Could the cavity-wall insulation scandal rival PPI?
Victims of cavity wall insulation took their fight to Parliament.
Wall Cavity Insulation (CWI) – was debated at some length at Westminster last year. The debate in Parliament, secured by John Denham, MP for Southampton, Itchen, and supported by several other MPs.
Many victims’ cases were described by the MPs, and all had features in common. One was the way in which the idea of CWI had been presented to them by door-stepping and cold-calling salesmen, describing cavity insulation as being “Government-backed” or “Government-funded”. This is not the case.
Whatever the name on the side of the installers’ vans, the process is almost always funded by one of the major energy suppliers.
Now, the energy suppliers have certainly been given targets by the Government to insulate homes, and if they miss those targets, they can be fined by the energy regulator Ofgem (hence the pressure to install as much CWI as possible).
But while retrofit CWI might result from Government policy, it is neither controlled nor overseen by the Government.
This distinction is important, because it means that when things go wrong, the Government can deny responsibility.
Another factor that the victims’ cases have in common is the role of the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA), which issues 25-year guarantees. Salesmen often describe these as “Government guarantees”, which they are not.
CIGA is a limited-by-guarantee company that was set up by the insulation industry. CIGA proclaims itself on its website to be an ‘independent body’, but it doesn’t say exactly who, or what, it is supposed to be independent from.
As Denham pointed out in the debate, CIGA is certainly not independent of the insulation industry. Seven of CIGA’s 11 current directors are also directors of firms that either make or install insulation, or of trade associations that represent the interests of installers.
Two are directors of the National Insulation Association (NIA), which claims on its website to carry out “expert lobbying to influence Government and other stakeholders”. Another is a former director of the NIA and former managing director and chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, which runs a permanent Parliamentary campaigns unit, which it boasts has “close working relations with politicians”, and has “led to major changes in the law on energy efficiency”.
These split responsibilities would not be a problem, of course, were CIGA doing the job that it claims to do. In a briefing note to MPs before the debate, CIGA wrote, “If there is a problem with the workmanship or materials of an installation, we will ensure the installer puts things right,” and, “CIGA exists to protect consumers; they are our number-one priority.”
Strange, then, that in every case raised in the debate, CIGA appeared to do its best to deny the installer’s or its own responsibility.
Householders who complained of dampness following retrofit CWI were told that this could not possibly be a result of the insulation. They were told that pre-existing building defects must be to blame (even though the installer is supposed to have carried out a thorough pre-works survey to spot any such defects), or that the dampness was caused by “lifestyle condensation” (even though the occupants might have lived in the property for many years with no previous condensation problems).
Denham concluded in the debate that “CIGA colludes with installers to suppress evidence of failure and mis-installation” and “CIGA takes active steps to avoid installers having to put things right”.
We are pleased to say that the Minister in attendance, Amber Rudd, Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, seemed to take these complaints seriously, and undertook to review the situation and implement changes.
The industry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change claim repeatedly that CWI is almost always successful, and that only a tiny proportion of installations go wrong. They have no way of knowing this, because there has never been any follow-up testing.
We believe CWI problems are vastly under-reported, and that many more will come to light in the coming years.
Most dampness problems do not show up for some time following installation – they become apparent after two or three winters or longer. Some customers will have dampness and condensation problems that they do not realise are caused by the CWI, and will therefore not have reported them to anyone.
Others have not noticed any physical symptoms, but neither have they seen the promised reductions in their fuel bills (this is because wet insulation does not prevent heat loss, and can even draw heat out of a house, in the same way that a damp sweater makes you colder than no sweater). And there are many CWI victims who have reported problems to their installers and to CIGA – sometimes repeatedly – and simply never received a response.
What is needed is long-term monitoring of walls that have been filled, by taking samples of insulation from the cavities and measuring their moisture contents.
It is not true that only “unsuitable” walls can suffer from damp cavity insulation. One reported said “as a former bricklayer, I know that no wall has ever been built well enough to withstand wind-driven rain. That is the whole point of the cavity – to stop rainwater crossing to the inside.
Moreover, even in sheltered areas, retrofit CWI is likely to cause problems, because its installation is contrary to the basic scientific principles governing thermal insulation.
Thermal insulation in dwellings requires a vapour barrier to be fitted on the “warm” side of the insulation, to stop moisture-bearing air from inside the dwelling finding its way through to the “cold” side and condensing out as liquid water.”
Retro-fit CWI cannot allow for the fitting of a vapour barrier. Therefore, it must result in interstitial condensation in the depth of the wall. Retro-fit CWI is a scientifically unsound idea.
Some six million UK homes have had retrofit CWI, and a large number of these are likely to suffer associated dampness problems at some time in the future. It is possible that the mis-selling of CWI will come to rival the Endowment-selling scandal, or even Payment Protection Insurance.
As we write this, we wonder about the future of CIGA, whose accounts show enough funds to honour only 900 of its six million guarantees. It has £18 million in the bank and promises remedial works up to £20,000 for each person affected. CIGA declined to comment.
We also wonder whether this is yet another case where government “targets” have had the opposite effect to that intended. Who on earth would think it’s a good idea to blow mineral fibre insulation into cavity walls in rain-swept west Wales or the south coast of England? Why, because an energy company stands to get fined if it doesn’t, maybe?
If you have concerns about your CWI, click here for the Wall Cavity Claims website.