Since mid-2015 the Construction Industry Training Board (“CITB”) has made significant changes to its Construction Skills Certification Scheme (“CSCS”). The scheme was set up as a means of enabling those who attend construction sites to demonstrate that they possess the required standards and competencies. However, a CSCS-commissioned report (“CITB CSCS: card fraud and onsite card checking survey. Final report”, available here) revealed that abuse of the system was rife. Many of those who claimed to be qualified in construction were in fact working illegally in the sector. Since discovering this, the CITB have once again urged employers to be thorough when checking CSCS cards and have sought to pursue prosecution where technical and factual evidence points to fraud.
CSCS was intended to enable site managers to trust that those operating on their site were competent to do so. In principle, a CSCS card is only issued to an individual if they possess the appropriate construction-related qualifications and, subject to some exemptions, have passed the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test within the last two years. Embedded microchip technology was introduced to the cards in 2010. The cards can now be read via a smartphone app or dedicated reader device. It was hoped that the ability to access additional online information, as opposed to conducting a mere visual ID check, would help tackle the problem of fraudulent activity. However, the take-up has been slow: the CSCS 2015 Report revealed that only 6% of cards were being checked using the smart technology, with 69% of supervisors still using the paper-based system.
Fraudulent CSCS activity has been taken very seriously by the CITB. According to the CSCS 2015 Report, one in five of those who check cards on site had been presented with fake verification. The prosecution of non-recognised training providers and cardholders has since increased.
In October 2016 a 34-year-old man pled guilty to eight offences, including misuse of identity documents and paying someone to sit the Health and Safety tests on his behalf. Manjit Multani was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. Prior to the CITB investigation and resulting revocation of his CPCS card, Mr Multani had been using the fake certification cards to work on multiple building sites.
Earlier the same year, a company director was convicted after being charged with fraud by false representation. Karen Sharpe was found guilty of purchasing thirteen fake CSCS cards, which she used to hire unqualified staff and secure a cleaning contract on a construction site. She was sentenced to fourteen weeks in custody, suspended for 12 months, and 180 hours of unpaid community service.
The CSCS card is the most commonly held construction ID card, meaning it is also the most commonly faked card. However, fraudulent use of other CITB cards, such as the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (“CPCS”) cards, does occur. In January 2015 two men, Arsen Meci and Medi Krasniqi, were sentenced to six and a half years and five and a half years imprisonment, respectively. Their offences included 3000 counts of image forgery for CSCS cards and a lesser number for CPCS cards.
The problem of fraudulent certification cards is not a minor one. Having unqualified and incompetent workers on site carries astronomical risks. Consequences can include a poor standard of construction (leading not only to financial expense but also health and safety risks in years to come) as well as jeopardising the immediate welfare of both the unqualified workers and other legitimate workers on the site. Abuse of the system has the potential to significantly damage the reputation of the industry. Employers must uphold a rigorous approach when it comes to verifying the validity of the cards. The CITB website, accessible here, sets out eight recommended actions to be taken if someone is suspected of using a fraudulent card.