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Posted by: on 04/08/2020
In The News
Who exactly are you employing to investigate your Damp & Timber issues?
The question raised in the headline is a very valid one that should be asked by anybody seeking the services of a ‘damp and timber expert’. If you are a property owner or you are looking to purchase a property there is a good chance that at some point you will require an opinion from a damp & timber expert to investigate damp related issues either in the property that you own or the property that you are looking to purchase. The purpose of this article is to explain and simplify the process of employing a damp and timber expert and what you should expect as it is not uncommon for property owners to be misled into employing someone who may not live up to their expectations and may fail to deliver the required level of service.
A Google search will flag up any number of Damp Proofing companies and Damp Experts, but which one will deliver the service that you are looking for? In recent years I have seen many adverts that are misleading to the point of being dishonest and I will try to simplify and explain the choice of companies that you will be faced with when searching on the internet.
You have been asked by a lender to obtain a Damp, Damp & Timber survey report from a Property Care Association (PCA) Member/Contractor/Independent Surveyor.
So, what is the PCA?
The Property Care Association (PCA) is the trade association representing specialists across the UK who can be trusted to resolve problems affecting buildings.
PCA members have met strict membership criteria to demonstrate their technical competence and service delivery standards. Companies who are members of the Property Care Association demonstrate high standards of professionalism and expertise. Companies wishing to join the PCA are required to meet and maintain robust membership criteria. These criteria cover aspects of the services including professional qualifications, technical competence, service delivery and financial stability.
To maintain membership of the PCA, members also have to maintain the standards and are audited regularly to ensure standards are being maintained. This gives consumers confidence that PCA members are robust and reliable companies to provide them with property care services.
The PCA also provides an industry voice on behalf of its members and the sectors it represents. The PCA works with government departments, industry bodies, responds to industry consultation documents and assists with the development of new guidelines, all to promote best practice and protecting consumers. Once an organisation has achieved PCA membership it will be entitled to display the PCA logo on their literature and van/car livery. (See below)
So, if a company displays the PCA logo does that mean they are full members of the PCA? Not always, only full members of the PCA are entitled to display the logo but some companies who are not members will also display the logo which is misleading to the general public and professionals alike. I have seen companies display the logo on their vehicles and on their literature followed by the initials ‘PCAQT’ which stands for ‘Property Care Association Qualified Technician’ or ‘PCA qualified Surveyor’.
The ‘PCAQT’ is awarded to technicians who have attended the relevant 2-day training course and successfully completed the exam which is taken at the end of the second day. The course is aimed at newcomers to the industry and experienced technicians who are looking to gain strong foundation knowledge from which they can progress in our industry. I respect and admire all technicians who chose to complete the course and achieve the qualification, but it does not entitle the individual or company to proclaim ‘PCA membership’ although it does entitle the candidate to refer to themselves as a PCA Qualified Technician (PCAQT).
I have also seen companies who state ‘PCA Qualified Surveyors’ which again gives the impression that they are PCA members, but this is misleading. An individual can study for and achieve the status of ‘Certificated Surveyor of Timber and Damp in Building’ (CSTDB) but this does not give them membership of the PCA. Again, I have huge respect for anyone who attains the CSTDB qualification and it is a great foundation from which to develop a specialist surveying career but until they or their company has applied for and achieved PCA membership they are forbidden to display the PCA Logo or claim to be members of the PCA.
If you are in any doubt as to the status of the company, refer to the ‘Property Care Association’ website where a full list of member companies is available. You can also verify whether a company/individual are members by searching by name on the website.
I have experienced numerous occasions where clients have requested a survey from what they believe to be a PCA member as part of their mortgage application only to have the survey rejected by the Lenders due to the provider not being a PCA member. Often the clients have seen the PCA Logo on the company’s website or vehicle and assumed they are members when they are displaying the PCAQT qualification or stating PCA Qualified Surveyors. In such cases, this should be reported to the PCA who will then insist that they remove the PCA Logo.
PCA Member Type: Contractor
A ‘PCA Contractor’ is a company providing services to the domestic and/or commercial market within the sectors represented by the PCA. They can provide customers with diagnostic investigation services backed by a written survey report and quotation for any necessary works. To explain this further, a PCA contractor will generally offer to survey the property, identify damp related issues, and then provide the client with a specification and quotation to rectify the issues that have been identified. Contractors generally rely on the execution of remedial work to sustain their business model which is perfectly acceptable within the terms of their PCA membership.
A PCA contractor cannot offer to provide ‘Independent Damp and Timber Surveys’ or promote themselves as ‘PCA Independent Surveyors’. To do so would be misleading and in breach of the PCA Codes of Conduct which forbids any individual or organisation which derives profit or gain from the undertaking of building preservation work from promoting themselves as offering Independent Surveys.
PCA Member Type: PCA Independent Surveyor
A ‘PCA Independent Surveyor’ is an individual who offers a specialist surveying service and has noncommercial Linkor interest with any organisation or individual that derives profit or gain from the undertaking of building preservation work. To explain this further, a ‘PCA Independent Surveyor’ has no interest in gaining financially from the execution of any remedial work. A ‘PCA Independent Surveyor’ will simply carry out a detailed survey of the property and submit his/her findings with regards to any defects that have been identified or if no defects have been identified this will be stated in the subsequent report.
I have been practising as an Independent Surveyor for approximately 5 years and I have found that my reports have varied dramatically from my time as a contractor member and I particularly enjoy the fact that I am not reliant on the execution of the remedial work for an income.
PCA Independent Surveyors are required by the PCA to have Professional Indemnity Insurance Cover, unlike contractor members where this requirement is not mandatory. The primary reason for professional liability coverage is that a typical general liability insurance policy will respond only to a bodily injury, property damage, personal injury or advertising injury claim. Other forms of insurance cover employers, public and product liability. But various professional services and products can give rise to legal claims without causing any of the specific types of harm covered by such policies. Common claims that professional liability insurance covers are negligence, misrepresentation, violation of good faith and fair dealing, and inaccurate advice all of which provides the client with an additional layer of protection.
Member Type: PCA Independent Consultant
A ‘PCA Independent Consultant’ is an individual who offers a specialist building preservation consultancy including surveying and site investigation services but will not provide estimates for rectification or undertake any repair works.
Consultants are deemed to have the ability to act as an independent witness in litigation cases and are able to produce CPR 35 compliant reports in accordance with civil procedures. Whilst I am happy to act as an expert witness and regularly produce CPR 35 reports, I chose the ‘PCA Independent Surveyor’ category as I feel that it is better suited to my general surveying practice.
Non-PCA member Damp Proofing/Specialist Companies
There are many specialist preservation companies outside of the ‘Property Care Association’ and without a doubt, some of those companies will be very good and deliver a first-class service but unfortunately there are many who will not act with any measurable degree of professionalism or competence. The world of property care (especially damp proofing) is seen by many as an easy way to make lots of money very quickly and unfortunately, it is the general public and on occasions professional organisations who pay the price for their incompetence. Unfortunately, the vast majority of non-PCA member companies are unaccountable for the service that they provide and if something goes wrong the client generally finds they have little possibility of recompense.
So how do you chose which company to instruct?
When researching companies within the preservation industry, I have seen a huge array of impressive initials on company letterhead’s which when investigated further are either fictitious or relate to spurious organisations of no relevance. I often scroll through the online reviews relating to such companies and I am impressed by the high number of 5-star reviews etc until I notice the same bad grammar and use of repetitive terminology which is a clear indication that the reviews have been written by the same person under a different name all of which is designed to promote the company to a level which is undeserving of the reality their status deserves.
Many companies will offer to do a free survey but in reality, the report that you will receive is generally worth exactly what you pay for it i.e. NOTHING. Logic dictates that a company offering a free survey ultimately aims to make money from the work being carried out which in my personal opinion has a detrimental influence on how the survey is carried out. Carrying out free surveys without subsequently carrying out remedial work is a one-way street to financial ruin. No company can survive by offering a ‘free survey’ service, there has to be a catch and there generally is in the form of unnecessary remedial work which will empty your bank account at a rate quick enough to make your eyes water.
My best advice is to do your research then do some more!!! Check out the company reviews on the various online platforms such as Google, Trust-Pilot etc and don’t just rely on the reviews posted on the company’s website (it’s amazing how many of them on the same company website have amazing similarities).
If the company advertises membership of a Trade Association, check it out. All credible trade associations will be more than happy to verify membership or otherwise of companies that you are considering employing.
Before you get excited about the impressive array of initials after someone’s name again, check the initials out which is easily done using modern technology. If the initials turn out to be genuine, are they relevant to the professional advice that you are requesting?
A quick check on ‘companies house’ Will provide you with an insight into the company’s financial status (if it is a limited Company) which is important as your 10, 20 or even 30-year (madness) guarantee will be worthless if the company is in a precarious financial situation.
Hopefully, by carrying out the necessary due diligence you will avoid the rogue traders and find a Surveyor/Contractor who will deliver the service that you require in line with your expectations.