Energy efficiency campaigner voices concerns for heating installers over Bonfield Review

Published:  17 January, 2017

The long-awaited Bonfield Review has been met with some concern by energy efficiency specialist, Peter Thom

The Bonfield Review was commissioned by the government in July 2015 to look at consumer advice, protection, standards and enforcement to tackle problems within the supply chain, such as rogue traders, poor quality installations and compliance issues. The review was finally published on 16 December 2016 - just before Christmas and nine months late!

This follows the disastrous failure of the Green Deal, which was highlighted in the open letter I sent to the Prime Minister in January 2015, explaining in detail why heating installers did not engage with this Government scheme.

The original scheme was going to be open to all Gas-Safe registered installers, without the need for the added costs of PAS2030 for management systems, additional accreditation, inspections and surveillance. This was agreed with industry, as we are already highly regulated with a requirement to undertake costly training and examination every five years to maintain gas accreditation.

So I was somewhat surprised that following 200 meetings with 170 stakeholders and a further 410 organisations, the Bonfield Review is suggesting more of the same by retaining all these barriers. Clearly, the installers’ view is not being listened to and they were probably not well represented at these meetings.

Could ‘Green Deal 2’ be on the horizon?

The Bonfield Review makes 29 recommendations, with the setting up of a Strategic Governance Board proposed to oversee and monitor these and decide on the levels of auditing required.

There is also a suggestion that all installers will have to pay to join the Government’s Trust Mark scheme. This could well distort the market for other betterknown and trusted quality mark schemes, such as Which? and local Trading Standards’ ‘Buy with Confidence’ accreditations.

I am not aware of any evidence that the perceived problems outlined in the review exist in the heating industry. I am also not aware of any evidence that existing consumer protection is inadequate or failing.

This then raises the question of how successful Government schemes such as the Green Deal and RHI have been in tackling fuel poverty or helping the needy; or if they have been value for money. Indeed, the Audit Commission says not. They have been very complicated and restrictive to a very low number of installers, so are not that accessible. Perhaps all schemes need to be evaluated on sound principals and a valuefor money basis and all the red tape and extra layers of accreditation such as MCS and PAS 2030, cut away.

One good point raised in the Review is the importance that the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) could be in advising householders on energy-saving options in the home. This has been close to my heart for the past 27 years when we first introduced the green home energy audit. Since the introduction of the EPC we have been asking Government to educate the public by explaining what they are and what they can be used for. Better late than never!

I am concerned that there seems to be a ‘syndicate’ of organisations who are not part of the supply chain, who are feeding on our industry; providing costly and time-consuming training, accreditation and systems that offer no extra benefit to the tried and tested standards that are already in place. Which leads me to question if the driver behind this review is to protect these syndicate organisations?

There are important lessons to be learned from the failure of previous initiatives, and being on the ‘front line’ with consumers, heating installers are well-placed to know what is needed and workable to protect, engage and educate homeowners on all home heating and energy efficiency measures.

Any change of course must take into consideration the particular needs of smaller installer businesses. Removing the red tape and added costs are key to making these schemes work - for everyone.

Be warned: Participating in Government schemes may seriously damage your wealth.

Mr Thom is founder and managing director of heating and renewable energy company Green Heat

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