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PUBLIC LET DOWN BY DODGY GDAOs – AND THE SYSTEM

From Mike Crompton, Chair of the

Institute of Domestic Energy Assessors

Like Terry Wardle I receive calls or emails from members of the public, either directly or via our website asking for help, guidance or assistance about ‘dodgy companies’ operating around GD or ECO.

I have raised the point several times at Assessor Forum meeting with GDORB, and latterly at the Green Deal Advisory Group run by DECC.

I have made the point that the complaints route for members of the public is NOT clearly signposted and the information that exists is confusing to many participants.

For GD, if a member of the public has a complaint about a participant there are two routes

*         If they have a Plan in place they can make a complaint to their Provider and if not satisfied with their answer they can then complain to the GD Ombudsman.

*        Without a Plan in place they have to direct their complaint to Consumer Advice, who will then take it up with the relevant Trading Standards office on their behalf.

For ECO their complaint has to be directed to Ofgem. I attach a copy of an e-mail received from Ofgem to an enquiry I made following complaints from assessors

Dear Mr Crompton,

Thank you for your telephone call to Ofgem and the subsequent telephone conversation we had on Thursday 9 January 2014 in order for me to gain more information regarding the nature of your call.

You outlined to me that you had received a number of complaints from Energy Assessors facing considerable delay in being paid for work carried out for sub-contractors under the ECO scheme. You outlined that on occasion sub-contractors had been advising Assessors that they could not be paid as the sub-contractor themselves had not yet been paid for undertaking ECO work, this being a source of frustration for Assessors as they had no way of knowing whether this was true. You also outlined on occasion Assessors had not been paid as the sub-contractors they had carried out work for had subsequently gone out of business.

I considered the information you provided and sought the view of a colleague within Ofgem more familiar with the specific operation of the ECO scheme than myself. We were both of the view that this in essence appears to be a dispute between the Assessors and the sub-contractors they carried out work for. Ofgem takes any allegation of fraudulent practice seriously, however as you advised during our telephone conversation, you do not have any specific evidence that a potential fraud has taken place. On this basis there does not seem to be scope for Ofgem to open an investigation. Should you subsequently become aware of any evidence which may point to a potential fraud I would of course strongly encourage you to make contact with us again in order that we can assess this evidence and consider an appropriate course of action.

Should you have any questions or points on this please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Park

Fraud Prevention and Audit Manager (Warm Home Discount)

Delivery Assurance, Ofgem

It would seem that unless you have ‘specific information of fraudulent practice’ they are unable or unwilling to investigate.

Trading Standards, from my contacts with them at GDORB fora, are aware of a number of companies as Terry has highlighted. They (TS) are working hard with local authorities to make the general public aware of these companies and to encourage them to check the credentials of those operating on the margins of both schemes. They are also repeating their advice not to pay anyrthing at all to doorstop sales people no matter how good or persuasive they appear to be. Consumers need to check not only the credentials of the company, but also what other means there are to achieving the improvement measures they wish using the EST website for e.g. or by contacting their LA.

There was concern raised at GDAG, at the proliference of rogue companies using misleading phrases like  “Govt backed”, Govt funded” within their advertising, marketing or sales patter, with the clear intention to persuade people that they have some credibility. This issue is being addressed by the Consumer Protection forum as a matter of urgency. There seems to be a proliference of these companies operating in Wales and Yorkshire.

This of course only covers GD not ECO, however as the two schemes become more intertwined it is hoped that a resolution can be found that covers both schemes.

As far as GDORB publishing a list of Participants that have had their accreditations removed, I feel that this is highly unlikely to happen as this would be viewed as ‘negative publicity’ for the whole scheme. They would take the view that they maintain a lists of ‘approved’ organisations on their website and this is updated on a regular basis.

If an organisation loses its approval/certification, their name is removed immediatley from these lists.

IDEA have been actively pushing for changes to the Certification process as far as GDAO’s are concerned, highlighting that the CoP does not really have any ‘teeth’ in dealing with Organisations that are ‘failing’ or not complying with the agreed CoP. We believe that the ‘Financially Viable’ clause within the CoP does not go far enough to provide protection for both Advisors and members of the public.

For an ATOL type protection system, there would have to be a financial contribution from each participant. That contribution based on their ‘order book’ or risk. This is likely to be resisted quite highly by participants, who to date have not really seen any payback at all on their investment. In fact I know that several GDAO’s are working currently on a deficit with many principals taking no reward at all in order to maintain their business at this time.

DECC are shortly to embark on a new publicity campaign for GD which will hopefully give better guidance to members of the public.

Terry is correct that only certain sections of the press highlight failings of GD, and information to members of the public is often found by them in publications like this or by tweets, blogs and other social media to which IDEA contribute.

As you comment most of our information is generally aimed at the profession, but IDEA hope to redress this when we launch our new Public website page.

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