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Cavity wall calamity

I know enough of the world now to have almost lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything

Oh. My. God.

Where do I start? I don’t think the government could have made more of a mess if it had actually set out to deliberately try and decimate an industry. (And in my darker moments, I’m not entirely convinced that that isn’t exactly what it is trying to do).

The figured on cavity wall insulation installations sneaked out to the press under cover of darkness make for very, very uncomfortable reading.

The best thing that can be said for these figures is that it gives those of us who have been warning for many, many months that the Green Deal simply cannot deliver what it promised the opportunity to jump up and down shouting at Greg Barker ‘I told you so, I told you so. You were wrong and we were right. Ner, ner, ner’. But it’s very, very small comfort.

Once again, DECC is simply closing its eyes to the fact that its flagship energy efficiency policy is overly complicated, badly explained and just too damn unwieldy to work properly.

In the story that Building broke last week, a DECC spokesman clung to the party line that the Green Deal is a long term initiative, which will transform the energy efficiency landscape of the UK’s housing sector in “an unprecedented way”.

Well, if by unprecedented, it means that thousands of companies in the cavity and loft insulation sectors would suddenly find themselves completely without work, putting employees’ jobs and livelihoods at risk in a way never before attempted, then I’d say that’s right.

There may well have been 18,000 Green Deal assessments carried out so far, but no=one knows exactly how many plans have been signed off, nor how many projects have actually started. (I’m guessing – not very many at all).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Green Deal assessors, having done the sums, are telling people that it would be easier for them to borrow the money from the bank or use savings to pay for the work upfront and then benefit from lower energy bills with the saved money going straight back into their pockets.

Anyone whose recently had to agree a mortgage will know that having had numerous credit checks in the past few years flags up concerns at Experian and the like. If I want to take out a Green Deal plan and I approach three providers to give me quotes are they all going to do an Experian check? Yes, and that will play havoc with my credit record.

The Saturday papers’ financial helpdesk pages are full of people who have had problems obtaining a clear credit record because of missed payments from mobile phone bills (not always the fault of the account holder either). If a householder were to get rejected for the Green Deal plan because of a dodgy credit record, how would that affect their future ability to get a mortgage and move house – thereby keeping the housing market going?

Too many people are out off the idea of the loan transferring with the property as well. For example, the house opposite me was empty for nine months, when the previous owner died. Had she taken out a Green Deal plan, say, five years earlier, there would still have been the payments to make on the “loan”, payments that presumably would have to be met by the estate and her descendents.

Quite apart from the fact that the prospective buyers would no doubt have been put off the house by the fact that there was a large debt attached to it. It’s a nice thought, that someone would choose House A over House B because it is better insulated and has, in theory, lower bills and helps save the planet but in reality that never, ever comes into the picture.

House A, slightly draughty, with an ugly kitchen but in the right school catchment area will always be an easier sell than the well insulated, Green Deal-loaned House B in the wrong catchment area. Location, location, location – it’s a cliché for a reason.

I also heard, again as an anecdote, that the setting up of payment plans may be complicated further if the home ownership records and utility bill records don’t match up. I.e., if Mrs and Mrs Jones are the registered owners of the property, yet all the utility bills are in Mrs Jones name because the money comes out of her account, the financial plan will fall down.

It’s my guess that we will see, probably in the next Parliament, a watered-down Green Deal, that will focus more of the ECO – energy company obligation – side of things and social housing. So it will be more about Government, landlords and energy companies working together to reduce energy use and our reliance on fossil fuels.

A bit like the old CERT scheme really.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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