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Homeowners to get more protection from errant renovation firms

The Consumers Association of Singapore and the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association will develop a voluntary joint accreditation scheme to certify contractors, which is aimed at stemming rising complaints from homeowners.

SINGAPORE: Homeowners can look forward to more protection against errant contractors who fail to honour contractual agreements and unsatisfactory services.

This is after the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) and the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) announced they would jointly develop a voluntary CaseTrust-RCMA accreditation scheme for the renovation industry. The scheme will begin next year.

Complaints against contractors have been increasing over the years, according to a statement by both parties issued on Monday (Aug 11). There were 1,488 complaints in 2011, 1,532 complaints in 2012 and 1,779 complaints in 2013, while 813 complaints were lodged between January and July 2014, according to the statement.

"The top nature of complaint usually involves unsatisfactory services and failure to honour the contractual agreement. Home renovation is one of the larger expense items incurred by consumers and it usually involves payment of large sums of deposit to the contractor even before the renovation is completed," it said. "We hope the joint accreditation scheme will help to strengthen and uplift industry standards and promote fairer business practices in the renovation industry." 

"CASE has been in discussion with RCMA on this scheme for the last few years,” said Mr Lim Biow Chuan, president of CASE. “There are more and more complaints against renovation contractors. The common complaint is, firstly, shoddy work. Secondly, they take the deposit and they do not perform at all. Third, the businesses close shop after a while - they go into liquidation or they are unable to turn up."

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS FOR ALL

CASE and RCMA said consumers can look forward to added protection through a performance insurance bond when they patronise a CaseTrust-RCMA accredited contractor. "The bond will act as a buffer for non-performance of contractors and provide greater peace of mind to consumers who are renovating their homes," they said in the statement.

Other measures to be developed include:

  • A standard contract signed between the consumer and the contractor, which will set out clearly the policies on fees and fee refund

  • A redress system with proper and clearly-defined dispute resolution mechanisms for the business and consumers - including compulsory mediation by the CASE Mediation Centre in the event of any disputes

  • Sales staff need to be well-trained based on ethical sales practices, and should be able to provide prompt, accurate information regarding the renovation

  • Accredited contractors must go through an on-site workmanship site assessment - or CONQUAS - by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA)

Additionally, RCMA said it is planning to work on a one-stop renovation city hub where many of the CaseTrust-RCMA accredited businesses will be housed under a single roof.

CaseTrust, CASE's accreditation arm, currently has 22 accredited renovation companies on an existing scheme, and it hopes the partnership with RCMA will improve the renovation industry, said Mr Lim.

MOVE WELCOMED

Most companies welcomed the move but some were concerned that they would be disadvantaged if they did not sign up for the scheme.

"They will not be affected much because for small firms, normally their customer base will be on a referral basis so I do not think it will affect them that much. Of course, we will encourage all firms to join this scheme because we can grow together," said Dr Sky Tan, vice-president of RCMA and chief executive of Sky Creation.

"Those accredited with us will have the advantage of offering consumers the added protection that they are looking for. I do not think consumers will label contractors who are not in the scheme as a bad egg but they will certainly be more discerning," said Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of CASE.

A company looking to accredit with the scheme must first be a member of the RCMA. The process takes around three months.

Dr Tan said there are certain requirements before a company can be a member – it must be registered with the HDB, have a healthy financial statement and a good workmanship assessment. The association has over 100 companies and targets to have around 50 of its members to sign up.

Meanwhile, some homeowners Channel NewsAsia spoke to said the scheme is timely. Educator Noreisah Aziz said: "For us, the normal layman, we do not know what are the rules and regulations involved so they can always swindle us. It is timely that they put in place such a scheme because it will help average people understand more."

Since 1999, CASE has been running accreditation schemes under its CaseTrust programme with the aim of improving business practices to achieve a consumer-friendly environment. As of August 1, 2014, CASE has 603 accredited businesses in industries such as retail, spa and wellness as well as employment agencies.