Scottish consumers warned about energy marketing scams following COP26 summit.

Following the COP26 summit, more consumers may look to make their homes more energy efficient; however, uncertainty about the availability of energy efficiency incentives make it easy for dishonest companies to scam consumers. They say that funding or grants are available for their products, yet ask consumers to pay for the products up front or take out a loan. Consumers are told that they will receive their money back over time but rarely do. They often overinflate their prices and then apply ‘discounts’ which are supposedly equivalent to government grants.

Trading Standards Scotland is running a social media campaign aimed at raising awareness of issues with misleading energy marketing and pointing consumers towards sources of trusted and impartial advice.

In recent months, there has been an increase in reports from Scottish consumers about cold calls relating to roof insulation. Many people have been cold called by companies who claim to work with Home Energy Scotland, the Scottish Government’s impartial energy advice service, or local councils and provide misleading information about energy saving measures.

Case Study

Jennifer, a retired teacher from Stirling, received a cold call in May from a company who said they were offering to carry out free surveys of roof insulation. The caller told her that many houses don’t have the correct amount of insulation and that some older insulation can break down over time and become toxic. They claimed to be working alongside Home Energy Scotland, saying that an inspection would be required to ensure Jennifer’s eligibility for any government grants.

Jennifer agreed to have a survey carried out and was later phoned by an engineer who arranged a visit to test the air quality in the roof space and the age of the existing insulation. The engineer suggested that any old rolls of insulation would be replaced with spray foam insulation.

A few days later, a man claiming to represent Home Energy Scotland arrived at the house to inspect the insulation. After going into the loft, he told Jennifer that he had found white mould in a corner of the loft which, if left untreated, could turn to black mould, which could be hazardous to her health. Jennifer was unable to climb into the loft herself and the man did not provide any photographic evidence of the mould.

The engineer told Jennifer that the best solution for her roof space was spray foam insulation and quoted a price of almost £5,000.

Jennifer felt that the price was a bit high and told the engineer that she was going to have an independent inspection carried out. She contacted Home Energy Scotland, who arranged for an impartial assessment of her loft space. The inspector did not find any evidence of mould and told Jennifer that her existing insulation was acceptable. Home Energy Scotland also confirmed that the original inspector was not connected to them and that they never cold call consumers.

Energy Saving Trust advise that if you have regular loft insulation above the ceiling, you do not need additional spray foam insulation. In fact, if the insulation is not needed, it could cause damage. One couple in the west of Scotland agreed to have spray foam insulation installed in their loft last year after being cold called by a company offering free surveys. However, they later discovered that the new insulation was in fact unsuitable for a timber-built house and had to pay to have it removed before it rotted the timbers.

Consumer Protection Minister Tom Arthur said:

“COP26 has highlighted how important improved home energy efficiency is in creating a net zero emissions future. It is more important than ever to protect consumers from scammers and rogue companies seeking to exploit public interest in efficiency and climate change. Uncertainty about the viability of incentives makes it easier for dishonest companies to scam consumers.

“Scotland has a well-established and valued supply chain to help decarbonise our buildings and it is also in the interests of the industry that consumers are protected. That is why the Scottish Government is supporting this campaign, which aims to raise awareness of misleading energy and environmental claims.”

Cllr Kelly Parry, Chair of Trading Standards Scotland’s Governance Board, said:

“Misleading energy marketing is a priority area for Trading Standards Scotland and we work throughout the year to tackle the problem of rogue traders who are exploiting the existence of energy efficiency grants to make misleading marketing claims in relation to products.

“We would like to remind consumers to be wary of cold callers or social media adverts for energy saving products. Never accept information offered from these sources without doing independent research, particularly if they tell you that there are grants or funding schemes available.

“Before agreeing to have any work done, have an impartial assessment carried out on your home to find out which energy efficiency measures will actually be beneficial to your property. Don’t agree to get an assessment done by a company who cold calls you – they will not be impartial.” 

Harry Mayers, Head of Home Energy Scotland said:

“Navigating information and offers on home energy efficiency improvements can be overwhelming, especially if you are feeling pressured to make a quick decision. As we move into the winter, and with energy bills increasing, there’s every chance that dishonest organisations may attempt to capitalise on this.

Home Energy Scotland is here to help you make the right choice for your home.

We are funded by the Scottish Government to provide impartial and tailored advice.We  don’t cold call and our advice is completely free. Our expert advisors can help you find the best way to make your home more efficient, warmer and cheaper to heat. We can also let you know what funding you may be eligible for to help cover the cost of energy saving home improvements, including grants and loans from the Scottish Government.

Before you start any energy efficiency improvements, give us a call free on 0808 808 2282 or visit homeenergyscotland.org to see how we can help”

Information about grants available to Scottish consumers can be found through Home Energy Scotland, who also offer free and impartial advice on energy saving measures.

Nuisance calls or scam adverts should be reported to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website: www.consumeradvice.scot.