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1. Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems and the Green Deal
This House of Commons Library landing page has been prepared in advance of a debate entitled “Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems and the Green Deal.” It will be led by Gavin Newlands MP and will take place in Westminster Hall on 23 October 2018, starting at 9.30am.
1.1 The Green Deal
The Green Deal is an energy saving scheme that was launched by the previous Coalition Government to incentivise and help fund energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for homes. The previous Conservative Government stopped funding the Green Deal Finance Company (who provided finance for the scheme) in 2015 citing low uptake. The Green Deal Finance Company was purchased in 2017 by Greenstone Finance, Aurium Capital Markets and Honeycomb Investment Trust who have privately reopened the scheme.
The Green Deal process involves a number of stages, with accredited professionals at each stage:
- A Green Deal Assessor or Advisor surveying the property to produce a Green Deal report outlining options such as solar panels and insulation;
- A Green Deal Plan is agreed and signed, between the customer and the Green Deal Provider;
- The Green Deal Provider organises a Green Deal Installer to carry out the works;
- The customer then pays back the Green Deal Provider over time.
Those who used the Government scheme had the measures they installed paid for upfront. They then had to pay back that loan, and interest, over time. There was no set interest rate but the Government Green deal webpage says: “The annual repayments on the loan shouldn’t be more than the savings you might make on your energy bills.”
Regulation of Green Deal suppliers
The Green Deal is underpinned by a series of regulations. These include requirements which apply to Green Deal assessors, installers, and providers such as abiding by the Green Deal Code of Practice and participating in the Ombudsman scheme for disputes.
The Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body was set up to oversee the accreditation and authorisation of companies delivering the Green Deal. Gemserv, a for-profit company, has been contracted by the Department to fulfil this role. Many certification bodies can certify Green Deal installers; the certification bodies themselves are accredited by the UK Accreditation Service.
The UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the national independent accreditation body which is recognised by government to formally assess organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services against internationally agreed standards. UKAS operates under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government and does not have any legal or regulatory enforcement powers.
Green Deal Certification bodies have been UKAS accredited for the certification of installation and advisory services under the Green Deal. Once accredited, organisations are monitored annually and reassessed every four years. According to the Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body webpage on the Code of Practice, “Participants’ compliance with the Code is monitored through various methods, including compliance check visits, mystery shopping and analysis of complaints information.” A PQ from 2015 said that 12% of Green Deal installers have had their authorisations as Green Deal participants removed for non-compliance issues against the Green Deal Code of Practice.
1.2 Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM)
The debate covers concerns around the work of Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM) with regard to the Green Deal.
According to a PQ response, since the start of the Green Deal in 2013, solar panels were installed in 4,263 homes through Green Deal plans provided by HELM. The company also installed insulation.
Concerns with the practices a number of Green Deal providers, including HELM, have been raised. For example, see:
- The Judge: Customers left with ‘misleading’ credit deals after shamed Green Deal firm ceases trading, The Daily Record, April 2016
- Consumer: help is at hand if you’ve been left short by solar panel energy deal, Portsmouth, July 2016
- Ali Hussain, Panel-beaten: solar schemes left customers in hock to suppliers, The Times, 10 June 2018
- Victims of HELMS green energy scandal finally have their crippling loans reduced, The Daily Record, 18 August 2018
In September 2015, HELM were fined £200,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for making nuisance sales calls about “free” solar panels. In November 2015, they were fined £10,500 by the then Department of Energy and Climate Change (now part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) for breaching the Green Deal Code of Practice. There are also reports, as the articles above describe, of misleading information and issues around sales practices.
The company entered liquidation in 2016.
In response to a PQ from December 2017, the Minister Claire Perry set out the complaints process for the Green Deal:
- The Green Deal helps consumers make energy-saving improvements to their properties with the cost repaid via the consumer’s electricity bill. There is an established process for handling complaints. In the first instance, consumers should approach their Green Deal Provider. Where the Green Deal Provider is unable to resolve the complaint satisfactorily, the consumer may approach the Green Deal Ombudsman or for complaints relating to the mis-selling of credit, the Financial Ombudsman Service. The consumer redress process is set out in The Green Deal Framework (Disclosure, Acknowledgment, Redress etc.) Regulations, and is supplemented by the Green Deal Code of Practice. Under certain circumstances, where a consumer is not satisfied with the decision of the relevant Ombudsman, the regulations also allow for cases to be referred to the Secretary of State, who may impose reduction or cancellation of Green Deal plans.
Once a company has entered formal insolvency, its operations end and an appointed Insolvency practitioner has a duty to realise assets for the benefit of creditors. Consequently, consumers can no longer complain directly to the company. In addition, as dissolved companies are no longer a participating member of the service, new claims cannot be accepted by the Ombudsman.
In the specific case of HELM, claims that were accepted by the Ombudsman before HELM entered liquidation were passed to the Financial Ombudsman – but not any new claims. It has been reported (see articles above) that the now privately-operated Green Deal Finance Company (GDFC) has taken on existing HELM cases. As such, constituents may be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman about the GDFC.
Citizens Advice, a charity offering independent advice, have a webpage on HELMS and Green Deal concerns and complaints.
1.3 Parliamentary discussion
The Department now responsible for this issue is the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). On 20 December 2016, the issues of HELM was raised in a PQ:
- To ask the Secretary of State for BEIS, what representations his Department has received from consumers on the sale of Green Deal services by Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Ltd.
This was answered on 17 January 2017 by then Undersecretary of State for BEIS Jesse Norman:
The Department is aware that some customers of the Green Deal Provider, Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELMS), have made allegations that they were mis-sold their Green Deal plans by HELMS. In November 2015, my rt. hon. Friend the Secretary of State imposed sanctions on HELMS for breaches of the Green Deal Code of Practice. HELMS has since gone into liquidation. It would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases at this stage. However, customers who have complaints about their plans should raise these with the Green Deal Ombudsman or Financial Ombudsman Service as appropriate.
There is no Government reimbursement scheme for any aspect of the Green Deal. In response to a PQ in January 2018, the Energy Minister Claire Perry said the Government was working on resolution for problems with Green Deal plans:
All Green Deal Providers are required by legislation to follow the Green Deal Code of Practice, which is designed to ensure that all Green Deal Participants operate fairly and transparently, deliver good customer service and provide appropriate redress mechanisms for customers. Where such Providers fail to adhere to the Code of Practice, sanctions may be imposed by the Secretary of State. Providers may be subject to audit by the Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body to assess their compliance with the Code of Practice. The Green Deal Provider referred to in Question 120003, Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems (HELMS), was subject to such a sanction in 2015, following an audit and investigation process. The Green Deal Code of Practice requires that Green Deal Installers providing photovoltaics are certified against, and comply with, the requirements of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and the Microgeneration Installation Standard: MCS 023.
There have been numerous complaints made about HELMS in relation to Green Deal Plans. The cases are complex and take time to resolve. The department is working with relevant parties to seek a satisfactory resolution to them as soon as possible.
The company’s issues have also been twice raised in debates in the Scottish Government, once on 15 December 2016 and once on 6 June 2017. The Scottish Parliament also have a cross party group for Consumer Protection For Home Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy.
 The Green Deal Finance Company, Greenstone finance and Aurium Capital Markets acquire the Green Deal Finance Company, 15 January 2017
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