What is a CSCS card? And does every tradesperson need one?

Two builders in hardhats with tablet at construction site

If you work in construction, it’s likely you’ve come across CSCS cards. They’re widely used by tradespeople and employers as a way of proving a worker’s skills.

But are they a legal requirement? And how do employers check them? Read our guide where we’ll cover:

What is the CSCS?

CSCS stands for Construction Skills Certification Scheme. It’s a programme that sets working standards for tradespeople in the UK.

Even though it isn’t a legal regulation, it’s widely used across the country as proof of your skills as a tradesperson. Each trade has its own rules and regulations you’ll need to follow in order to get a CSCS card.

What is a CSCS card?

A CSCS card shows a worker’s skills that have been certified the CSCS. It’s often used by tradespeople such as:

In other words, a CSCS card is how someone shows they can do all the things that’s required in their trade. Think of it like a driving licence – the card is proof that someone has demonstrated the necessary skills to be a CSCS qualified trades professional.

As well as helping tradespeople to get work, they allow employers to make sure they’re hiring suitable workers for the job. Using CSCS cards is a quick and reliable way to see if someone is qualified for the job and making sure they have the relevant health and safety training.

How to apply for a CSCS card

First, you need to find out what type of CSCS card you need. You can check card types on the CSCS website. Once you’ve selected your occupation and level of training, the system will tell you which kind of card you need to apply for.

The cards come in different colours such as blue, black, gold, red, and green. Different colours mean different things:

  • a green card is for a labourer and is the entry-level CSCS card
  • a red card is a level up from green, and is used by apprentices, management, and technical or experienced trainees
  • blue cards are for skilled workers who possess a National Vocational Qualification level two in a construction-related subject or approved apprenticeship programme
  • gold cards are for advanced craft or supervisory roles
  • a black card is for higher level managers
  • white cards are for academically or professionally qualified workers

CITB health, safety and environment test

Next, you’ll need to complete a CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) Health, safety and environment test (see more below).

Once you’ve done that you need to send off copies of your training certificates to [email protected], then call them up on 0344 994 4777 and pay £36 with a credit or debit card. Your CSCS card will then be posted to you. CSCS no longer accepts postal applications.

How long does it take to get a CSCS card?

The good news is that once you’ve paid for your CSCS card, it’ll be posted the next working day, so you shouldn’t have too wait long for it to arrive.

CSCS test – what you need to know

You’ll need to complete the CITB Health, safety and environment test to get a CSCS card.

The type of test you need to take depends on your trade and what training you already have, and it costs £22.50.

The three types of test are:

  • Operative
  • Specialist
  • Manager and Professional

CSCS test booking

You can book a test through the CITB website or by calling 0344 994 4488.

There are options available for people who need additional support to complete the test.

How long does it take to do a CSCS test?

The CITB Health, safety and environment test is 45 minutes long, and during this time you’ll have to answer 50 multiple choice questions including case study and knowledge questions.

The test is taken on a computer at a CITB-approved test centre and you need to arrive 15 minutes before your test begins.

Do you need to do a CSCS mock test?

The CSCS test can be challenging and as you have to pay for it, there’s more pressure to pass the first time. As a result, it’s important that you’re well prepared.

Alongside revision, it could be worth taking a mock test. There are various mock test providers, offering mocks that have questions very similar to the real thing.

Can you buy a CSCS card?

If you’re thinking about skipping the test and instead just paying for a CSCS card, you wouldn’t be the first person. Back in 2016, CITB revoked over 4,500 CSCS cards after it emerged that a number of training centres had been issuing the cards for cash.

CSCS cards aren’t a legal requirement, but most major contractors require workers on their sites to hold them. It’s similar to tradespeople needing insurance to complete many projects, despite it not being a legal requirement.

The law states that anyone undertaking construction work must be competent, and the certification scheme is one of the main ways of demonstrating relevant skills and training.

Do tradespeople need a CSCS card?

Getting a CSCS card can open many new doors for a skilled tradesperson and most employers will insist you have one before you can work on their site. You’ll find that many job adverts state that workers must have CSCS cards as proof of their competence.

What is the CSCS card checker?

Employers can check if a worker has a genuine CSCS card by using the CSCS online card checker, which asks for:

  • the employee’s name
  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • CSCS ID number

What is the CSCS app?

In 2022, CSCS launched the Smart Check mobile app to help improve building site safety and reduce fraud.

The CSCS card checker app now makes it easy for employers to access information about workers.

CSCS says the app is designed to:

  • promote a qualified and competent workforce
  • tackle fraud
  • increase access efficiency

All employers need to do is scan workers’ CSCS cards using contactless (NFC) or a QR code within the app.

They can then check if the photo on screen matches the cardholder, and that they have the right level of qualifications to carry out their job.

There are currently 38 different cards with the CSCS logo and the vast majority can be verified using Smart Check.

How long does a CSCS card last for?

How long a CSCS card lasts depends on the type of card, but most cards last for five years. When you get your card it’ll show an expiry date.

CSCS card renewal

To renew a CSCS card, you need to prove again that you have the appropriate training and qualifications for your job, and you need to retake the CITB Health, safety and environment test.

You can then call the CSCS contact centre to pay £36 over the phone and provide details of your current or previous employer. You can’t apply to renew your card until six months before your current card’s expiry date.

More small business guides and resources

Have you applied for a CSCS card? How did you find the process? Let us know in the comments below.

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Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

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