Teething problems for the Green Deal

by , Senior Researcher Energy & Home 15 July 2013
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Our undercover investigation into Green Deal assessments has revealed some worrying discrepancies. Home owners need assessments they can rely on if the scheme is going to make a difference to energy bills.

Green Deal

Rising gas and electricity prices worry almost everyone.

And I’m no different – particularly as I’m currently buying a house that’s both bigger and older than the modern flat I have just sold.

It’s got me thinking about how I can make my new home more energy efficient. So I am particularly interested in the government’s Green Deal scheme.

The scheme lets homeowners take out a loan to cover the cost of energy saving measures such as insulation, double glazing, a new boiler or even solar panels. But the Green Deal may not be as straightforward as it seems.

New research by Which? has revealed teething problems with the assessment process – and made me think carefully about whether it is a good deal for me.

Undercover investigation by Which?

Our undercover researchers invited five companies to carry out a Green Deal assessment of the same home.

But our snapshot investigation – the first of its kind into the Green Deal – revealed advisors recommending unsuitable energy-saving measures, as well as big differences between their final reports.

Mistakes were made when assessing the current energy efficiency at the property. Several advisors didn’t ask enough about the heating, incorrectly measuring the floor and wrongly identifying the type of walls. And nearly all our advisors didn’t question the customer enough about how they used their heating systems, which meant they did not get an accurate picture of how much energy they used.

These errors led to big differences on the estimated energy savings we were told we could achieve – ranging from £222 to £549 a year, when these figures should have been broadly comparable.

Early warning on the Green Deal

As the Green Deal is a new initiative – launched back in January – it’s bound to suffer from teething troubles at the start. And to be fair, three of the five visits came out of our investigation pretty reasonably.  This was a small-scale investigation, so we don’t know if these results are the same across the country.

But the results have prompted me to look more closely into whether the Green Deal is the best idea for my new home. The scheme says any loan repayments I have to make would, in theory, be covered by the savings on my energy bill.

But any potential savings depend on how much energy I use, as well as the way I use it. And that’s why it’s important to get these early assessments right.

Homeowners must be confident they can trust the advice from qualified advisors to help the Green Deal succeed.

Of course, I’m not likely to know how much energy I will use regularly until I have been living in my new house for a few months. Perhaps by that time any teething problems will be ironed out.

12 comments

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Mike Crompton

Certainly there can be no excuses for getting some of the basics wrong, floor area, identification of wall type or heating.

The report author appears to indicate their property as a ‘new’ home to them. This leaves the adviser with a choice to make about the energy information provided. If the author has only occupied the property for less than a year, it is unlikely that the billing information would provide enough data for the adviser to work with. They can then choose to use the default within the system to calculate savings. The adviser should make the client aware of this and should be prompted to ask more detailed information about usage from the client.

Using the ‘default’ could skew the report dependant on the client being in actual fact a ‘high’ consumer or a ‘low’ consumer. If they are a high consumer the default could be actually lower than their ‘actual’ consumption and therefore the savings would be incorrect.

Incorrect property data combine with the ability of the assessor to use provided energy data or ‘default’ data could go someway to explaining the difference’s, there is no excuse for getting the basic property information wrong.
The Green Deal has seen quite a number of ‘new’ entrants to the assessment industry with very limited experience on site, possibly they were the ones that attended if ‘basic’ data was incorrect.

As the reporter acknowledges this is a ‘new’ process and there have certainly been ‘teething problems’ with software but it is anticipated that things are improving rapidly.

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Chris Gloucester

Many of these Green Deal Assessors are employees or “linked” to the Green Deal provider, very new, very inexperienced and perhaps even some doubling as salespeople, and perhaps not completely as “assessment impartial” as they should be.
There are plenty of Energy Assessors out there with good experience in providing Energy Performance Certificates, and who have gone through many assessment audits thus demonstrating their capabilities.
Just about all these existing Energy Assessors (DEA’s) have been inundated over the last year or so with offers of training to add Green Deal Advisor to their qualification. Not for free of course it costs up to £1000 to train, pass the exams and add GDA to their qualification.

Thing is though many experienced DEA’s can see the short comings of the Green Deal, realise the earnings potential won’t be great and a high proportion have not gone for it. This leaves mostly the newly qualified Green Deal Assessors to complete the assessments carried out to date, and that I’d suggest might be the reason for too many poor quality inconsistent assessments.

With experience of course and the rigours of the audit process these new GDA’s will improve.
However the deal offered by the “Green Deal” probably won’t.

Check out the Green Deal very carefully before you consider it, there are lots of things you won’t like and/or consider expensive, even realistically unworkable.
Check to see if there is a better cheaper way to get to the same level of bill reducing energy efficiency (and there is).

Good idea to become more energy efficient and get your energy bills down, energy won’t be reducing in price anytime soon, but the Green Deal is unlikely to be the most cost effective way to get there, for the majority of people.

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Alex Honey

I have a civil engineering degree, I am a certified Passivhaus Designer and I have been asked by Clients to complete the DEA and Green Deal training. Having just completed the course I am not surprised by the indifferent feedback so far and expect these results to be replicated in a larger survey. For me the big issue will be if the DEA over-estimates the heat losses then the savings made through insulation improvements will not be realised. Also, the new RHI announced on Friday by the Govt. will base payments on the EPC produced by the DEA, this could lead DEAs to be “encouraged” to make the houses look more inefficent to boost RHI payments. rdSAP software used to produce the EPC, it is too simple and makes too many assumptions to be of great use in calculating “deemed” heat losses. Some people are going to make a killing and the rest of us are going to pay for it through our electricity bills.

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Chris Gloucester

Alex,
I’ve been a DEA (not a GDA) for a couple of years now and what you say is broadly correct. The EPC and the Green Deal seems to have been a shotgun wedding.
Remember the EPC was originally conceived as an information document to benefit potential buyers and tenants. The idea was to give “general information” on fuel costs, possible improvements and cost, and possible resulting savings, The idea was to give consumers a way of comparing energy efficiency of properties they might be thinking of buying or renting.

To use this “general information” to determine whether the Green Deal Golden Rule will work or not is going to be at great risk of significant inaccuracy. The Golden Rule was never what the EPC was originally intended for.

I don’t think much of the Green Deal for that reason and a host of others which is why I’m not a GDA. I think the Green Deal will fail because it’s poorly thought out, too expensive and there is risk of miss-selling for reasons you mention, and others.

The EPC however used as originally intended is a useful piece of information for would be buyers and tenants. The survey is cheap, much much cheaper than a survey that would be required to make the Golden Rule potential accurate, and can be carried out by people on lower levels of architectural qualification (like me) so long as correct survey methodology is used.

Many DEA’s have decided the Green Deal is not where it’s at and like me not gone for it, so as I’ve already said Green Deal surveys are being carried out by new inexperienced assessors and initially at least some will get it wrong. Trouble is that error is going to cost some consumers unexpected and perhaps unnecessary expense.

The Green Deal needs a very big rethink.

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Alastair Graham

I am a landlord and applied to the Green Deal scheme fronted by the National Landlords Association (NLA). You pay up front £150 and this is returned to you if you take up the offer by the Provider. The Provider is Mitie.
In my case the Company which supplied the Assessor is UTD Ltd based in Thame ,Oxon. On the 29th April 2013, I completed the purchase of a centre terraced 2 bed house in Droitwich and on 1st May I paid online to the NLA the sum of £150.

On the 10th May an Assessor visited the property. I asked if it was too soon to get him in as obviously I had no electricity or gas bills of the previous occupier but he said that all the power companies had standardised templates for situations like this.
On 17th June, some 5 weeks later and after a chase up by me to UTD Ltd, I received an EPC and an Occupancy Assessment (OA). The latter came as a complete surprise. Moreover some items of potential improvement shown with a green tick on the EPC were by contrast shown with an orange tick on the OA . The significance, I later learnt from quizzing the Assessor(whose contact details i had taken the precaution of obtaining at his visit), is that the EPC gives you a broad(and in my view, optimistic picture of savings) and the OA then cuts this down. Of course it must be remembered that the entire assessment process is kept a complete secret from the end user. It is a mixture of the assessors judgement and-largely- the software which can be altered at any time by the DEEC. Most convenient!
On 3rd June I had received an email from the CEO of the NLA stating that a “small number of minor technical issues relating to consumer credit regulations have come to light limiting the ability of Green Deal Providers (including NLA Green Deal) to sign Green deal Plans. This is an issue for the entire Green Deal market…In practical terms this has meant as far as we are aware, finance for the actual works has yet to be released.”

On 15th July another letter from the NLA told me that because of these delays the NLA was now going to look at funding via the Energy Company Obligations and I could expect further information- but not soon!

Ive involved my MP Robin Walker who was intially fobbed off by Department spinners with stuff that would have graced an episode of In The Thick Of It but he returned to the fight. We still await a sensible answer (or admission) form the Department.

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Honest Abi

Thks for posting this. Incredible! I already have a HIP as tried to sell my home but didn’t in the end. There is an EPC already included and I would only like help via the cash back to upgrade my boiler.
I am however being asked to pay out for an assessment and tie myself to a listed provider. An insult to my intelligence and a political farce!

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Chris Gloucester

I sympathize and understand your position. But what could be a useful tip, the cash back you’re after will be cash back from a Green Deal registered installer (like British Gas or some other large outfit). Their prices were never the best and will be even more inflated with the cost of the Green Deal bureaucracy. You might therefore find that the final price, even without any cash back, will be lower if you use a local “gas safe” plumber to install your new boiler.

This is what I did and the price for the same boiler installed was about £900 less than the price British gas wanted. And I was happier to support a local business rather than a faceless big corporation.

Do a bit of research you might be pleasantly surprised.

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hester watson

My understanding from observing a number of green deal assessments is that the assessor cannot prevent the default settings overriding the details of actual energy use. This means that my predicted savings are well above my actual energy use so if I took out a loan the repayments plus fuel payments would be a lot more than I pay now – so much for the golden rule. I think this is dangerous because many people do not understand the report or what they are told by the assessor and think they are getting something which they are not. So it is a good thing that it is not possible to get loans at present, especially with the high interest rates which we are not warned about. The alternative provision, affordable warmth, is not explained even if it mentioned so people may not realise they could get things done this way. However, at present very few energy efficiency measures are available through this scheme (fewer that with previous schemes) so people with limited income really have no way to improve their homes. I am disappointed because I had thought that making homes more energy efficient was the purpose of the green deal and Eco.

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Rob Mackay

I have had an assessment which was not a big problem to arrange – cost £110 arranged by “One Green Place” and recommendations have been made. Of course I have no idea how accurate the assessment was bur he seemed very thorough.

The big problem, which does not seem to be being addressed is getting anything done about it. One Green Place have said that they cannot find (or get funding) for anyone to come and quote for the work and I have tried ringing 3 other listed providers in my area (one I see in the paper has since gone bankrupt) None are willing to come and quote for the work – one wanted another assessment before they would even think of it. It seems the details of funding just have not been worked through.

I read in the papers that there have been 10s of thousands of assessments but only a handful of of contracts for work to be carried out. I am not surprised and have rather written the whole thing off. I would like to install solid wall insulation (recommended) but it will be expensive and it would have been nice to know if the scheme was a helpful option. I accept of course that I might be better off funding it myself but I will wait a little longer yet

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Chris Gloucester

Rob Mackay,
” I accept of course that I might be better off funding it myself but I will wait a little longer yet”.

No “might” about it Rob. So far you’ve only lost £110 on an assessment telling you what you probably already knew. But your costs will increase dramatically when you pay over the odds plus 7% interest for that solid wall insulation you’re thinking of.
If you expect solid wall insulation, Green deal funded, to save more on your bills than the repayments plus interest I think you’ll find the numbers don’t add up by a long way.
In fact, for this very reason, I doubt the Green Deal will 100% fund solid wall insulation anyway .

If you go for internal solid wall insulation, which is cheaper but you lose a little on room size, perhaps do some of the work yourself, and/or you can pay out of savings or even borrow at mortgage type rates of interest you will save a packet. And you might actually realize some energy bill savings within your lifetime.

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Tony C

Some interesting comments both from industry participants and users of the Green Deal Assessment service. I am a practicing Domestic Energy Assessor (DEA) since its concept and have done some 5000 EPC assessments across the Domestic Property Spectrum. I am also a GDA (Green Deal Advisor), since October 2012 and a Green Deal Assessor Organisation (GDAO), Sole Trader since May and have conducted, a large number of assessments, mainly for Solid Wall Insulation but based on the Green Deal. That’s my facts and background.

The Which Report is, as you would expect, fairly well balanced and accurate to a point. The variation in EPC scores is as mentioned a concern when based on a standardised system. However I also question the Which Report comment on the British Gas and Vibrant Energy Matters being a fair match to their (Which) experts evaluation when both reports are 9 points or 9% apart. The industry audit standard is evidence must show no more than 5 points(5%) difference for it to pass audit, assuming no major description inaccuracy’s..

User comments are varied as I would expect, only because of the incorrect high expectations created via the initial low hype (I know, a contradiction in terms) at the start of the Green Deal Launch. However my experience with Property Occupiers is in the main a practical and good experience. This however is due to my being a Sole Trader GDAO and so am able to have a meaningful conversation with the Property Owner, before they commit to the Green Deal Assessment and between us, establish if the Green Deal, is right for them at this point in time. I also at the start of any assessment following the required explanations, give the opportunity for the occupier to cancel, if they feel the Green Deal, may after all not be for them, at no cost. I only take payment on completion of the assessment, not before. Unlike the multi GDA/GDAO service, who take the initial call, take the money then get the GDA to make the appointment. The initial call taker having the job of securing the assessment, perhaps under target pressure. This is not a get at Multi GDA/GDAOs but there is a difference.

The DEA /GDA comments are varied and opinionated. I agree with the fact that many GDAs are new to the industry and therefore very inexperienced with the EPC production element and of course as this is the basis the Green Deal Report is initially based on, there is cause for concern. However perhaps the training organisations should take some responsibility there. A 10 day course for someone new to the industry and then given the Green Light to do EPC and GD assessments, without a meaningful probation period is placing to much on the new to industry person to get it right from day 1. Why not create a probation period by attaching the new assessor to a local experienced assessor for a minimum number of EPC assessments. Then at least the chassis of the Green Deal Advice Report, (GDAR) being the EPC would have a greater chance of being correct or at least within the allowed 5% variant.

The GDA who goes on the do the Occupancy Assessment (OA) is inexperienced generally as its a totally new concept, but, in my view no DEA should do a full GDAR without at least complete a minimum number of EPCs only following a probation period. The reason for this is the OA is fairly simple by comparison to the EPC element, but it takes confidence and listening skills to meaningfully sit down and advice the occupier on the full spectrum of the GDAR and recommendations. This requires EPC assessment experience.

In my view, the Green Deal is a good, but fledgling process. Perhaps launched 12 months to early. The main thrust of the EPC/GDAR being the legally required reduction, as a country, in our Carbon Emissions by 2050. So the Green Deal, or its evolvement is here to stay. If a practical view is taken to the process and expected outcome,, before the assessment, fewer would be disappointed. The Green Deal is expensive money but the Golden Rule and Responsibility to pay whilst the Meter Bill Payer only, can make it an affordable alternative to some, rather than higher and higher monthly energy bills. ECO, that is working but no one should expect 100% funding, with regard to Solid Wall Insulation as there are to many variants involved but basically off gas grid, rural properties stand a good chance of perhaps majority funding.

Well done the initiator of the Green Deal, well done all those who have committed too it from the industry, new and old, for the right reasons (being there is a need for it) and well done all those who have taken the first step. The Green Deal will work, eventually, if a practical view is taken by all. What is the alternative…….

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Amore R.

I got a GDA from Principal Plans in London for £180. I have a 2 bed, mid terrace, Victorian house. The assessor was very thorough. She took 3 hours and took many photos and measurements. I was impressed.
Then I got the report. I was no longer impressed.

I did not want a Green Deal Loan. What I wanted was expert advice on measures to improve the energy efficiency of my house. I used Green Deal because I had not heard of DEAs before reading these comments.

There are 3 different lists of recommendations that had no reference to my particular house. So I asked the GDAR for measurements and details to explain each measure. This was the reply:-

“With regards to your questions,
The savings shown on green deal report you should consider, as these are commutative with reference to measures installed together.
The report is standard, that’s what client gets, all the information collected is used to create that report.
And with regards to be specific to measures selected, the GDAR gives estimated cost range, if you notice, the exact cost will be provided by the Green deal providers, depending on what you specifically select from the materials available for choice.
The green deal providers do have access to XML file of the Green deal advice Report, enabling them to get the information which has been used to prepare report.

So the next step is to have some quotes from different providers to have more exact quote for the installation, they will give you green deal plan, which you need to sign and start installations.”

I’m afraid I didn’t understand this but I know it did not make the recommended measures any clearer, so I wrote again with more specific questions.

Some examples
Draught proofing – just that, no details of where it was needed or how she came up with the savings.
External Wall Insulation – but no mention of which walls or the size of the area to be insulated. I have since discovered that it would be well nye impossible on a small terraced house and the rooms are so small that internal insulation is not an option. Why didn’t the GDAR know this?
A wind turbine – but no mention of how big or where to put it. I’m not sure this would not be feasible anyway.

I got the same answer as before, that I should ask the provider.

Also, I have no idea if any of the figures are accurate because I was not given any room/wall/floor measurements.

Should I seek out a DEA for another assessment? Those that have commented here seem to know what they’re talking about but how do I know if I will find one who is competent? Or shall I just carry on stuffing newspaper under the skirting boards and pile on the woolly jumpers?

Was I expecting too much? I don’t think so. I am very disappointed. I paid for expertise but I did not get it.

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