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I am pleased to open this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders. I welcome the Minister to her place—I will be posing a number of questions for her at the end of my remarks.
I am able to bring this subject here for debate because of a remarkable woman, Claire Eades, and two others, Pauline Saunders and Dianna Goodwin. That trio of schoolteacher, artist and retired magistrate have shown that those whose cavity wall insulation goes wrong can find it near impossible to obtain swift and effective redress. Quite recently, they set up the Cavity Wall Insulation Victims Alliance, and I have drawn on far more cases from the association than I can report today. Other reported cases are included in the briefing pack for the debate compiled by the Library. I know that hon. Members of all parties will contribute their own constituency cases.
Claire Eades’s parents are constituents of mine. Their home in Southampton suffered badly from wrongly installed cavity wall insulation. Claire ultimately achieved a reasonable settlement after a determined campaign, but her parents are not the only ones affected. Their case exposes the problems with the supposedly independent insurance body, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, as well as bad industry practice and total inadequacies in the regulation provided by Government.
The market in cavity wall insulation is worth £700 million to £800 million a year. It has been boosted by Government policy, with some direct Government funding; however, most CWI has been funded by energy companies, which have been required to invest in energy conservation measures through a range of schemes, such as the carbon emissions reduction target, the community energy saving programme and the energy companies obligation. All the schemes differ in some respects but include insulation paid for by energy companies meeting Government obligations. Energy companies that fail to do so can face fines.
Many householders who responded to cold calls, e-mails and adverts and had cavity wall insulation installed had no idea that an energy company was funding that installation. Advertising typically refers to a 25-year guarantee and names CIGA. Doorstep visits and telephone calls typically describe the schemes, wrongly, as Government-backed or Government-funded. I have transcripts of a couple of phone conversations with such salesmen, one of whom, when asked who funded the cavity wall insulation, said:
“Erm, I think it’s the government, and also your British Gas, your Southern Electric, and the other companies. Sorry, it’s only my first week but obviously that’s why they’ve already paid for it and…it’s free on behalf of the government.”
In another case, this time when discussing guarantees, the salesman said:
“Yeah, there’s only a couple of companies which government approves, they’ll give you a 25 year guarantee with the government.”
The transcript goes on:
“‘Sorry, if I had it done would I get a government guarantee?’
‘For 25 years.’
‘What, the government guarantees it?’
‘Yeah, because the government fund it. They don’t fund it, it’s from the tax they’ve taken from you, so they fund it in that way.’”
That is fairly typical of what goes on in the industry.
Even official bodies get it wrong. The North East Lincolnshire council website advises:
“The Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency…was set up by the government to provide householders with an independent, uniform and dependable guarantee. This is a 25-year guarantee that is independent of the installer who insulates your property.”
But CIGA was not set up by the Government, nor is it independent of the installers. When things go wrong, the Government are the first to deny any responsibility or involvement. Government policy is driving much of the market, but the Government are not taking the measures needed to ensure high standards of installation or redress.
The Government have had plenty of warnings. The Office of Fair Trading reported in 2012 that failure to install properly would undermine Department of Energy and Climate Change targets for energy reduction. It recommended that DECC should ensure that there was a single body ensuring effective independent monitoring of installers and installation quality. All there seems to be is a licence; Dianna Goodwin of the CWIVA bought one online for £75.
The Minister is advised by the Green Deal Consumer Protection Forum. At its meeting on
“Ofgem has noted that there are suspected cases of fraud within the ECO scheme, for example around the installations for hard-to-treat cavity walls. Ofgem was informed of anecdotal evidence of systematic abuse of the technical rules, and investigated. It found that a number of installations were done improperly…Ofgem reported that one of the main difficulties it has is that it cannot engage with the supply chain”— that is, the installers—
“as its agreement is with energy suppliers.”
At the same meeting the Energy Saving Advice Service reported that it receives about 30 complaints about ECO per week. There have been different schemes, but those elements—poor installation, abuse of the rules, and the inability of Ofgem to act—appear to run through all of them.
Following a cold call, a Mark Group survey of the Eades property took place on
The Eades’ property is less than 1 mile from the sea and according to an independent survey conducted last year is
“exposed to severe wind driven rain”.
Cavity wall insulation was installed in the property on
A quick look at the part of the Review Centre website relating to the Mark Group shows pages of complaints. For example:
“The installation team from Mark group in their wisdom filled all the air bricks in the property with silicone sealant…causing huge problems with damp. I have complained but had no response.”
“from my experience either I am the most unlucky house-holder in the country, if this is a one-off event, or the whole cavity idea is a big sham which should be investigated by someone other than the industry itself.”
A further complaint reads:
“Do not use Mark group. They filled our walls with non-compliant CWI, as open to the wind driven rain, our properties have been ruined...CIGA’s guarantee up to now is worthless”.
A further complaint says:
“It is now nearly 6 months since they damaged my home and I am no nearer to resolving the issue. They seem to be using delaying tactics in the hope that I will give up.”
And so it goes on, for page after page.
I do not know, however, whether the Mark Group is worse than any other company. It is still approved to do this work. My own encounter with the company was not good, as it made a fatuous attempt to threaten legal action after I retweeted a customer complaint—something I have never come across in 22 years as a Member of Parliament. [Interruption.]
I have some satisfaction in saying that it was at that moment that I decided that I should try to secure a parliamentary debate on the issue.
The Eades eventually contacted the Mark Group via its website. On
“CIGA is an independent body” and
“an organisation that will clearly be up to resolving issues relating to cavity wall insulation”.
I must ask the Minister what advice she was acting on when she signed that letter.
How independent is CIGA? On
I will return to the case of Pauline Saunders, but I want to read an e-mail she sent about a south Wales neighbour:
“I have just called on a very vulnerable 82 year old widow who unfortunately is in the position that her cavity wall installer has gone out of business and CIGA are not responding to any correspondence regarding this lady’s situation. I have just visited this lady and found her up to her knees in shredded wall paper”— it was peeling off because of the damp—
“that she is scraping off the wall herself in an effort to save money”.
Even if vulnerable people complain, therefore, they are not guaranteed a reply.
After chasing, a CIGA inspection was carried out on the Eades’ property by a Chris Cuss on
“She has far too much time on her hands and nothing better to do.”
In that case too, CIGA claimed there was no evidence that the CWI had
“caused or contributed to any issues with water penetration”.
That e-mail was sent from an organisation that, in its briefing to Members of Parliament for today’s debate, says:
“If something does go wrong, CIGA is at hand to put things right for consumers. It exists to protect consumers; they are our number one priority”.
The full CIGA report was never sent to Mr and Mrs Eades, but Claire Eades asked Mark Group for its report and the full CIGA report. The full CIGA report was then sent, and it said:
“the installation of CWI has NOT been completed in compliance with system designer and BBA specifications, the drilling pattern is non-compliant omitting an area of the original external wall within the rear extension”.
The full report would never have been made available to Mr and Mrs Eades had it not been for their daughter’s persistence.
CIGA colludes with installers to suppress evidence of failure and mis-installation. In the Eades case, it concluded, on the basis of no evidence, that CWI had exacerbated a concern regarding damp. It failed to acknowledge that the original Mark Group survey did not identify any pre-existing dampness.
CIGA claims there are historical problems in homes that have always been dry. Mrs Goodwin of Portsmouth was told her damp was caused by property defects and “lifestyle condensation”, even though her home had never previously suffered from damp. Chris Stillwell of Weymouth says:
“I have been left with damp and damaged walls....my flat is uninhabitable and has been ruined…CIGA who guarantee CWI keep trying to fob us off, even though their report states that the insulation used is now non-compliant”.
“under the 25 year guarantee there should be no cost to the householder”.
DECC must be aware that CIGA conspires to keep details of inspection reports from householders and produces reports that are totally inadequate.
The Eades took their plight to Ofgem. Ofgem took a month to reply and referred them to Citizens Advice. They raised their plight with trading standards, which said, “Go to the citizens advice bureau.” They went to the CAB, which said it could not help and suggested the couple go to trading standards. They finally went back to DECC, asking who was responsible. The DECC reply was very clear: whoever it was, it certainly was not going to be DECC. DECC said:
“The contractual arrangements between energy supplier and third parties are not within our remit”.
For the Eades, this was the first time the involvement of an energy supplier had been mentioned.
A couple of weeks letter, DECC offered further advice: Mr and Mrs Eades—an elderly couple—should get a solicitor. However, on
The Cavity Wall Insulation Victims Alliance has been in contact with more than 40 victims, but the Eades case is the only one in which the link with the energy company has been established. Ofgem does not hold address-level information consistently and, under CERT and CESP, there was no obligation for suppliers and installers to submit it. Despite that, the Minister of State wrote to me on
“Should it be the case that this work was undertaken under CERT, then Ms Eades or her parents may wish to contact the relevant energy supplier if they are unable to resolve the matter with the installer”.
In this case, Ofgem did trace the energy supplier for the Eades, but whoever drafted that letter for the Minister of State must have been aware that it would have been quite impossible in most cases under CERT to trace the energy supplier.
E.ON’s involvement led to an inspection by Knauf. The inspection recommended that the insulation be taken out of the south-west-facing wall due to voids. The internal walls in the extension should also have been drilled out for installation, and there were other failings. The Knauf report was never sent to Mr and Mrs Eades, and it was not intended for them. It was passed to them only by E.ON, which, acting on their behalf, demanded it from the Mark Group.
Having got that further independent report, the Eades complained to the British Board of Agrément. The BBA is supposed to accredit installers and materials, but it shares directors with CIGA. This is a very cosy network. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service, which is responsible for accrediting the BBA, confirms that householders have no right to see BBA reports on their properties.
“The system hasn’t been installed in compliance with the BBA issued certificate and should be extracted”.
Again, the Eades had no right to see that report. They got it only because E.ON was involved and passed it on to them.
To return to the case of Pauline Saunders of Newport, she finally received £1,750, and the Mark Group removed the fill. The trigger was a BBA report on the property that was sent to her in error. As a result, she was able to establish that it said:
“the property was and is unsuitable for cavity wall insulation and should not have been insulated”.
Without that report, which was intended only for the eyes of the installers or CIGA, she would not have received a payout.
In the end, the Mark Group and its loss adjuster, while still denying responsibility, paid the Eades about £11,000. Let us remember that the Mark Group originally wanted to charge £2,000 to remove the insulation from the property, having already been paid by E.ON for putting it in. How many people will there be who have not managed to pursue things that far? One cause of offence is the fact that even when settlements are achieved, installers still routinely deny responsibility and describe any action as a good will payment. Mr and Mrs Eades had their work done by a company that only does removal. On the occasions when CIGA will pay for extraction, its chosen extraction companies are Dyson Energy Services and InstaGroup, both of which share directors with it, so even when CIGA is finally forced to act, it seems that companies owned by its directors are the ones paid to do the work.
In a note sent to Members of Parliament, CIGA says:
“If something does go wrong, CIGA is at hand to put things right for consumers”.
I can give no credence to that claim. It says:
“If there is a problem with the workmanship or materials of an installation, we will ensure the installer put things right.”
As I have shown, CIGA takes active steps to avoid installers having to put things right. It says that, with regard to the 11,675 concerns reported, it has worked with installers to resolve 80% of cases; in 20% of them it covered the cost of work to the value of more than £2 million. Well, 80% plus 20% is 100%: that is all the cases dealt with. So how come so many people say they cannot get their problems resolved? There is something dodgy.
The obvious question is whether all those householders would agree that the resolution has been satisfactory, or whether they have just given up, accepted whatever they can take, or paid to put things right themselves. Who knows? There is no independent oversight of CIGA. CIGA is judge and jury in its own case, and it is run by the people who cause the problem. It says in its briefing to MPs that it will appoint a consumer champion. It is a bit late in the day, and it is hard to give credence to that. I am pleased that since today’s debate was announced, some of those involved in cases taken up by the CWIVA have had better offers. However, we cannot allow that last-minute action to let CIGA off the hook.
I have several requests for the Minister. I would like a full review of how the industry and CIGA operate. I want her to make a commitment to establishing genuinely independent oversight of the compensation arrangements. I ask her to change the regulatory regime so that the link between each energy company and each property is transparent and registered. Also, crucially, I would like every effort to be made to find out what additional historical information can be established. We must not just rectify problems for the future; we must deal with historical cases. I want the Minister to establish an independent assessment of properties at least one or two years after installation. That is the only way we will be able to understand the true scale of dampness caused by CWI. I also want her to introduce effective regulation of initial sales.
I have no doubt that there is fear in DECC that acknowledging the problems would discredit a key energy conservation policy, but the real danger to the credibility of the energy conservation programme lies in hushing the matter up. Many victims now question the whole idea of cavity wall insulation. Jeff Howell, the respected building correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, believes that all retrofit CWI is likely to cause problems. Is that true? I certainly hope not, and many organisations take a different view, but unless the Minister acts now, those doubts can only grow. We should not allow that to happen. We need an honest appraisal of the technology—where it works and where it does not—and we need effective redress for the victims.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Sanders. I am grateful to Mr Denham, for securing this important debate. The tale I have to tell today is not quite as dramatic as the one he told. Today’s debate of course follows on from a similar one obtained by Hywel Williams in October.
According to Department for Energy and Climate Change estimates, there are about 690,000 remaining “easy to treat” cavity walls in Britain, not including those in exposed locations, or with other issues such as narrow cavities and wall faults. If those were all insulated, the energy bill saving would be about £100 million a year, and the carbon dioxide saving would be about 450,000 tonnes a year. That would be the same CO2 saving as taking about 180,000 cars off the road. We should be clear, therefore, that cavity wall insulation is, on the whole, a good thing, when it is done at the right time, in the right place, in the right properties, by the right people.
Encouragingly, DECC statistics indicate that since 2009 the number of CWI installations has hugely increased across the UK. In 2012-13, in East Hampshire alone, there were 4,986 cavity wall installations, which is welcome—as long, of course, as they were done properly. However, as we have heard this morning and no doubt will again, there are times and places where the treatment is not suitable. For homes in an unsheltered position or exposed to severe wind-driven rain, or whose external walls are poorly built or maintained—with, for example, cracks in the brickwork or rendering—cavity wall insulation can clearly be a liability, as it may attract severe damp.
It is in just such a location that a constituent of mine in Meon Valley is currently experiencing terrible damp problems in his home, subsequent to the installation of cavity wall insulation. In the past several years dampness has begun to occur inside his south-facing walls, which, as he lives on top of a hill, are frequently exposed to driving rain. He tried several remedial measures without contacting the insulation company, none of which, unfortunately, solved the problem, and he was forced to conclude a year or so ago that his cavity wall insulation, installed in 2006, was the likely culprit. He brought the matter to the installer’s attention late last year. Since then, like, I suspect, many people attending the debate, has been in dispute with the installer, and has requested the removal of the insulation.
This is not a fairy tale, but I am delighted to report that last week, after the debate and my intention to take part was announced, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, with which the installer has an agreement to provide a 25 year guarantee, has, after a further inspection of the property, recommended two options to resolve the problem. Hip, hip hooray! What a marvellous thing that is. One option is extraction in the affected area of wall, with removal of all insulation to minimise the risk of further problems. Alternatively, the work could be redone with a decent damp seal membrane and/or a waterproofer called Haloseal. That is a magical thing, and I am delighted. I have also been informed that CIGA will reimburse my constituent for considerable costs incurred in remedying damp damage and for machinery that he had to bring into the house to extract water from the atmosphere.
That is all welcome and I am grateful that CIGA has reacted so positively to the case, but, despite the assurances, my constituent has very little trust in the industry. The fact is that the insulation should never have been installed as it was in the first place. Obviously, despite fairly well defined circumstances in which cavity wall insulation is clearly not appropriate, it is nevertheless routinely still being installed. According to a DECC review in 2012, there are between 215,000 and 245,000 cavity-walled houses in the UK in an exposed location, which could make them inappropriate for cavity wall insulation. That represents 1% to 1.5% of cavity-walled houses in the UK, so it is by no means an insignificant problem. I understand that my constituency is described as a category 3 area, which means that it has “severe” exposure to driving rain, and that therefore cavity wall insulation may be unsuitable for some properties. That sounds like almost everywhere in the UK to me.
Surely it should not be too difficult for installers to get things right. The CIGA website says that registered installers are required to carry out a thorough pre-installation inspection of the property; so problems should really be ironed out at that stage. It seems that, as most eloquently described by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, there is a need for either much more policing of the scheme or much more rigorous training.
It is a pleasure to speak today under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders. I congratulate Mr Denham on securing the debate, which follows on from my previous half-hour debate. I am glad that other hon. Members are taking an interest in the issue. This has been a matter of concern to my constituents for quite some time. I have come across many cases that I will refer to, although I will not go into in as much detail as the right hon. Gentleman did. In such cases, cavity wall insulation has been installed when it obviously should not have been owing to heavy rainfall and the prevailing wind in west Wales.
In fact, my constituency is a category 4 area. George Hollingbery referred to his area as being in category 3, but much of west Wales is category 4. The map is quite startling: west Wales is coloured deepest blue and that is not a reference to its political leanings. Obviously there are problems there.
As well as having heavy rainfall and being in a category 4 area, we also have many buildings with exterior walls in poor condition, including many older buildings and former council houses that have cracked rendering and, in some cases, rendering that has fallen off. In the case of one former council house—I think it is located at about 1,200 feet, facing the prevailing wind—the brickwork can be seen because large chunks of the rendering have fallen off, but cavity wall insulation was put in. Pebbledash is the common form of rendering in my area. It is effective owing to the level of rainfall, but, as we know, it does crack and I am concerned that, too often, that was not properly taken into account.
My concerns include the assessment of suitability for cavity wall insulation and whether it should be installed at all in wet and windy Wales. I have also looked at the CIGA paper provided for the debate, which has an interesting paragraph:
“As part of the suite of technical guidance published by CIGA, there are strict criteria for assessing the suitability of a particular home for cavity wall insulation. Each home must be fully assessed by a BBA registered assessor before any work takes place, and if cavity wall insulation isn’t the right way forward then the surveyor will tell you.”
That is for a house. I assume that the British Board of Agrément-registered assessors may also look at maps. Anyone looking at the map of my area and large parts of Wales will see, as I said, that it is coloured deepest blue, so they should ask whether cavity wall insulation should be installed at all in any house in the area.
I am also concerned about the standard of workmanship, which I will refer to later on. People have had problems because while I am sure that, if properly installed, cavity wall insulation is very effective indeed, it must be properly installed. I am also concerned about quality assurance and the arrangements for remedial work and the industry guarantee scheme.
I am also concerned that, in particular, the people who had cavity wall insulation installed believed that that was a desirable, appropriate and trouble-free course of action. They were reassured because, so they thought, it was a Government-backed scheme. How could it be wrong? The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen referred to that earlier on. I know that the Government are not directly responsible, but that is the perception, so it is both the Government and the enterprise of installation that face damage to their reputation.
I referred to my debate in Westminster Hall on
“Consumer magazine Which?...invited eight companies to assess”— we know what the outcome was. I am glad that there has been other media interest from both broadcast and print journalists.
I am concerned about workmanship. Apart from cases where CWI has led directly to water penetration, I have also been told of those where it has been installed badly, with areas missing, which has led to cold spots, condensation and subsequent fungal growth. Even when it is proper to install it in a house, there can be problems.
On remedial work, some installers have accepted liability. I have had good relations with one energy company, British Gas, which has taken an interest and acted in certain cases. In some cases installers have accepted liability and returned to redo the work, but the householders are still not satisfied. There is a case that would be laughable if it were not so sad. An elderly lady called me to come to see her former council house. She had had remedial work done on her kitchen wall, but that had not been successful and the damp was back above the window. The case was straightforward, but what stood out for me was that, as I approached the house, I could see the remedial handiwork. The pebbledash rendering had been badly patched, so areas of about 1.5 square feet had no pebbles at all—that could be seen from across the road. The plasterer had achieved something like the appearance of pebbledash from afar by making indentations with his fingers, such was the quality of the remedial work.
In terms of quality assurance, the OFT report also said that
“if poor installation causes problems with damp, these may not become evident until a year or more after installation.”
That is pertinent, given what the right hon. Gentleman said. We need inspections much later on, when problems may have developed. The report continues:
“Monitoring, which is typically done in the weeks following installation, cannot identify these longer-term problems…In relation to regulatory monitoring, Ofgem requires the energy suppliers to inspect 5% of installations and provide a summary of these inspections”.
In the previous debate, I asked whether 5% was sufficient—that is only one in 20. Clearly the review system is not working.
I have come across so many cases in one small town, Caernarfon. I told a few people that I was holding a meeting about this matter in a week’s time and, essentially through word of mouth, about 30 people turned up. It strikes me that the problems are more widespread than CIGA concedes. I think it says such problems affect 2% of the 6 million installations, which must be about 12,000 cases. I am sure that there are more than that.
The industry guarantee scheme has worked in some cases, but other constituents think that it operates at such a high bar that proper redress is prevented in legitimate cases. Both the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen and the hon. Member for Meon Valley made the important point that some of the people who have been afflicted with these problems are elderly or infirm, so they will not be chasing after fancy lawyers because they cannot afford that. They are also not familiar with negotiating their way through officialese. They are fundamentally dissatisfied with the process, but they see no form of redress available to them.
I have a Welsh-national point. CIGA serves my intensely Welsh-speaking constituency and other such constituencies throughout Wales, but, disappointingly, there is not a word of Welsh on its website or in its literature. Other organisations, including commercial organisations, use
Welsh as a matter of course and good practice to reach out to customers, rather than not using it and per se shutting them out.
As I said in the previous debate, the name of the local campaign in Caernarfon is “Waliau Du”, which means “Black Walls”, because unfortunately that is what happens: people’s walls turn black. Constituents have complained that the growth of mould has led to breathing difficulties, illness and the worsening of children’s asthma. People also suffer long-term worry about what will happen to their homes and the possible costs of repair. They might not be able to afford such repairs or to clamber into attics to see what is happening and such long-term worry has an effect on physical health.
My constituents subscribed to what they thought—rightly or wrongly—was a straightforward Government scheme. As we have already heard, some were told it was that by installers while others assumed that, as the Government were funding the installation—or so they thought—the system was safe and effective and the installers were operating to an appropriate standard of practice.
The OFT’s 2012 report noted that some people assumed that the installers’ practice was properly regulated and inspected and that appropriate quality assurance measures were in place. Those people feel let down. I believe that somebody—albeit an ill-defined somebody—should take responsibility, and that is what they feel.
My final point supports the points that were made by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen—I support the questions he asked and the points that he raised. I believe that the matter warrants not only short-term remedial action for the people who are suffering, but a further comprehensive review, focusing on the problems that have become apparent over the years and that have been addressed this morning. I think we need to look at this across the piece. It should not be up to individual householders, who would find it very difficult or impossible to take their cases forward. We need a comprehensive review, because at the very least, there is reputational damage as far as the whole idea of cavity wall insulation is concerned, and for energy conservation in general, which is something that we all support, there is also the danger of reputational damage—let alone the damage to the reputation of this and previous Governments. That review should be instituted as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders. I begin by thanking Mr Denham for raising the matter in the way in which he has, and I agree with his assessment of the situation and his request for action. I also thank my hon. Friend George Hollingbery and Hywel Williams for their contributions, which seem to chime with the experiences of my constituents. I will set those out for the House and the Minister, along with my own concerns that, as other colleagues have mentioned, there may be more to this than meets the eye. That is the most worrying thing about it. Here is something that is designed to assist people, keep them warm and protect their houses, but it is being handled in a manner that undermines all the principles behind it and is leaving people victimised and feeling that they have had no benefit whatever.
My constituents, Mr and Mrs Haley, brought their case to me. I will be as brief as I can, but it is important to put some of these matters on record, because they fill out what has been said. In my view, they also add significantly to the demand to look into the industry, because if so many cases are cropping up that have common elements, there is a problem.
My constituents had their cavity wall insulation, if it can be termed that, installed in October 2008. The property had been inspected by Eaga Home Services—now Carillion Energy Services—which unremarkably came to the conclusion that cavity wall insulation would suit and benefit the house, and the work was done. On
In January 2013, after problems with mould and everything else, my constituents contacted CIGA to say that they were concerned about the amount of mould growth in their house. There had been no problem for the 25 years in which my constituents had lived at their property, but since the cavity wall insulation had been carried out, mould had been growing on the walls and ceilings and there was condensation in the sealed unit double glazing.
A letter came from Carillion to say that it would investigate and resolve the matter. My constituents tell me that in March 2013, the service delivery manager attended
“our property and made a cursory inspection. It was obvious at the time that he was not listening to anything we said to him. He said he didn’t know what was causing the mould growth but it wasn’t due to the cavity wall insulation and there had actually been very little such insulation carried out in our house. This was surprising to us as we were not aware so little work had been done.”
I have a very thick file of papers here, and the exchange that I have just detailed is the first six to eight pages of it. The rest of it—I am sorry that listeners on radio cannot benefit from seeing it—relates to the two years following in which the matter has not yet been resolved. It is a story of evasion and an inability to act, and of letters going unanswered and e-mails not being cared about. However, all in all, it is about what appears to be a relationship between those providing the service and those supposed to be providing the guarantee to ensure that actually, nothing gets done. All our experience as MPs tells us that people fight for so long, then it gets too much and they give up. We have all seen evidence of agencies supposedly acting for the public, and indeed providers themselves, simply making it impossible for people to go on. People reach a point where they have had enough, and if it were not for individuals such as my constituents and others who have been mentioned today, I suspect that the problem would remain buried. The concern that the Minister and the Department should have is: how many more? How many more people have not been able to go through and stick with their case in order to see it resolved?
Let me quote one or two important things. When CIGA first responded to the concerns in January 2013, straight up, it gave the assurance:
“As the holder of a CIGA Guarantee, you have the assurance that any defects relating to materials or workmanship will be resolved in accordance with the terms of the Guarantee”— not worth the photocopied paper it is written on. Carillion’s response, which I mentioned, read as follows:
“Following the issues which you have raised regarding the condensation at your home, we arranged for the service delivery manager…to attend and assess the concerns you have. The service delivery manager has confirmed that the issues which you are experiencing are not as a result of the cavity wall insulation work carried out at your home. In his opinion”— the opinion of those who put in the cavity wall insulation— the cause of the condensation is due to the UPVC windows, as there is condensation in between the panes of glass, which is a sign that the seals have gone.”
Patronisingly, the letter went on to say:
“Condensation is caused when warm air meets cold surfaces; it is most likely to appear on surfaces such as windows, colder parts of walls, around door and window openings, at junctions of floors and ceilings with outside walls.”
Well, there we are then.
Does it not add insult to injury for people, when they have installed cavity wall insulation and double glazing, and they are heating their homes expensively, to be told by installers and others that they should open windows to get rid of condensation? It is an appalling response.
I have been a Member of Parliament for some 28 years, and in a previous constituency, there was a lot of condensation in some difficult parts of the town. It can be a difficult issue, but it is the easiest thing in the world to avoid responsibility for. Whatever is going on in the house is said to be the fault of the householder, and it is difficult to prove otherwise.
If I may, I will finish quoting the letter from Carillion:
“I understand that this may not be the outcome that you would have hoped for. I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to investigate the issues you have raised.”
I wonder how many people have received a similar letter and thought, “Well, there we are. They know what they are talking about. It must be us; it must be something else.”
However, with the not unreasonable experience of over 25 years living in their house, my constituents were not prepared to accept that, and they responded as follows:
“We do not accept this decision. We have lived in this house for 28 years and have had the windows replaced. There were no problems with mould at any time. Then we had the cavity wall insulation done. The bedrooms, kitchen and living room then started to have mould growth around the windows and on the ceilings. Condensation on the windows became a real problem. When we first contacted the company about the cavity wall they sent out an inspector and he confirmed that there would be no problem to have the insulation carried out. However, when the workmen came to do the job they started muttering about being unable to do part of the house due to the fact that we had an extension. We got the impression that some parts of the house were not insulated. We are in the situation now where the whole house needs decorating but we can’t do anything because of the unsightly growth on the walls. If we had been told at the time that as a result of cavity wall insulation we would experience mould growth and condensation, we would not have gone ahead. Now
Carillion seem to think they can just say it is not their problem. We consider it is. If there was a problem in installing the cavity wall we should have been fully informed before work started.”
That is the first eight to 10 pages of my file, which contains some 100 or 150 pages that detail my constituents’ attempts to deal with the problem. To cut a long story short, CIGA has recognised, after an independent inspection of the property, which was very difficult to arrange, that the cavity wall insulation was indeed installed in a faulty manner. CIGA continues to wriggle away from any serious responsibility, however, and it has made half-hearted efforts to get the matter dealt with.
I am not simply concerned about the way in which the case has been handled, although that is pretty bad. A detailed summary of what has been done is full of attempts to contact CIGA, attempts to ensure that people take responsibility and failure to deal with things. Some 16 months after it was notified of the initial complaint, for example, Carillion came back and asked for details of what the problem was. We see people at the bottom end of the chain being given the usual run-around by those who have power and responsibility.
After some further work on the matter, I came across a freedom of information request made by Ms Dianna Goodwin, from which I will quote briefly. I thought it was a very good piece of work that demonstrated, as the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen has said, the close relationship between the guarantee agency and the industry. Without repeating everything that was said about the directors and so on, I will read Ms Goodwin’s conclusion:
“With assets in excess of 16 million pounds, CIGA certainly does have the resources to meet claims under their Guarantee—yet have a strong track record for blatantly ignoring and intransigently resisting claimants. The government set the parameters for this industry and the abuse of the system is just allowed to roll on year after year, unchecked. It is nothing short of a national scandal that this private and patently non-independent company is allowed to function at all, and high time the government stepped in to disband them. Proper and solid arrangements should be made for their Guarantees to be underwritten; also for an obligatory ombudsman service made available for all. What action will the government take please?”
I am pleased to add my constituents’ concerns to those raised by other hon. Members.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks and for those of Hywel Williams, who is the pioneer when it comes to raising the matter in the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that because an underlying Government policy is driving the size and shape of the market, it is essential that Government take some responsibility for sorting things out? The problems would be bad enough in a free, consumer market with people buying and selling a service, but the market exists on the scale that it does because of the Government policy and obligations on energy companies.
It is quite right that Government should want to ensure greater energy efficiency by carrying out a policy such as this. We all want our homes to be warmer and our energy usage to be reduced, and insulation is a key part of that. It is essential, as the right hon. Gentleman says, when the Government are urging people to have such work done, that there is some sense that it is carried out properly. If things go wrong, the Government must accept some responsibility and work with the agencies that are charged with dealing with the matter to make sure that they are doing so.
Finally, I want to repeat a concern raised by the hon. Member for Arfon, who said that when he mentioned the issue locally, people appeared and said that it had been a problem for them. That is what worries me the most. If the Government want there to be a campaign on the matter by MPs all over the country, the best thing for them to do would be to defend what is happening and just say that they will look into it. If nothing is done, I promise the Minister that she will be back here with a room full of even more MPs, and that will not do anyone any good. Today offers a real opportunity to recognise the pain suffered by so many people and get something done, so that the agency lives up to its responsibilities and the companies involved know that they will be named and shamed for their work. The bottom line will be that consumers and our constituents will get a better service—the service that they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders. I begin by praising my right hon. Friend Mr Denham for securing the debate and for the work that he has done to remedy the cases of badly installed cavity wall insulation in his constituency. As George Hollingbery has said, cavity wall insulation, when it is correctly installed in an appropriate property, can offer substantial benefits to home owners. However, as we have also heard, badly or wrongly installed cavity wall insulation can cause serious problems. It is incredibly worrying to hear the examples of complaints and customer ordeals that right hon. and hon. Members have presented. I praise their constituents for their tenacity in attempting to resolve the problems.
I want to make it clear that I do not believe that anyone in the Chamber seeks to deride the insulation industry. Many good people are part of that industry, as I know from personal experience of meeting numerous installers in my constituency and in my Front-Bench brief, and from working closely with them on our energy efficiency plans. However, it is vital that within that industry, consumers are protected. They should always be at the forefront of any work that takes place, especially in connection with any policy promoted by the Government.
The consequences of badly installed cavity wall insulation are significant. Not only will a home owner suffer financially and personally trying to put it right, but, just as importantly, they will not receive the benefits that they should. The Minister and I regularly debate the fact that we have some of the worst levels of fuel poverty and the least efficient housing stock in Europe. Although we disagree on the best way to tackle that problem, I am sure we agree that it is unacceptable when work that is done to improve the quality of our housing stock leads to the sorts of problems that have been mentioned today. The consumer should always be the focus of any energy efficiency work, because consumer behaviour is often as important as putting in energy efficiency measures. Unfortunately, I do not think that that has been a strong enough element of the Government’s approach to energy policy, or indeed of Governments’ approach to energy policy for some time. It is vital, therefore, to ensure that there is adequate protection for consumers and that any issues are dealt with in an efficient and satisfactory manner.
It was concerning to hear the criticism by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen of the Mark Group, which I have visited. It is a major installer in the UK, and usually it is a useful resource in policy in this area. I will certainly discuss with it its response to complaints such as those that he raised. The issues that have been raised today concern me greatly. Data protection laws permitting, I, and, I am sure, the Minister, would like to know more details and consider how the problems can be rectified. I press her to look into that.
Having listened to my right hon. Friend’s speech, it seems to me that there is a clear need to be better able to identify where liability resides for work that has been done, including under the energy companies obligation. There also needs to be swifter redress when complaints are made. It is my understanding that all work carried out under ECO and its predecessor schemes, the carbon emissions reduction target and the community energy saving programme, is recorded centrally. In addition, the bureaucracy for ECO is substantial—I have attacked the Government about the scale of that bureaucracy on several occasions—so I would be incredulous if it were not possible to identify the funding body for each installation relatively easily. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the situation.
Right hon. and hon. Members have raised concerns about the independence and operation of CIGA. That is a particular worry, and I will look into it further. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen briefly raised the question of subcontracting, which has concerned me for some time, especially within ECO. There is no limit on the number of times energy efficiency work under ECO can be subcontracted. My right hon. Friend talked about home owners not knowing who was carrying out the work or even being surprised to find out that it was funded by an energy company. During my work in the area, many people in the industry have raised the level of subcontracting with me as a concern. I would be grateful if the Minister could touch on that subject in her reply. Is she happy with the current level of subcontracting, or would she consider placing limits on the level of subcontracting that is allowed? That happens with schemes in other Departments, such as welfare-to-work contracts.
I recognise that there are good operators out there, doing good, honest work, who genuinely care about improving the energy efficiency of people’s homes. I know that that is true, because I have met them. Cases such as those that have been highlighted today are, thankfully, relatively small in number. That is why it is so frustrating that when such cases occur, satisfactory redress is not offered. It would be an absolute travesty if people who need better-insulated homes put off having that work done. That is why the problem of badly or wrongly installed work must be dealt with swiftly and firmly. The evidence provided in the debate suggests that that is not happening at the moment. Despite the relative rarity of cases of badly installed insulation, the examples have become numerous enough to warrant today’s debate and the previous debate secured by Hywel Williams. Home owners clearly need a better response than the one that has been offered to constituents in the cases outlined today. Specifically, on a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, it cannot be right for companies to charge for remedial work for badly installed cavity wall insulation in homes where it should not have been installed or recommended in the first place.
I praise my right hon. Friend once again for securing this debate and allowing us the opportunity to discuss these issues. I hope that the Minister will address directly the concerns raised, and I am interested to hear her reply. She and I have different priorities and approaches when it comes to policy in this matter, but we both recognise the centrality of improving the UK’s housing stock through better home insulation. The issues raised in this debate are a clear threat to public confidence in that, and it is in everyone’s interests that we seek to rectify them.
I thank Mr Denham for raising the important topic of cavity wall insulation and the issue of compensation in cases where there have been problems. I will first comment on the policy generally and then move on to the conclusions from the debate and the specific requests that he made.
As I have said previously in energy debates, this Government recognise that improving domestic energy efficiency is a critical part of our strategy to deliver a secure, affordable, low-carbon energy system in this country. Consumer protection lies at the heart of the Government’s energy efficiency framework. We have built and nurtured strong relationships with a wide range of consumer protection bodies, including trading standards and Citizens Advice, and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve consumer protection.
In December, I personally sent out a joint communication with the chairman of the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers to remind green deal market participants that it is their responsibility to uphold the green deal framework to ensure protection for all parties. When reports of potential breaches of the green deal code of practice are received, the Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body engages with the relevant authorities to investigate and address those reports, which can lead to action taken against the green deal participant, including withdrawal or suspension of green deal authorisation.
The Government set a target of 1 million homes to receive energy efficiency improvements between January 2013 and March 2015. I am pleased to say that we have already met that target and are on course to exceed it significantly; by the end of November 2014, more than 1 million homes had benefited from the installation of energy efficiency measures under the energy companies obligation and green deal framework. Cavity wall insulation has helped create millions of warm, energy-efficient homes in the UK. For many householders, cavity wall insulation is a sound financial investment, helping them save on their energy bills every year. A typical semi-detached household saves approximately £100 a year after the installation of cavity wall insulation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration of timing. I will endeavour to come back to him on that point before closing.
Since 1995, uptake of cavity wall insulation has increased significantly with the launch of successive energy-efficient home improvement schemes by this Government and the last, including schemes aimed at fuel poverty such as Warm Front, and those focused on climate change, such as the energy company obligation and the green deal, which enable homeowners to install energy efficiency measures, including cavity wall insulation. Between July 2010 and September 2014, 2.27 million homes had cavity wall insulation fitted; of those, 1.7 million did so under Government schemes. At the end of September 2014, 13.9 million homes had cavity wall insulation, or 72% of properties with a cavity wall. Up to the end of November 2014, some 462,103 cavity wall insulation installations were delivered under ECO, or 37.9% of total ECO measures, making them the most popular measure undertaken by households.
I will outline the protections in place for customers who receive cavity wall insulation. The installation of all cavity wall insulation must meet the requirements of the Building Regulations 2000, and the materials used to insulate cavity walls are subject to specific standards and must be certified by a technical approval body. To ensure the quality of installations under the green deal and ECO, installers must undergo a rigorous authorisation process to become authorised participants. Participants must comply with a publicly available specification setting out requirements for the installation of energy efficiency measures in existing buildings and levels of monitoring of those installations, including for cavity wall insulation. Furthermore, under the previous carbon emissions reduction target and community energy saving programme, and their successor schemes, the green deal and ECO, cavity wall insulation measures must be accompanied by a 25-year guarantee.
The green deal framework regulations require a green deal provider to agree, as part of any green deal plan, to guarantee the functioning of the improvements and to repair any damage to the property caused by the improvement. Under ECO and the CERT and CESP schemes before it, cavity wall insulation measures were required to be accompanied by an appropriate guarantee. Ofgem sets out the requirements for those guarantees in its ECO guidance: they must include a mechanism that gives assurance that funds will be available to honour the guarantee; the guarantee should last 25 years or longer; the guarantee must cover the costs of remedial and replacement works plus materials; there must be an assurance framework for the quality of installation and the product used in the installation. The suitability of the framework will be assessed and verification may be required through independent assessment by an independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service-accredited or other appropriate body. A list is available on the Ofgem website with details of guarantees that have been reviewed and are considered to meet the criteria for an appropriate guarantee under ECO.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that we have debated that specific subject in this Chamber previously. My recollection is that mostly it should not have been. We went through the maps to which he referred in his comments, and the concerns that it had been inappropriately installed.
To return to the context of this debate, when the issue was put before the Government, we began conversations with the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, which as we heard earlier is the largest cavity wall guarantee provider. We discussed the level and nature of existing complaints in order to understand the issue in further detail. The total number of complaints received by CIGA since 2010 is 6,890 and there have been 1.5 million cavity wall insulation installations since 2010, which implies a claim rate of 0.5% since 2010. The total number of outstanding unresolved cases on which CIGA tells me it is working is 171.
I will have to return to that question to give the right hon. Gentleman a full answer. When I conclude my comments, I will address some of his specific requirements, including requesting a meeting between CIGA and my Department officials and me after this debate, and I will ensure that that is one of the questions that we address.
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, the bright spark in all this is that we know that she will take the issue seriously, as that is her reputation, so we appreciate that she is involved. If there are so few complaints, bearing in mind how much work has been done, is there not an even greater necessity for that small number of complaints to be properly dealt with? CIGA cannot complain that it is overrun with complaints, so why should some of them have been dealt with so badly?
That is a very good question, which I will put to CIGA. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will require more content from CIGA than the answers that it has given us so far. CIGA has already said that it will provide us with a list of responses to particular questions raised with it, some of which have been raised in this debate, and I will be happy to share those once they are received.
If a consumer has concerns that cavity wall insulation has been installed incorrectly, they should initially contact the installer who carried out the original work to see whether the issues can be rectified. If that does not resolve the issue, they should contact the guarantee provider. If they cannot locate their guarantee, they can try to contact the guarantee provider directly, which may have a record of their guarantee.
For measures installed under the CERT, CESP and ECO schemes, if there is no effective guarantee in place, the customer can contact the energy supplier that funded the measure originally. If the energy supplier cannot be found via Ofgem, consumers may wish to obtain further guidance from their local trading standards office or seek professional legal advice.
If there is a dispute about a green deal installation and an agreement cannot be reached between the consumer and the green deal provider, the consumer can contact the green deal ombudsman, who will investigate complaints and determine redress. Depending on the type of complaint, the ombudsman will, following their investigation, refer cases to the Secretary of State to determine redress or impose sanctions.
The green deal registration and oversight body has a technical monitoring strategy in place to ensure the full compliance of all green deal participants. Furthermore, Ofgem mandates technical monitoring of installation standards under ECO and the predecessor CERT and CESP schemes, and it requires ECO installers to contract for independent inspections of 5% of all measures installed, including cavity wall insulation, to ensure that they meet the required standards. Hywel Williams said that 5% is inadequate. I will consider his comments and speak to Ofgem about whether it is sufficient. He said that in his experience it is not sufficient, so I will come back to him on that issue.
Adding to the list of things for the Minister to come back on, there is also the issue of installations carried out under CERT and CESP. It is clear from Ofgem’s Freedom of Information Act replies that it does not have those data. My hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds suggested that sufficient paperwork should be held somewhere to enable the match to be made between householders and energy suppliers, even under the two earlier schemes. Can the Minister advise us where that information is held? Will she make every effort to identify that information for each of those historical cases?
Jonathan Reynolds was right to raise that issue. I will review the regime for the legacy issues now and after the ECO regime expires in 2017. I agree that we need clarity about what happened in the past, and that we must make improvements for the future.
Let me move on to the suitability of cavity wall insulation for different properties. As my hon. Friend George Hollingbery said, not all properties are suitable. The hon. Member for Arfon and I have discussed that issue previously in this Chamber. A dwelling is suitable for standard cavity wall insulation if its external walls are unfilled cavity walls, the cavity is at least 50 mm wide, its masonry or brickwork is in good condition and its walls are not exposed to driving rain. It is important that cavity wall insulation is installed only in suitable homes and to the required standards. Pre-installation surveys are key in identifying suitable properties. Cavity wall insulation is not suitable in homes that are exposed to wind and driving rain, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley said.
The British Standards Institution’s regulations offer a step-by-step procedure for assessing properties’ suitability for cavity wall insulation and provide guidance for assessing exposure by looking at topography, shelter and rain spells. Technical certifications—for example, the BBA certificates—state how and where products can be used.
Members who have spoken in this debate have said that they want complaints to be properly handled, however many there are, and their constituents to get proper redress. It is clear that more needs to be done. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen asked about the Mark Group. I can confirm that it is an authorised green deal provider. He requested several commitments from me, and I want to state clearly for the record that my Department and the Government take very seriously the concerns that have been raised about people’s homes. People’s homes are not just an asset or something that costs them money; they are essential to their livelihoods and well-being, which is why we take this issue so seriously.
I will speak to Ofgem, and I will write to it to ask for a summary of the number of complaints it has received and its view on that. I will consider conducting a review. I will consider the case for introducing independent oversight for all guarantees, not only those under CIGA. Concern about the guarantees, their implementation and access to them has been one of the features of this debate. I am concerned about the level of transparency—an issue that has been raised. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen and others said that they were concerned about the independence of the directors of CIGA. I will have discussions with Ofgem about that issue.
The hon. Member for Arfon asked whether it would be possible to return to CWI properties after two years to ensure that the insulation was correctly installed. I will consider putting in place an independent assessment to look at properties two years after installation. I will also consider regulating the initial sales conversation—the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen raised that issue and quoted from various sales conversations. I have listened to the personal stories that Members have put on the record.
The Minister has given us a list of things that she will consider. I agree with Alistair Burt, who said that the Minister will take those things seriously and pursue them. However, the dissolution of Parliament is approaching, and I and others will leave this place. Will she give me the satisfaction of promising to consider these issues and come up with answers before
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right that I take this issue seriously and that I intend to get some answers on it. I commit to writing to him before Parliament dissolves to update him on where I am. I will do my level best to get as many answers as possible to address the concerns that he raised. I will start by making the points that I just outlined to Ofgem and asking for a meeting with CIGA to raise those complaints and issues.
On exactly the same point, I reassure anybody following the debate elsewhere that if my hon. Friend the Minister is not able to complete that work and get all the answers in that time, it will be possible to pursue these matters in the next Parliament, if the good people of North East Bedfordshire and Arfon allow it. Therefore, there should not be a break in our concerns. Our constituents can be reassured that the matter will be carried through, even if some distinguished right hon. colleagues will no longer be with us.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Despite my commitment to come back to the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen with answers by the end of March, we are unlikely to have fully resolved the serious complaints and issues that have been raised here. I am sure that the future Minister, whoever they are, will continue that work, and I will ensure that it is left in good order for them. However, I hope I will be back in this role.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their comments. I want to reassure their constituents that we take this issue very seriously, and I will continue to take a personal interest in it.