fitting of a cowl will not mitigate water/moisture ingress or alleged downdraft, these occurrences are caused by high atmospheric weather zones which a cowl cannot override. There is no formal evidence that a cowl will stop or mitigate rain and/or downdraft ingress, on the contrary, cowls have been establish as a route cause of flue gas restriction, flue gas suffocation, restrictive flue gas speed with chimney cowls causing untold issues leading to domestic as well as commercial smoke nuisance disputes with cowls occasionally catching fire as a consequence of bitumen building up.

It is wise to avoid recommendations from friends, relatives or family members unless they have been part of the installation process and have an intimate understanding and knowledge of the industry, they are simply advising you on what they see as a finished project having little if any physical impact on such work directly, the danger here is recommendations are offered in good faith, however, good faith is far from enough when considering the fire and/or safety risks involved as wel as the health hazards.

Employing a chimney sweep to clean your flue. This is something the average human being is more than capable of carrying out themselves if they choose to, there is no mandatory requirement to use a chimney sweep. If you do engage someone to sweep your flue system or undertake other related work you should be aware the tick box type ‘Simple-Simon’ certificate issued is most certainly full of caveats, disclaimers and denials of liability, therefore in such instances ‘Caveat Emptor’ applies. (Buyer Beware!)

Chimney sweep certificates are not lawful documents, these nor the associations who’s names appear at the top of these worthless pieces of paper are recognised or regulated by any UK and/or European standards organisation, if you accept and pay for a chimney sweep certificate it cannot be used to verify competence due to the caveats and disclaimers within.

A chimney sweep may convince you to have a CCTV inspection, however, if you do decide to a CCTV inspection please be aware that the certificate issued for this work has no legal or lawful status, therefore in view of this lack of formality CCTV work should be supported with credible evidence as well as a detailed, technically competent and grammatically correct report not a one page, tick box affair.

You are advised to read in context with the caveats and disclaimers of all liability within the certificate issued to you, if you agree to these or you are asked to sign in agreement you must be sure that by doing so you fully understand that you will waiver your consumer right to argue and/or to challenge the service if it proves to be either misleading or incompetent.

As a rule all flues should be expertly checked before and after sweeping, this is to confirm the condition of the flue beforehand and after that the person carrying out a sweeping function hasn’t directly and/or indirectly caused any damage that you will be unaware of until there’s a real issue, this is extremely pertinent when carrying out this activity to and on a party wall.

The general rule of thumb to stay safe and compliant is to research your project and the contractor/service provider you intend to employ, fully, carefully and properly. Ask questions, never assume because someone has lots of van and shirt badges or because they are members of privately owned revenue income businesses they are competent, on the contrary, in many instances what appears to ‘sparkle’ on the surface isn’t always ‘gold’!

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