UK Green Deal under threat?

Andrew Mourant

The UK Government’s ‘green deal’, aimed at persuading householders to insulate their homes then pay later through installments added to electricity bills, could be threatened by a manpower shortage.

The Green Deal will rely on an army of ‘energy assessors’ giving impartial advice but many are being squeezed out of business because they can’t earn a living.

Under green deal, energy firms will be able to provide domestic and commercial customers with loft and wall insulation and, if needed, better heating. Retailers such as Tesco, B&Q and Marks & Spencer will also be vying for the business. The scheme is due to start in October.

But assessors who already provide home energy performance certificates (EPCs), and on whom much will rely, are starting to quit the industry. Insiders expect many more to follow. Their fees for carrying out EPCs are being driven down by middle men - some get £20 or less per job.

When the EU ruled that anyone selling their house must have an EPC, thousands flocked to train as assessors. “I spent nearly £20,000 of my own money and it took 13 months to become an energy inspector,” said Tim Baxter, who chairs the west country assessors’ organisation DCHI.

Baxter makes a reasonable living but says many struggle if they work through intermediary companies - ‘panels’ - appointed by estate agents. “I heard of someone who got just £14 for an inspection working through a panel,” Baxter said. “There’s no way you can do an EPC for less than £60-£65, especially in the west country where homes are spread all over the place.”

As the housing market has stagnated, some panels have driven down payments. These also have to cover travel expenses and time spent filing assessments to an on-line data base. “Some properties take two and a half hours on site and you can spend at least that much time back at the office,” said Baxter.

Assessors are also angry at having to fund extra training so they can keep abreast of Government red tape. Mike Crompton, spokesman for the Institute of Domestic Energy Assessors (IDEA) believes there will soon be an exodus that could de-rail the green deal. This is because in April anyone wanting to retain a licence to work will have to sit an exam at their own expense.

“We must be one of the most regulated of all bodies - there’s a strict compliance code that brings with it the on-going cost of re-training, “said Crompton. “The exam fee is £90-£100 and the cost of attending training £70-£100. You lose a day’s pay, and if you don’t pass the exam, you must pay £60 to resit.

“I’ve spoken to one accreditation body which expects assessor numbers to drop by 800 – people either won’t get through their exam or else feel it isn’t worth the effort. That’s where the tipping point will come.”

Crompton said that estate agents typically charge vendors £90-£100 for a certificate, paying panels around £60. But often assessors only get half or less. Around half the country’s estimated 7,000 independent assessors work part-time because, he says, they can’t make a living full-time.

“There’s a huge swathe of discontent with panel companies who are eager to do business with estate agents and offer lower fees. We feel that working for less than £45 per assessment isn’t a business model.”

Baxter says that for some April’s exam will be ‘the final straw’. “It will cost me around £220 and two and half days out of a working week. We have to take exams to carry on what we’re doing. I’m not convinced green deal will come in in October - there may well be shortage of people to give advice.

With fewer energy assessors on the ground, Crompton ‘can’t see how green deal will work…unless payment methods are made clear’. “No one is saying who will pay them,” he said. “Their work will require additional training and the fees could be £1000-£1200. There’ll be 200 hours class and home learning - assessors will have to explain what the green deal is about; the technology and how it benefits someone in a way people understand".

Crompton fears this will force assessors to be ‘tied’ to the big companies if they’re going to get paid. “In one breath they’ll be required to provide the independent and impartial advice government demands; then in the next acting as salesmen and steering people towards the supplier they work for,” he said.

“There are widespread concerns about impartiality and unless the formula changes green deal won’t work - it’s heading for the rocks.”

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