Scottish consumers urged to have a safe journey to an energy efficient home
As energy prices and bills are set to remain high over the autumn and winter months, Trading Standards Scotland is launching a new campaign to help consumers avoid scams linked to energy efficiency measures and to point them towards sources of trusted, impartial advice.
Throughout the cost of living crisis, scammers have attempted to exploit consumers’ financial concerns. There has been an increase in reports of online adverts, cold callers and rogue traders offering misleading information about the availability of grants and funding for energy efficiency incentives.
Dishonest companies, who often claim to work with local councils or Home Energy Scotland, the Scottish Government’s impartial energy advice service, tell consumers that they are eligible to receive government or council funding for products such as insulation, boilers and heating systems, but ask them 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. These companies often overinflate their prices and then apply ‘discounts’ which are supposedly equivalent to government grants.
The key aim of the campaign is to empower consumers who want to make their home more energy efficient to go about it safely:
- Have an impartial assessment carried out
This will tell you which energy efficiency measures will have the maximum impact and will be most beneficial for your home; which measures should be installed and in which order; if there is any work that needs to be carried out in your property before measures are installed (such as damp/ ventilation/structure)
- Do plenty of research
Check trusted sources to find out as much as you can about the energy efficiency measures you hope to install
- Find an approved trader
Get quotes from companies/traders who have been vetted by Trading Standards and who have made a commitment to treat their customers fairly at www.approvedtrader.scot
Find Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified installers in your area via the Renewables Installer Finder at https://rif.est.org.uk/
- Check the finances
Before having any work carried out, check that financial protection is offered in case anything goes wrong. This could be product warranties, insurance backed guarantees or another form of financial protection.
Check if any grants or funding schemes are available in your area via www.homeenergyscotland.org
If you have received a grant or loan to help with the installation of the energy measures make sure you know any upfront fees and the total length and cost of the agreement. Find out whether the finance is tied to your home or energy use and don’t sign any paperwork until you have read and understood the terms and conditions.
- Check permissions
Check if any pre-permissions or notifications are required before installation (such as planning permission or building control)
Check whether you will need to carry out maintenance or servicing going forward to maintain the safety and efficiency of the products.
In the past year there have been particular issues with roof insulation. Several complaints have been received from people who were cold called and offered a ‘free’ loft survey. Those who agreed subsequently discovered that the ‘surveyors’ were in fact salespeople who tried to pressure them into buying spray foam insulation.
Some banks have warned that they could reject mortgage applications on homes that have spray foam insulation. There have been several reports of homeowners having difficulty trying to sell a property, take out a mortgage or release equity from a property with foam insulation.
Alasdair and Tricia, a couple in their 40s who live in Fife, were phoned by a company who claimed that the government were carrying out free loft surveys. The caller said their loft may be unsafe due to mould and could require new insulation to be installed.
As the survey was free, they arranged an appointment for a surveyor to visit them at home. When he arrived, he went into their loft and warned Alasdair and Tricia that he had found dangerous levels of mould. He showed them pictures and a high damp meter reading, both of which he claimed had been taken in their loft.
He told them they would need new insulation and advised them that spray foam insulation would be most effective. He said a government grant was available, which the company could use to help fund the installation.
He quoted a highly inflated price, then said that the government grant would bring it down by a couple of thousand pounds.
Alasdair and Tricia still felt the price was too high, so the salesperson advised them that loans were available – he then signed a loan on their behalf.
In fact, the company had not applied for any grants on the couple’s behalf and they had not been authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to act as a broker for the loan the couple took out.
Following the installation, Alasdair and Tricia became concerned after reading stories in the press about spray foam insulation. They contacted Home Energy Scotland, who arranged for an impartial assessment of their loft. They discovered that the loft had not in fact required new insulation at all and that the company had not installed the correct ventilation. It was now in a worse state than it had been, with excess mould and dampness due to the lack of ventilation.
The couple also discovered that the insulation could have a detrimental effect on their mortgage.
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.
Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur said:
“I am pleased to help launch this campaign to protect consumers from rogue traders making misleading claims in relation to energy efficiency products.
“I would strongly urge all consumers planning to install energy efficiency measures to do thorough research. If consumers are in doubt about sellers’ claims, I recommend that they contact Home Energy Scotland for impartial advice.”
Cllr Maureen Chalmers, 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.”
Chief Executive of Consumer Scotland Sam Ghibaldan said:
“With energy price volatility being forecast for the rest of the decade, one of the best ways to reduce bills in the longer term is by reducing demand through improved energy efficiency.
“It is therefore vital consumers know where to go to get the trusted, impartial advice they need. This important campaign will help consumers avoid falling foul of rogue traders and energy efficiency scams.”
Harry Mayers, Head of Home Energy Scotland at Energy Saving Trust said:
‘It has never been more important to know who you can trust to give you impartial and tailored advice about low carbon heating and energy saving home improvements. It is easy to be misled when faced with the vast array of information available from so many different sources, especially if you are feeling pressured to make a quick decision.
‘Home Energy Scotland is here to help you make the right choice for your home.
‘Funded by the Scottish Government, our advice is completely free and impartial, and we don’t cold call. 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 is available 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, visit homeenergyscotland.org or give us a call free on 0808 808 2282 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.