I had the opportunity to speak in a debate on the mis-selling of the Green Deal by certain companies in my constituency and across Scotland.
This scheme has left many people in Blantyre unable to insure or sell their homes.
The Green Deal was a UK Government-backed scheme to help homeowners improve the energy-efficiency of their houses, but it appears that this scheme was often mis-sold to people and work could often be done below standard.
Full transcript after the video below
I, too, thank Ivan McKee for lodging the motion. I welcome the constituents who are in the public gallery, and I know that many are watching us at home.
The problems with the UK Government’s green deal scheme were not confined to one area of the country nor, as we have heard, were they confined to home improvements, cladding, boilers and insulation. In my constituency of Rutherglen, solar panels were widely sold to householders in Blantyre. People were told that they would not pay any more for their electricity, that they could save money and that they were helping the environment. So far, 60 individuals have attended a series of public meetings that I have organised in conjunction with the local citizens advice bureau. Attendance at those meetings quickly expanded to include disillusioned solar panel customers from Hamilton and other areas. Time after time, we have heard stories of high-pressure sales techniques and salespeople insisting on documents being signed at tea-time doorstep calls. There was a 14-day cooling off period, which is absolutely right, but we have heard about work commencing on day 15.
Feed-in tariffs—the money that householders were owed for generating electricity—were signed over to a third party with little if any explanation to the purchasers. Solar panels were fitted to roofs in Blantyre, which is not exactly the Costa del Sol, and householders will have to repay the cost of the panels for the next 25 years through their electricity bills. I have seen one contract that specifically states that the feed-in tariffs pay for the panels. However, many people have not only signed over their feed-in tariff, but are paying for their panels again through a finance deal.
Solar panels were also fitted to houses where the electricity meter was not compatible with the installed system. In fact, the meters were charging the householders not only for the energy that they used but for the energy that they produced. That has resulted in huge energy bills and huge debts for people—adding to the fuel poverty that Mr Burnett mentioned—when the people involved expected to reduce their bills, not double them.
Worryingly, the debt for the solar panels rests with the property, not the individual householder. That has led to householders being unable to sell their properties. Few companies will mortgage or remortgage those properties, and I have been told of house sales falling through because lawyers advised buyers not to continue with a purchase. One of my constituents recently lost several thousands of pounds when one buyer withdrew their offer to buy her house after she had put down a deposit on another property.
Solar panel deals were mis-sold to customers who were told that the deals were guaranteed by the Scottish Government. That was untrue. Solar panels were a green deal product promoted by the UK Government. That is the type of misinformation used by HELM, which has, unfortunately, been in administration since April 2016. I say “unfortunately” because customers have been left without resolution while the Financial Ombudsman Service determines where liability lies.
Following our meetings in Blantyre, Margaret Ferrier—the former MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West—and I have been working to get fair compensation for the issues that many customers in our constituencies experienced. In doing so, we have worked closely with the offices of Ivan McKee MSP and Anne McLaughlin, the former MP for Glasgow North East, and we are grateful for their support and co-operation. However, I suspect that the situation in Blantyre and the east end of Glasgow is just the tip of the iceberg, as tens of thousands of such deals were sold across Scotland and the UK before the scheme was halted. The more that we learn about the issue, the more we come to realise that potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people are affected.
I met Angela Constance, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, in February and I thank her and her officials for undertaking to continue pressing the UK Government department responsible for a resolution to the issue, which continues to leave so many Scottish customers out of pocket. The situation is causing real financial hardship to many customers who fell foul of HELM’s practices and other companies’ abuses of the green deal. We should do everything that we can to help them get the resolution that they deserve.