Be wary of free home energy improvement grants

15 January 2018 Posted by

The Government’s Green Deal initiative was launched in 2013, with the aim of improving the energy efficiency of homes, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in the UK.

The improvements it offered included the installation of boilers, heating systems, insulation or double glazing. The cost of this work was met by a loan, added to the energy bills of the home owner. However, the homeowner would only pay an amount which was based on the projected ‘savings’ that the improvements were supposed to bring.

Whilst well intentioned, the scheme proved to be flawed in a number of ways and was ended in 2015, with the intention that an improved version would be launched again in the near future.

Additionally, another scheme – The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme – was launched alongside the Green Deal. It put an obligation on the big energy companies to fund home energy improvements; in order to help low-income households, people living in older properties and low-income communities.

Unfortunately for both schemes, some unscrupulous businesses saw this as a good opportunity to make money by taking advantage of unwary consumers.

As a result many thousands of home owners now regularly receive nuisance telephone calls or door-to-door salespeople, offering free home improvements, and claiming to represent the ‘Government’ or ‘local Council’.

On the face of it, they appear to be a really good deal. If you can demonstrate that you are in receipt of some form of benefit such as Pension Credit, Income Support, or Child Tax Credit, the firm will send out a ‘surveyor’ to come and assess your home and recommend the best solution; which will then be installed for free.

Unfortunately the surveyors often turn out to be little more than salespeople, with no specific home energy knowledge. If it turns out you’re not eligible for free improvements, they will often try and sell you a heating system or other form of home improvement, regardless as to whether it would make the promised improvement to efficiency.

Gary Webster, Senior Trading Standards Officer with Cornwall Council said “Our Fair Trading team has seen a rise in the number of cases being reported through Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline. In many of the cases notified to us, the recommended energy solutions have been inadequate for the size or nature of the property.

We’ve heard of homes being harder to keep warm as a result, particularly where entire heating systems have been installed. It suggests that not enough care is being taken to properly assess the household needs.

There have been reported cases where the homeowners, who are sometimes elderly or vulnerable, receive no help or guidance on how to use the new system or set their heating correctly. Where they have tried to complain, they are ignored or fobbed-off by the installers – who are often based hundreds of miles away, with no intention of dealing constructively with complaints.

In some instances, no paperwork has been left at the property, so the homeowner isn’t actually clear who it was that carried out the work.”

If you are thinking of improving the energy efficiency of your home then Trading Standards would suggest the following advice:

  • Avoid agreeing to anything as a result of an unsolicited phone call or knock at the door.
  • Be extremely wary if the caller claims to working on behalf of the Government or Council.
  • Seek advice from Community Energy Plus (see details below); they are a social enterprise, based in Cornwall, who can provide a wealth of information on home energy improvements and energy bill reduction. They can also refer you to local installers who may be able to undertake any necessary works.
  • If you experience any problems, seek advice at an early stage. The Citizens Advice Consumer Service can provide telephone or email support in dealing with complaints and, in serious cases, may refer the matter to Trading Standards.

For more information about how to make energy savings in the home:

Community Energy Plus – www.cep.org.uk – 0800 954 1956

For complaints about installers of home energy saving products:

Citizens Advice Consumer Service – www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer

03454 04 05 06

If you have a complaint about your energy supplier that cannot be resolved via their own complaints procedure:

OFGEM – www.ofgem.gov.uk  – 020 7901 7295

For winter wellbeing advice:

Cornwall Council – www.cornwall.gov.uk/winterwellbeing – 0800 954 1956 (provided through Community Energy Plus)

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About the Author

Simon, Research & Information Officer, Amethyst, Community Safety Team

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