Forfar cases demonstrate need for greater consumer protection

Angus MP Mike Weir has called for greater action from the UK government over the regulation of renewable energy installations following serious problems encountered by two constituents in Forfar.

Mr Weir held a debate in Parliament to highlight the issues faced by his constituents and the deficiencies in the current regulations calling upon the Department of Energy and Climate Change to tighten up the system.

In the course of the debate Mr Weir highlighted the case of a constituent in Kingsmuir who had installed photovoltaics and later discovered that there was a leak in her roof under the installation. It had been carried out by an installer certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) but due to the installer flitting between two accreditation bodies, and  breaching the scheme rules by failing to give the body the required notification that the work had been carried out, she ended up with no protection to deal with the defect. In another case a Forfar constituent had installed an Air Source Heat Pump which failed to work properly. In this case the company changed from a limited company to a partnership and avoided liability as it was then a different legal entity.

Speaking in the debate Mr Weir set out the details of both cases and said

“The Home Renewables Loan Scheme makes it a borrower obligation that loan recipients use such an installer. That appears to be a restriction of trade and distortion of the market that should only be tolerated if the accreditation provides  a robust guarantee of workmanship and consumer protection, but as my constituents found, it had no real value at the end of the day. I share the concern that public money is being channelled to companies that are basically being allowed a competitive advantage on the basis of assumed competence without their being subject to proper scrutiny”

He pointed out that the MCS scheme marketed itself to companies on the basis that “by having the MCS logo you will be able to distinguish yourselves as an installer company of merit”

“That is what consumers would expect when seeing that accreditation on an installer’s brochure, invoice or whatever. My constituent not unreasonably believed that as a recipient of public money in the form of loan funds she was being invited to select from a list approved by Government agencies. She trusted that their selection was a form of approval that was contingent on demonstrable competence. They have been let down twice, first by an installer that was neither technically competent nor financially solvent and secondly by an approved accreditation scheme that produces warranties that fail to materialise if the contractor fails to report the job.”

Mr Weir added that a scheme “ which apparently fails to monitor the administration of guarantees and warranties” was unfit for purpose, and pointed out that complaints dealt with by the Renewable Energy Consumer Code  had gone up from 607 in 2011 to 1,892 in 2014. “That is a very substantial number, even allowing for that fact that there are liable to be more installations now than in 2011”.

Responding to the debate the Minister, Andrea Leadsom, stressed that the percentage of cases where something went wrong was relatively small but accepted that things had clearly gone wrong in both these cases and undertook to investigate them more fully.

Commenting after the debate Mr Weir said

“I fully appreciate that the majority of installers are reputable, but undoubtedly there are serious failing with some and the scheme fails to adequately deal with these. Home renewables are vitally important in helping to reduce household bills and to enable us to reach our energy reduction and climate change targets, but consumers need to be assured that they will be properly installed and that the regulation system will swiftly and properly deal with those cases which go wrong. I am pleased that the minister has agreed to investigate these two cases and I am passing on all the information I have on them.”