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House of Commons Hansard
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Green Deal (Conduct of Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Ltd)
22 January 2019
Volume 653

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to review the conduct of Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Ltd in relation to the Green Deal; to require the Secretary of State to report on the merits of a scheme guaranteed by Her Majesty’s Government to compensate persons mis-sold loans under the Green Deal; and for connected purposes.

This private Member’s Bill should not be required. First, it is a consequence of a Government-backed scheme failing. Equally, since the mis-selling scandal became apparent, had the Government accepted the responsibility to investigate and to compensate victims, this Bill would be redundant. To date, however, the UK Government have turned a deaf ear to such calls, so now I stand here having to re-iterate the call for a UK Government review. I pay tribute to the work of others who are pressing for such action, both here and at the Scottish Parliament; additionally, to my constituents such as Isobel McNicol, who started an awareness and campaign group on Home Energy Lifestyle and Management Systems—HELMS for short—and campaigner Irene Harris; and to Citizens Advice, particularly Linda Corbett from the Kilmarnock bureau.

As the title of my Bill suggests, one company in particular has been at the centre of the mis-selling activity: Home Energy Lifestyle and Management Ltd, or HELMS. One individual from HELMS, Robert Skillen, brazenly struts about telling everyone that it was nothing to do with him and all the fault of the UK Government. I know that Robert Skillen will be watching or reviewing this debate, and I have one thing to say to him: not to bother looking through Hansard and coming back to me—I am not interested.

Robert Skillen has already appeared on STV’s “Scotland Tonight” programme, with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and my constituent Irene Harris. That night, Skillen convinced no one, and I have now discovered that the very next morning after that TV appearance, he emailed my constituent Irene, looking for her written permission to contact her insurance company on her behalf. Apart from the sheer gall of that, it shows that he has held on to personal details and is surely in breach of data protection laws. Even more alarming is his attempt to masquerade as an expert claims company to help people get compensation for the deals he originally mis-sold them. How many people is he targeting using the personal data that he has held on to?

I will contact the relevant authorities, but that again shows how, had the UK Government taken a lead in investigating the HELMS mis-selling, such antics might have been stopped by now. Considering HELMS was previously fined £200,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office, that latest activity reconfirms Skillen’s brazenness. I support the ICO call for it to have the power to fine such company directors up to £500,000.

A proper review would flush out Skillen’s claims that he warned the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the flaws in the system. That is an audacious claim, because he is either telling the truth, in which case he did not care about the flaws and continued to make money, or it is just further bluster.

I remind the House of the number of those affected, which in turn underlines the need for wider Government action: 4,262 households in the UK have HELMS solar PV green deals, with 3,054 in Scotland and 142 in my constituency; so 93% of those loans are in Scotland, with 97% of my affected constituents having loans in the 20 to 25-year range. With such numbers of households possibly affected, further Government action is obviously required.

I will now cover the main failings and use them to set the terms for a Government review aimed at making recommendations with regard to compensation. First, the length of the loans needs to be considered. I can only conclude that such loans were a cynical manoeuvre by HELMS to reduce the annual repayment figure below the predicted first year savings, as per the golden rule.

We are told that the PV panels should last for 25 years. As a civil engineer, however, I have undertaken whole-life costing exercises, and it was normal to allow for mechanical and electrical equipment to be replaced at a maximum interval of 15 years. It therefore beggars belief that HELMS cowboy installations will last those 25 years. Also, long-term maintenance costs need to be considered. Was any of that factored into the golden rule? I have previously stated that the actual savings need to be assessed against the theoretical savings, now that we have the installations to measure that against. That needs to be done on a year-on-year, whole-life basis, not just on that first year. On the expected savings, sadly, enough HELMS examples show that electricity bills have increased, not decreased, so again why are the Government sitting back on such matters?

As well as the adequacy of long-duration loans—the high volume of which should have been a governance red flag—the review should consider the age profile of those taking loans and their ability to pay back in the long term. Spend-to-save projects should have a payback period of a few years, not a quarter of a century.

We need a proper root-and-branch review into the HELMS installations. How many households do not have the building warrants that HELMS were supposed to procure? Those without warrants should be compensated against the retrospective charges that are set in law. How many installations are wrongly wired to the meter or connected to the wrong meters? Remedial action should be taken, also at no cost to the householders. How many people have insulation cladding with no building warrant? Where necessary, intrusive testing should be undertaken to prove it is suitable and, again, any remedial works should be compensated. Given that this was a Government-backed scheme, it is not surprising that so many people were trusting.

That takes us to the hard sales tactics. Again, the Government need to review that and to take proper evidence. Given use of the Government logo and no money required up front, it is easy to see how unscrupulous salespeople could easily conflate matters to the extent that the installations seemed to be completely free. Some customers might already have had free insulation through the energy company obligation, which of itself could have added credibility to the free concept. Even for the ECO, however, we actually all pay for it via our energy bills, so that shows the risks of the Government pretending that measures are free—just like the free smart meters, which we all actually pay for.

The review should also check aftercare and assess how many installations are correctly insured. My constituent Irene Harris says that her insurance is no longer valid. How many others are there like that, and what are the associated risks? There has been a blasé attitude about the fact that those loans are against the property and are not personal loans as though somehow that means the length of the loan does not matter. Well, it does matter. The Government should see that 20-plus years of outstanding loans, no insurance and no building warrants mean that those houses cannot be sold. People are trapped in houses that might not suit their long-term housing need. The review must identify the scale of that problem.

We need to know how many people have been defrauded of their feed-in tariff. In answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Government confirmed that they do not have that information on whose tariffs have been transferred to a third party. It is vital to find that out and to find ways to prevent Skillen from continuing to profit from such fraudulent transfers. It is undisputable that people did not realise that they were assigning their tariffs over to his other company. Worse, many people claim that their signatures were forged. The UK Government need to get a handle on that and to ensure that victims get ownership of the tariffs.

The Government might argue that an appeal process is in place, but that is inadequate. People need to know that they have been ripped off. They then need to set that out to the Green Deal Finance Company, which might make an offer. That is associated with a non-disclosure agreement, which smacks of divide and conquer. Worse, many of those people will not be in a position to assess the merits of an offer made to them, and they will feel further stressed by the whole situation.

Sure, if people are not satisfied, they can appeal to the BEIS Secretary, but that process is so tortuous. The last data I had stated that the Department had only made decisions on two out of 79 appeals and well over half of those had been in the system for nine months or more. That shows the limbo that people are left in. It has taken 15 months for my constituent Irene Harris to receive an offer, one fewer than for the original made by the Green Deal Finance Company. Where does that leave her? It is further proof that greater transparency is needed.

If the Government do not step up to the plate on those matters, we will never know the real extent of the problem. People will continue to discover at a later stage that they cannot sell their homes; many will not get the feed-in tariffs that they should be getting; others will overpay on their electricity bills, possibly for the rest of their lives; and incorrect installations will remain in place. Some of the Government architects of the flawed scheme have been rewarded with peerages and knighthoods. Are those matters what we want the legacy of the green deal to be, or will the Government step up to the plate, support my ten-minute rule Bill, conduct a review and properly compensate the victims?

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Alan Brown, Gavin Newlands, Patricia Gibson, Dr Philippa Whitford, Drew Hendry, Stuart C. McDonald, Chris Stephens, David Linden, Alison Thewliss, Ben Lake and Ged Killen present the Bill.

Alan Brown accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 March, and to be printed (Bill 322).

Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Programme) (No.3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 11 June 2018 (Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Programme)) and 11 September 2018 (Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Programme) (No.2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm at today’s sitting.

(2) The proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Lords Amendments Nos. 1 to 11, 13 and 16; Lords Amendments Nos. 12, 14, 15 and 17 to 42.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Michelle Donelan.)

Question agreed to.