You would expect one of the big 6 energy companies to do things right when it comes to installing energy saving products around the home, wouldn’t you?
It has been branded a failure and a disappointing flop in Westminster. Energy insiders have dismissed it as expensive and chaotic. And now it seems the public, too, has lost patience with the Green Deal, the controversial scheme to encourage people to install energy-efficient home improvements, ultimately to help climate change and reduce greenhouse effects on a mass scale by using less energy to heat the home.
The Government’s flagship energy efficiency policy has become a headache for thousands of householders left with poor workmanship on wall cavity insulation installations across the country or waiting for promised cashback payments that fail to materialise. In a lot cases, the energy companies responsible for carrying out the works have left householders with botched improvement works in the rush to meet energy efficiency targets. Industry estimates say that as many as 3 MILLION homes are affected by failed cavity wall insulation and British Gas is amongst them and by no means alone.
The ‘BIG 6’ energy firms:
British Gas (owned by UK firm Centrica which is listed on the LSE)
EDF Energy (owned by French firm Électricité de France )
npower (owned by German firm innogy)
E.ON UK (German-owned)
Scottish Power (Spanish-owned)
SSE (listed on the LSE)
Others have forked out £150 for a Green Deal assessment, lured by the promise of generous cashback, only to be disappointed by a lack of funds on a scheme.
The two-stage scheme was introduced in 2012 to tackle the upfront cost of installing efficiency measures such as a new boiler, double glazing or insulation.
The first phase offered householders 25-year loans to pay for the measures, which were to be repaid through energy bills. The Green Deal’s “Golden Rule” states that the home owner will not pay back any more than they make in energy bill savings.
But take-up has been low. Just 2% of households assessed for the Green Deal had signed up, according to the government figures available at early 2016.
To make matters worse, the company set up by the Government to aggregate loans for the Green Deal was bailed out in November 2015 with a multi-million-pound loan of public money.
The Green Deal Finance Company needed £34m after admitting that it would need to sign 60,000 Green Deal plans a year to break even – while just 8,000 plans had so far then been signed.
In a much-needed overhaul after that, the Government began offering “cashback” as well as a loan, paying householders up to £7,600 for installing certain energy-efficiency measures.
This second phase, called the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, released a total of £540m of taxpayer cash in drips every few months as an incentive to home owners.
A fund for solid wall insulation – cladding on interior or exterior walls to keep in heat – pays 67pc of the cost of the work, capped at £4,000. It is used when cavity wall insulation isn’t possible. House¬holders can also get up to £1,000 cashback on two other energy-efficiency improvements, such as installing double glazing or a new boiler.
If this sounds complicated, it is – and many who have tried to apply and use the scheme have described it as chaotic. One release of £24m, offered in the month of December for householders to spend on solid wall insulation, ran out within just 24 hours after 6,000 people rushed to claim on the first day. How can that be so?
In a parliamentary inquiry held in September 2014, MPs called the Green Deal a “disappointing failure”, with flawed planning that has left consumers without promised cashback and improvement works.
The Government has so far paid out £42.5m towards improvement works through the cashback scheme, with solid wall insulation (61pc) proving the most popular measure.
Yet relatively few householders have benefited, and fewer than 9,000 people have been paid cashback.
Green Deal loans, which typically charge borrowers a high interest rate of 6pc 7pc, were also criticised by the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee’s inquiry.
Public opinion reflects this. Householders reporting problems relating to the Green Deal have increased in number by 41pc from the same time last year, according to Citizens Advice. But this included complaints about Green Deal installers as well as rogue firms that pretend to offer the scheme in order to con householders into paying upfront fees.
Cashback: ‘I was offered (non-existent) returns of £410’
One unhappy householder is James Hannam, a historian from Kent paid £150 for a non-refundable Green Deal assessment in the hope of replacing his old and inefficient boiler. Mr Hannam, 42, thought that he would receive £310 towards the new boiler and £100 for an up-to-date thermostat. But he later found “loads of conditions in the small print” that meant he would need cavity wall insulation to an extension to qualify. “So I needed to spend £1,500 more than I’d budgeted for,” he said.
Mr Hannam also complained that he “couldn’t just use the local plumber you know and trust”.
This is because, once customers sign up, they must use a Green Deal-registered assessor and installer.
“These are bigger companies with the staff to deal with all the paperwork, not your local tradesmen, so are already more expensive,” Mr Hannam said.
Poor-quality workmanship is another nasty side-effect of the deal, according to building trade experts.
“Householders are encouraged to have works carried out when it may not be a good idea,” said Jeff Howell, The Telegraph’s House Doctor columnist.
“External wall insulation, for example, sounds useful but is not always the most sensible way of insulating a house,” he said.
There are also anecdotal reports of installers cutting corners in order to deliver Green Deal works as cheaply as possible. Many claims management firms such as Claims Legal who trade as Wall Cavity Claims have seen a very sharp rise in claim enquiries over the past few months with winter upon us and damp and mould and lots of issues relating to Cavity Wall Insulation showing more so in the winter months, and more marketing is now making people aware of the correlation between CWI and faults within the home such as damp and mould.
British Gas Cavity Wall Insulation was fitted by tradesman and contractors and they the same as most other firms rushed jobs and never properly surveyed properties and made them properly suitable to have the cavity wall insulation installed as they too were under pressure to meet Government and EU targets.
Richard Twinn, from the UK Green Building Council, a group that represents energy efficiency installers, said: “This means less reputable installers are offering poorer quality in order to offer a lower price tag, and householders think they’re getting a good deal.”
The loan: ‘£50 Nando’s vouchers and our home is a wreck’
When British Gas doorstepped Heidi and Jonathan McInally-Henry in December 2013, the couple were promised an energy-efficient revamp that would increase the value of their home by £8,000. One year and a £3,634 bill later, the couple say their home is barely habitable!
The couple took out a Green Deal loan to insulate their home in Plymouth. Half of the cost of installing insulation, a boiler flue and soil pipe was met by British Gas as part of the Energy Companies Obligation, a government directive to help householders install efficiency measures.
The remainder was paid for upfront (£3,634) and using a Green Deal loan – just £456 was borrowed but the 25-year repayments amounted to £1,550.
Render applied to the front of the house has blocked window ventilation, aggravating Mrs McInally-Henry’s asthma. The couple say water is seeping in where windows have not been sealed properly. Mr McInally-Henry, of the Army Reserve, said it was “a farce” that ruined their home.
The couple felt they had no control over workmen coming in and out of the house. “I would see strangers outside the house, leaving debris in the garden and looking in,” Mrs McInally-Henry said.
As an apology, British Gas originally sent the couple £50 in vouchers to spend at chicken restaurant Nando’s.
After pressure from a newspaper group newspaper, a British Gas employee, who was not a chartered surveyor, inspected the property.
But the report did not accept responsibility for damp, saying this was a pre-existing problem, which seems to be a typical answer to the problem when householders complain to the installer directly or the associated guarantee agency who typically give a 25 year guarantee after CWI is installed.
British Gas accepted that the work for Mrs McInally-Henry was “a bit messy” in parts and that the house had been painted the wrong colour. It said damp and mould had been caused by ‘existing defective rain gutters’, and that damp in one bedroom had arisen because it was “used as storage”, causing “bad circulation”.
The Telegraph’s Jeff Howell, a qualified surveyor, said the report was “appallingly badly written”, adding that pre-existing dampness problems should have been identified and recorded in the pre works survey.
British Gas has now agreed to send an independent damp-proofing specialist to assess how the damage was caused and offer compensation for stress and inconvenience. It also said Mr McInally-Henry’s loss of earnings from being at home during the works would be compensated.
British Gas said that every time the McInally-Henrys contacted the company to complain they were visited “to put the situation right”. A spokesman said: “It is very rare for customers to be dissatisfied with insulation work.”
Interestingly, it is thought that British Gas is aware of a bigger problem in numbers and has a team of ‘problem solvers’ especially for Cavity Wall Insulation complaints.
UK Parliament discussed the huge scale of the problem in November 2016 and since then very little has been heard from Government.
Alan Hoey, Managing Director at Claims Legal who have been helping clients seek redress for the last 3 years and has a growing panel of specialist solicitors trained and dedicated to helping home owners protect their homes and families health said “It is a shocking situation for homeowners on a large scale and as well as damp, mould, condensation, cold spots, damp smells, and all the usual issues, wall ties within the strength and fabric of the buildings can be affected and cause structural problems. The best route for any home owners is to seek legal representation and get the professional services of a Chartered Surveyors included. Our panel solicitors and barristers use leading Chartered Surveyors and they work for you, not the Government or the big energy companies, so your interests are always their first concern.”
“Devaluation is a real concern, if you image a 1/3rd of the price of your home can be wiped out because of failed cavity wall insulation, and multiply that potentially 3 million homes affected, the bill could come to as much as £100 BILLION POUNDS.”
Ironically, the whole issue to lower greenhouse gases and improve the environment has been turned upside down. When heating cold and damp walls, the heating usage is much larger. That is without the massive effect that is about to come with all of the extracted insulation materials needing to go to landfill as a full extraction is always recommended and cross insulation should never be done. With an average of 25 bin liners of material needing binned per home, multiply by 3 MILLION again, it is one big fat mess.
So, if British Gas have installed your Wall Cavity Insulation and you have problems, you might be best contacting Wall cavity Claims and see what they can help you with. You’ll never be asked to make any payments upfront or if your claim is unsuccessful.
Wall Cavity Claims offer a national service covering all of England and Wales, and specialist solicitor all work No Win No Fee. Contact them today on Freephone 0800-8-654321