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New tests for ACT builders to tackle issues with building quality

Prospective builders will soon need to pass a test in order to gain their licence in the ACT, in a move the government says will improve building quality.

All builders applying for Class A, B and C licences for the first time will need to pass a test in order to gain the licence, and those renewing their licences could also be required to pass a test, Regulatory Services Minister Gordon Ramsay will announce on Monday. The tests for new builders will be rolled out this year, while the tests for renewals will begin in 2019.

Up to 20 per cent of those renewing their licenses will need to sit the test, with those chosen to be a combination of randomised selection and targeting of builders with complaints upheld against them.

Up to 180 builders a year will take the test as part of their license renewal, and if an applicant fails the test twice they will not have their license renewed.

"We’re putting industry on notice that we know that it’s not government that builds buildings, industry does and industry needs to step up to ensure that the buildings that we have here in Canberra are of the highest quality," Mr Ramsay said.

"We think that it's an important way of ensuring that the builders that are operating in the ACT are clearly up to scratch with the required skills and knowledge," he said.

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Access Canberra will note when complaints are substantiated against builders in order to ensure that they will sit the test when their license comes up for renewal. Builders could also be asked to sit the test outside of a renewal process, Mr Ramsay said.

The cost of expanding the licensing scheme will be announced later this year.

According to the ACT government, building and construction is worth $3.5 billion a year to the ACT economy, but at least $150 million is spent each year on fixing and reworking building defects.

More than 3000 builders hold Class A, B or C licenses, with almost 900 licenses up for renewal each year.

Class C builders already need to sit a written test in order to gain the accreditation, a requirement that was introduced in 2016.

Eighty people have taken the test since it was introduced, with almost half of applicants failing on their first attempt, and 44 per cent failing the test again on their second attempt. As a result, 17 of the 80 people who took the test did not gain the license.

The ACT has four levels of building accreditation. Class D, which covers non structural basic work, Class C which covers low-rise residential buildings, Class B for building on constructions of three stories or lower and Class A, which covers work on buildings of any height.

Last week the government announced a new inquiry into building quality in the ACT that will cover the building audit process, industry skills and accreditation, the process for identifying defects and Access Canberra's regulatory responsibilities.

Complaints about building and planning in the ACT have been on the rise this year. In March Fairfax Media reported a 40 per cent increase on last year's complaints with three months of the financial year still to go.

Today's announcement will be part of a series of announcements by the ACT government when it comes to the building industry, Mr Ramsay said.

Issues with the building industry, especially when it comes to new apartment buildings, have dogged the territory government for years. Residents have blasted the processes for resolving disputes about buildings, and in March it was reported that the government's building advisory board hadn't met in almost three years.