Has the Green Deal customer journey ground to a halt?

12/Sep/2013
Guest Blogger

I’m a member of the Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body’s Assessor Forum, one of only a couple of Assessor Organisation (GDAO) representatives on it.  At our last meeting, I was reminded that the next one represents a full year – five meetings in total - since our first meeting in December 2012.  It prompted me to look back on nearly a year of Green Deal Progress, and conclude that at times it has felt like ‘two steps forward, one step back’ for Assessors and the Advisors who work with us.

The recent Which? magazine report, comparing Green Deal Assessments from different suppliers, presents a snapshot of the consumer experience during this period.  Not surprisingly, as an Assessor, this is the stage which I have most interest in/experience of, and it’s generally going to be the customer’s first impression of Green Deal.  Unfortunately, if the experience described by Which? is commonplace, it could be that a customer’s first impression isn’t currently a good one. More information on the Which? website.

The Which? investigation adds to my concerns about how easy it is for customers to progress along the Green Deal customer journey.  The figures I saw at the Assessor Forum this week do show that the number of applications for Green Deal plans is, at least, on the rise.  The Assessor Forum heard that there are now (end July) 419 customers at this stage, an improvement on earlier months, but still a low figure.  It’s sad, but predictable, to see the incorrect press reporting interpreting this as a lack of consumer demand.  This reporting completely misses the point – consumer interest is there, as we can see from the number of assessments completed, but access to the next steps is the problem.

Well, why is this? One is clearly the lack of Providers with available Green Deal Finance, but I don’t think this is the only issue.  Here’s my review of some of the others:

  • Firstly, the Which? investigation found that it can be difficult to arrange an assessment.  I hope this was largely because Which? was trying to book a visit in the early days following the launch on 28 Jan, and that access is easier now, but there is still the issue of how much customers are prepared to pay.  If they are looking for free assessments, their choice is very limited.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard reports that the Energy Saving Advice Service is advising customers ‘not to pay more than £125’, which isn’t really sufficient, after deducting costs of lodgement, QA, admin, reporting, etc, to enable the Advisor to receive a fair payment for their work.
  • Which? also found that once the assessment had been done, it could be a hard task to get a copy of the finished Green Deal Advice Report.  Software issues aside, this should not happen. The Green Deal Advice Specification requires Assessors to lodge the GDAR within 14 days of the assessment, the only allowable exception being where software issues prevent it.  We must also ‘Ensure that the customer has received the final Green Deal Advice Report according to any requirements in the Framework Regulations or Green Deal Code of Practice’.  Without that report, customers can’t take the next step (asking Green Deal Providers to quote against their report).
  • Which? didn’t investigate what happens after the report is received, but there are questions about this step, too.  I’ve read blogs, eg from Sophie Pelsmaker and the YouGen organisation, reporting that once the customer receives their report, they may still not be able to act on it.  Sophie’s blog describes how difficult she found it to get a Provider to quote; YouGen reports on one GDAR, which didn’t offer the energy efficiency improvement measure that the property needed most – insulation for the roof room of their 1950s ‘chalet’ bungalow.  If that was a software issue it would not be fair to criticise the Advisor, but if not, it could raise a worrying possibility that the Advisor in that case didn’t do a thorough job.
  • Worryingly, I’ve heard that there are currently no Green Deal Providers prepared to quote against a GDAR that has been prepared by an independent Assessor.  Providing such a quote is a clear requirement of the Green Deal Code of Practice, which all Providers have agreed to work to, but it seems that some customers are discovering that Providers simply refuse to quote, or insist on a repeat Green Deal assessment from their own Advisor before quoting.  So I’m concerned that customers who have received advice from an independent Assessor don’t find it easy to take the essential next step of actually installing energy efficiency improvements via a Green Deal Plan.

Result: the Green Deal customer journey grinds to a halt!

This may be connected with a massive ‘step backwards’ that affected our Advisors in June, when we found out that they have to be covered by a Consumer Credit Licence before they may answer customers’ questions on how to contact a Provider.  This is because doing so counts as Credit Brokerage, which can’t done without the licence.  Until June, all the information that had been provided to Assessors indicated that there was no need for them to hold such a licence, so this enormous change came completely out of the blue.  It forced me to instruct all the Advisors we work with that they cannot answer customers’ questions on how to contact a Provider, or refer them to the Energy Saving Advice Service with the intention of helping them get information about how to access Green Deal, or in fact, give them any help at all in finding a Provider.  I think this is unfortunate, but at least it means that our Advisors are complying with the Consumer Credit Act.

It seems that the possibility that Advisors and Assessors could inadvertently fail to comply with that Act has been mentioned by Providers as a reason why they are reluctant to accept independently provided Green Deal assessments.  Their concern is that taking on a customer with an independently produced Green Deal Report could expose them to a later accusation that the report was not valid, due to the lack of a Consumer Credit Licence.  They can be more confident that this does not affect their own Tied Advisors, as such Advisors would be covered by the Provider’s own Consumer Credit Licence.

GD-ORB and DECC are aware of this issue, and they tell me that the Provider Forum is working hard to identify solutions.  I would be pleased to hear from other Independent Assessor Organisations who have experienced similar issues, so we can help GD-ORB resolve this to our mutual satisfaction… and help get the Green Deal customer journey moving again.

This guest blog was written by Linn Rafferty. 

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