Part 3: Apprenticeships and training

Inquiry into the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board: Follow-up report.

In this Part, we give an update on the Board's progress with the recommendations that we made about how it carries out its role in relation to those who are in apprenticeships or training, or who are working without full qualifications. Under the Act, only those working under an apprenticeship or who are in training need limited certificates from the Board in order to carry out plumbing, gasfitting, or drainlaying. Other unqualified people can do some plumbing, gasfitting, and drainlaying work under statutory exemptions.

We discuss changes in the way the Board deals with:

  • exemptions; and
  • supervision.

Summary of progress

By 2013, the Board had addressed many of the problems that we identified in its Licensing Policy Statement. However, in relation to exemptions under supervision, the problems remained, as the Board had transferred some of its previous policy into new policies unchanged. The Supervision Policy that we recommended has been written, but we consider that it has introduced requirements that go beyond the Act and Gazette notices.

Our 2010 report made three recommendations about apprenticeships and training. Figure 2 summarises the progress against these recommendations, with further detailed findings in paragraphs 3.4-3.23.

Figure 2
The Board's progress in addressing recommendations 1, 2, and 3

We recommended that the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board:Progress by the end of 2013Relevant paragraphs in this report
1 … review its Licensing Policy Statement to ensure that it complies with the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Act 2006 and administrative law principles. Complete. The Board withdrew the Licensing Policy Statement and replaced it with more specific policies. However, the policy on exemptions under sections 12-25 raises further matters. 3.5-3.16
2 … discuss with the Department of Building and Housing whether mechanisms under the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Act 2006 are clear and appropriate for controlling the work of exempt people carrying out plumbing, gasfitting, or drainlaying work. Partly complete, The Board has stated its case to MBIE, which is now the relevant ministry. This will be considered in the review of the Act, which is being scoped. 3.17
3 … revise its Licensing Policy Statement to include a discussion of how it defines "supervision". Complete. The Board has a Supervision Policy in place but has consulted twice recently on changes. We have concerns about the Supervision Policy. 3.18-3.23


In 2010, we had concerns that the Board was purporting to regulate people working under the exemptions in sections 19, 21, and 25 of the Act.

These exemptions allow people, including members of the public, to carry out plumbing, gasfitting, and drainlaying work without getting any approval from the Board. However, they must be supervised by someone who is appropriately qualified. In 2010, the Board's Licensing Policy Statement set out how it approached these exemptions. We had concerns that the approach amounted to regulating the work of people covered by these exemptions when the Board had no legal power to do so. It had previously regulated some of these people under the 1976 Act, but the 2006 Act removed that power.

In 2010, the Board confirmed that it was legally unable to regulate these exempt people, but it was able to regulate their supervisor.

By 2013, the Board had written a new policy regarding the exemptions under sections 12-25, but had carried forward the same requirements from its Licencing Policy Statement.

As set out in our 2010 report, we accept that the Board is able to place conditions on the supervising person to ensure that the work that they are responsible for is safe. The Board has done this by setting out those requirements in Gazette notices.

We had, and still have, concerns that the Gazette notices already go too far in prescribing matters to do with supervision of exemption holders. We discuss these concerns in paragraphs 3.21 and 3.22.

There are a few other, more minor, problems with the sections 12-25 Exemptions Policy. This policy is posted on the Board's website under Granting of exemptions under sections 12-25 policy. This implies that the Board has to grant exemptions under sections 12-25 of the Act. The paragraphs on exemption under supervision:

  • do not make clear that the Board's approval is not required for the person using the exemption; and
  • appear late in the document.

In our 2010 report, we raised three other matters regarding exemptions, although we made no recommendations.

The Licensing Policy Statement said that, if a trainee plumber, gasfitter, or drainlayer stopped training, their limited certificate would be automatically revoked. In our 2010 report, we noted that we did not consider that the Board had the legal power to deem that a limited certificate was automatically revoked.

The Board's current sections 12-25 Exemptions Policy, which applies to limited certificate holders, now provides that the Board will write to an exemption holder to inform them of why it is considering cancelling the exemption. The Board gives the person a reasonable opportunity to make a written submission and to meet with the Board to discuss the matter. This is a good example of embedding natural justice in policy development.

The Licensing Policy Statement at the time set out that the Board could impose terms and conditions on exemptions granted by the Board under section 18 of the Act. This has been removed in the sections 12-25 Exemptions Policy because the Board accepted that it had no authority to impose terms and conditions on exemptions issued under section 18.

We commented on the Board placing a one-year time limit on exemptions issued under sections 18 and 24 in the Licensing Policy Statement. We could not see the legal basis for this. This remains the case, because the Board has a policy that it grants exemptions for a time that coincides with a single licensing period. The Board considers it appropriate that it be able to make a judgement on the competence of such exemption holders on an annual basis, just as it does for registered tradespeople. However, we consider that this remains open to challenge.

The Board intends to work with MBIE to reduce the number of exemptions in the Act. The Board considers that failure to remove some of the exemptions effectively deregulates part of the industry. Although we agree that some of the exemptions appear to be unnecessarily complicated, we cannot express a view on what the intent of the exemptions was or whether they remain relevant in a more modern world.


Many of the exemption and licensing conditions require people to carry out work under supervision. We set out our concerns about the Board's approach in 2010 in paragraph 3.6. At that time, the Licensing Policy Statement did not explain how the Board would interpret and apply the definition of "supervision" in the Act to its roles in licensing, monitoring, and granting exemptions.

On 27 March 2012, the Board put in place a separate Supervision Policy. It reviewed that policy on 10 December 2013. The Supervision Policy states the Board's expectations in relation to supervisors, those they supervise, and supervision arrangements. It also sets out the Board's process for approving and monitoring supervision arrangements.

We reviewed the Supervision Policy. The supervision requirements that a tradesperson must meet are determined by whether:

  • the definition of "supervision" in the Act applies to them; or
  • the supervision requirements in their licence apply; or
  • both the definition in the Act and supervision requirements in their licence apply.

The policy should then guide the Board in how to assess whether a tradesperson has met the requirements of the Act or their licence conditions. The policy cannot go outside the legal requirements or impose additional requirements on tradespeople.

We are concerned that the Supervision Policy still has many of the same problems we reported on in 2010. These problems relate to how the policy applies to people working under supervision under an exemption. Additionally, it sets out some of the Board's expectations as requirements, which implies that they are mandatory. The Board told us that previous Board members had not agreed with our concerns in 2010. The current Board are not as certain. We have passed on our detailed concerns to the Board, and it is reconsidering its position.

We are aware that the Board considers that the definition of "supervision" in the Act is too vague, and are asking for this to be considered in the planned review of the Act by MBIE (see paragraph 4.10). We can also see that the Board consulted in September 2013 with tradespeople on proposals for revisions to the Supervision Policy. Because the review of the Act may take some time, we encourage the Board to review its Supervision Policy in the next few months, taking into account the problems that we have identified.

page top