Last year, through this column, I advised readers of the serious situation many of my constituents in Blantyre were facing as a result of signing up to UK Government Green Deal plans to have energy efficiency measures installed in their homes.
Many believe that they were mis-sold these measures, including solar panels by the, now defunct, Cambuslang based company HELMS Ltd. People were told that they would not pay any more for their electricity, that they could save money and that by signing up they would be helping the environment.
However, these solar panel deals did not live up to the promise and, because the Green Deal payments are made through their power bills, significant numbers of customers in Blantyre and Hamilton have been left in serious financial circumstances.
Thanks to a Written Question asked by Angela Crawley MP at Westminster, we now know that there are 30 homes affected in Lanark and Hamilton East, and 227 affected homes in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency. I have no doubt that the bulk of the latter figure are in the Blantyre and Hamilton area. In one Blantyre Street alone, there are up to 30 homes affected.
Several customers started the process of complaining to the various Ombudsmen and to the Green Deal Finance Company from 2014 onwards, to no avail. In the past couple of years Hamilton Citizen’s Advice Bureau has helped many progress their complaints.
Following several public meetings in Blantyre last year, hosted by me, pressure was brought to bear on the Green Deal Finance Company and the UK Government department responsible – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, (BEIS,) – by myself and other elected representatives, as well as Scottish Government Ministers, to resolve this issue for all those affected.
What became obvious as the campaign progressed is that this issue affects former HELMS customers right across Scotland and beyond. A new HELMS Action Group recently set up in Ayrshire already has 150 members and my office has been contacted by many others from across the central belt and beyond.
After a long period of inaction some customers started to receive offers from the Green Deal Finance Company to reduce their loan balances. However, many have not been satisfied with these offers and have commenced appeals to the Secretary of State at BEIS.
In what could be a significant development, in recent weeks a couple in South Lanarkshire received the news from the Green Deal Finance Company, now renamed HIBER, that their Green Deal Plan had been cancelled with all monies reimbursed.
This was the culmination of a long and worrisome process for this elderly couple whose complaint was fought for three years by a family member, with some legal help and advice from Citizen’s Advice, who helped them navigate the various complaint stages.
In November 2017 the Secretary of State issued a “Notice of Cancellation” which accepted that the Green Deal Code of Practice, which BEIS approved providers such as HELMS should have been adhering to, had been breached. The Notice allowed six weeks for the relevant parties to make further representations before a final decision on 13th February 2018.
We now know that a few weeks prior to the final decision date, HIBER cancelled this couples’ Green Deal Plan, thereby leaving the Secretary of State with no further action to take.
While this cancellation is very good news and, no doubt, a great relief for the customers involved, it sets a worrying precedent if the former Green Deal Finance Company is prepared to wait until the 11th hour to refund monies rather than face sanctions.
However, if they are now willing to admit that customers in similar circumstances were misled, and entitled to a refund, then they must make this option available to everyone, not just those that have got to the stage of forcing the UK government to step in and take action. I am seeking more detail from them as to why this welcome decision to cancel and refund was taken, and have written to them to find out more.
I convene a Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament which is looking at this issue and Angela Crawley has set up an All Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster. Many more MPS and MSPs are becoming involved in pressing for a resolution for their constituents across Scotland, and the issue has been reported on national news.
The news of this cancellation is a watershed moment in the ongoing campaign to get justice for those in similar circumstances and I will continue to press the UK Government to do the right thing by those customers who were misled, and mis-sold home energy efficiency products.
In the meantime, any constituents with concerns about HELMS should contact my office, who will be more than happy to assist.
Date published: 21st February 2018