Net zero cowboys preying on homeowners, Trading Standards warns

Net Zero Builders
Net Zero Builders

Property owners are increasingly being exposed to an underworld of “unscrupulous” net zero traders, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has warned.

Thousands of complaints were logged by Citizens Advice last year due to shoddy solar panel installations and faulty insulation products – but experts say this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Between October 2022 and September last year, 2,171 complaints were logged by Citizens Advice relating to solar installations. A further 1,526 were recorded about insulation products, and another 274 about heat pumps.

After the Government’s £2bn Green Homes Grant first launched four years ago, which offered homeowners and landlords up to £10,000 to make energy efficiency improvements, hundreds of firms started to appear on Companies House trying to capitalise on a probable surge in trader demand.

But with no regulation or certification required to carry out the work, it’s almost impossible for homeowners to tell which firms are just rogue traders.

The grant was withdrawn in 2021, but later replaced by similar government incentives, the £4bn “ECO4” grant scheme and the £1bn Great British Installation Scheme (GBIS), which are still running.

This week, the CTSI is calling on the Government to introduce regulation to weed out rogue traders trying to use these programmes to make a quick buck at the expense of Britain’s homeowners.

Steve Playle, CTSI’s officer for net zero, said: “If ever there was a time to regulate this industry, it’s now. The Government needs to get this by the scruff of the neck.

“Even when consumers have done their research, they are still left in the clutches of lots of unscrupulous traders who aren’t regulated by a central licensing scheme.”


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Failure to ensure energy efficiency improvements are installed properly could spell disaster for the Government’s net zero plans.

In a few years’ time, Mr Playle fears complaints about heat pumps “will go through the roof”. He added: “The Government is pinning all its hopes on air source and ground source heat pumps. But they only work if homes are insulated properly first.”

Previous Telegraph investigations have also found vulnerable homeowners left with unmortgageable homes due to incorrectly installed spray foam insulation, and pensioners who had been promised false returns from solar panels after being persuaded to take out loans to cover the upfront installation costs.

Last year, the Government increased the air source heat pump grant from £5,000 to £7,500, and raised the ground source heat pump grant from £6,000 to £7,500. This was after the National Infrastructure Commission said the rate of heat pump installations was “not cutting the mustard”.

As Britain moves further towards net zero, Mr Playle – who is also the City of London’s trading standards boss – said “it is inevitable” that these kinds of complaints will rise.

He added: “Consumers who are looking to have green heating installations carried out are very vulnerable. These are complex products, they are very expensive and the people selling them make a myriad of confusing claims about their performance.”

If a homeowner thinks they have been a victim of a rogue trader, they can lodge a complaint with Citizens Advice. This is then passed on to the local trading standards team where the complainant lives, or where the rogue trader is based.

The CTSI can stop businesses from trading, even if they aren’t members. But by this point, the damage has usually already been done. The not-for-profit organisation said the introduction of a licensing scheme could help homeowners spot unlicensed rogue traders from the start.

If refunds are not forthcoming, wronged homeowners can seek redress through an alternative dispute resolution scheme which avoids the courts – but this option is rendered useless if the business refuses to participate.

Claims management firms also operate in the space, but Mr Playle said the public “shouldn’t touch claims firms with a barge pole”. He recalled a lady who had cavity wall insulation installed. Afterwards, he said she got a knock on the door from a claims firm and ended up with an £8,000 bill because it filed an indefensible civil court claim and had no insurance.

The Government is currently backing at least three retrofit schemes – ECO4, the GBIS and the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. ECO4, which will end in 2026, takes a “whole house” approach to retrofit energy-efficiency solutions, whereas the latter two focus on insulation and heat pumps.

The GBIS was intended to insulate 100,000 homes a year but so far just 3,000 properties have benefited from it. Labour MP Kate Hollern told the Commons last month that at the current rate it would take 60 years before the target is hit.

The Telegraph approached the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for comment.


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