Skills and consumer protection
Question 1.15 - What impact do you think the introduction of minimum standards would have on local supply chains for energy efficiency works?
Around 140 respondents answered Question 1.15. The most frequently made points were that:
- The measures proposed have the potential to stimulate local supply chains.
- There is likely to be a shortage of qualified tradespeople with the problem being particularly acute in rural areas. Experience of difficulties encountered when trying to obtain an Electrical Installation Condition Report was cited by several respondents.
- Increased costs and poorer quality work are likely outcomes of the predicted shortages.
- To smooth demand, the proposed timescales should be extended.
In contrast, a very much smaller number of respondents predicted minimal impact, pointing to the relatively small number of properties that will be affected or that local contractors may not be given the opportunity to carry out the work. Others expected that local supply chains would cope with demand where both landlords and suppliers are given sufficient notice and that the phased approach proposed should minimise impact.
Other issues relating to local supply chains, but raised by much smaller numbers of respondents included:
- There may be shortages of supply of some materials and of specialists in work on historic or listed buildings.
- Demand for tradespeople is likely to be particularly high at the backstop date, so early compliance should be incentivised to smooth this demand.
A number of respondents commented on the requirement that contractors carrying out work financed by Government-funded grants or loans must have PAS2030 accreditation. It was argued that if the cost of obtaining this accreditation outweighs the potential benefits for small suppliers, much of the work will be done by large national chains and potential benefits to the local economy will be lost. Respondents expressed contrasting views – both that PAS2030 is not needed to meet appropriate standards of work and that standards can be kept high by requirement for PAS2030. Several respondents suggested it should be possible to obtain grant funding while using local contractors or, where they exist, a landlord's own workforce.
It was argued that the Scottish Government must ensure adequate capacity exists before implementing the proposed regulations and this requires work to raise awareness. With respect to development of local supply chains it suggested that this is an important way of ensuring communities benefit from the expected job creation, and that Community Benefit Requirements outlined in guidance under the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 apply to public procurement. Specifically, it was suggested that in order to invest, local contractors need:
- Long term certainty of government support and consistent policy.
- A skills development strategy including training, apprenticeships and work with schools and colleges to promote this area as an attractive career with good job prospects.
In terms of the scale of the opportunities available it was noted that Regulation of Energy Efficiency in Private Sector Homes ( REEPS) analysis provides necessary information on the numbers of properties affected, types of properties, and how many are in each local authority area – all of which will help the industry to plan for the future. In addition to a SEEP Skills Development Strategy it was suggested that assistance for small rural firms should include support meeting accreditation requirements, and that contracts should be awarded on the basis of understanding of the best practice approach for the property type in the local context.
Question 1.16 - Do you think it would be helpful for assessors and installers to have a traditional buildings qualification that raises awareness and understanding of energy efficiency measures for older, traditional or vulnerable buildings built prior to 1919? Please explain your answer.
Table 17: Question 1.16 – Responses by type of respondent.
|Type of respondent||Yes||No||Don't know||Not answered||Total|
|Energy-related private sector||2||1||1||1||5|
|Letting agents etc.||8||2||2||12|
|% of organisations answering||83%||11%||6%||100%|
|% of individuals answering||89%||6%||5%||100%|
|% of all respondents||71%||7%||5%||17%||100%|
|% of all those answering||86%||9%||5%||100%|
A majority of respondents, 86% of those answering the question, agreed that it would be helpful for assessors and installers to have a traditional buildings qualification, 9% disagreed and 5% said they did not know. Overall, individual respondents were more likely to agree than organisations (89% and 83% respectively).
Around 140 respondents made an additional comment. Some respondents who agreed thought an additional qualification would be useful or helpful while others argued it is vital or essential. Many suggested specialist knowledge and experience are necessary to avoid inappropriate or damaging measures being advised for traditional buildings, potentially impacting the physical structure of the building and the health of the occupants.
The question asked whether it would be useful for assessors and installers to have a traditional buildings qualification, and some respondents who agreed that it would did not distinguish between the two roles. Those who did were much more likely to suggest a qualification for assessors rather than installers.
Several respondents suggested such an additional qualification should be optional rather than a mandatory requirement for all assessors while others also highlighted the importance of experience. Other suggestions included that rather than a separate qualification the appropriate training could instead be incorporated in the training for EPC assessors with an optional enhanced training element provided in relation to pre-1919 buildings.
Other points included:
- It is important that both landlords and tenants have confidence in an assessor's ability.
- It would also be appropriate to encourage commissioning bodies to encourage their staff to seek similar qualifications.
- Requiring additional training could have implications for the size of the initial pool of qualified MSA assessors and for assessment fees. The number of assessors with such qualifications should be monitored to assess whether it meets demand from landlords with this type of property, and to ensure unfair premiums are not being charged.
It was also argued that the EPC software must be adapted to work properly with older buildings.
With respect to the possible nature of an additional qualification suggestions included an energy efficiency and traditional building skills programme developed by Historic Environment Scotland.
Comments on an additional qualification for installers included that this is desirable because:
- If correct materials are not applied properly, the results will be sub-optimal even if the measures specified by the assessor are suitable.
- The perceived level of skill and workmanship seen in staff from some large companies working on grant-funded energy improvement projects may give cause for concern.
However, doubt was expressed as to the willingness of contractors to participate in training courses and as to what the qualification should be. It was also suggested that landlords who employ their own tradespeople should be able to self-certify their employees as competent.
Those who disagreed with the idea of an additional qualification for either assessors or installers suggested that this is not necessary, or will further increase costs, and that the relevant skills are already covered in Domestic Energy Assessor training. As an alternative, a website presenting options for such properties was suggested.
Question 1.17 - Do you think there are additional consumer protection safeguards the Scottish Government should consider for the private rented sector? Please explain your answer.
Table 18: Question 1.17 – Responses by type of respondent.
|Type of respondent||Yes||No||Don't know||Not answered||Total|
|Energy-related private sector||3||2||5|
|Letting agents etc.||2||6||2||2||12|
|% of organisations answering||47%||31%||22%||100%|
|% of individuals answering||34%||44%||22%||100%|
|% of all respondents||31%||29%||17%||24%||100%|
|% of all those answering||40%||38%||22%||100%|
Views were mixed at this question, although the largest proportion of respondents (40% of those answering the question), agreed that there are additional consumer protection safeguards the Scottish Government should consider for the PRS. However, 38% disagreed and 22% said they did not know. Overall, organisational respondents were more likely to agree than individuals (47% and 34% respectively). Amongst organisational respondents, a majority agreed in all groups except landlords and letting agents.
Around 115 respondents made an additional comment. Several respondents set their comments in the context of consumer protection for the wider SEEP programme arguing that such measures should apply irrespective of whether work is being carried out in the owner-occupied or private rented sectors. In the PRS, it was noted that both a landlord who commissions an assessment or improvement work and the tenant who may be directly affected by it are consumers, and it was suggested that:
- Landlords must be protected from unfair trading and poor-quality installation work.
- Tenants should understand their rights when a landlord undertakes improvements to a property.
It was also argued that the PRS does not require special protection but should be subject to general consumer protection measures as set out in the Each Home Counts review  , or that recommendations in the review should be drawn upon.
Protection for landlords
With respect to the assessor it was suggested:
- If assessors are employed by, affiliated to, or have agreements with companies who provide the improvement measures, then there is potential for conflict of interests and procedures need to be in place to ensure impartiality and integrity.
- Any improvement advice carries with it a design liability and should only be provided by construction professionals with suitable Professional Indemnity Insurance.
Comments on the Minimum Standards report included:
- This should be quality assured.
- If recommended works are carried out, landlords will need assurances that the improved rating will be achieved.
- There should be an appeals process for landlords who dispute results of the assessment or the recommendations.
A number of comments made related to the installation process, and ways in which landlords might be protected against contractors who fail to carry out the work properly or charge excessive prices. However, differing views were expressed as to how this can best be achieved. Several respondents proposed some means of quality control, while others argued for a landlord's freedom to choose their own preferred contractor without restrictions.
Suggestions for enforceable standards included:
- An approved register of installers.
- Installers should be registered/accredited with appropriate professional bodies. Several respondents highlighted such schemes associated with their own industries – glazing, insulation and plumbing.
- Central accreditation should be required where grant funding is sought. Respondents making this argument sometimes noted concerns from Trading Standards Scotland that when grants are available poor-quality operators often present themselves as Government-backed, and frequently target the vulnerable.
- There should be a rigorous vetting procedure for installers involving checks against Trading Standards and Police intelligence systems in order to tackle rogue traders who may target vulnerable customers and harm the SEEP brand.
Alternatively - and restating an argument made at Question 1.15 - it was suggested that landlords should be able to use the companies or tradesmen they choose and not be restricted to an approved list based on an accreditation scheme, which penalises small local companies.
Further suggestions included:
- A Government-backed guarantee to cover costs if inappropriate or poorly executed works.
- The Energy Saving Trust should be in a position to highlight companies who undertake substandard work.
- Approved contractors should not be allowed to subcontract the work.
- There should also be a rating on the various products to show how they affect the environment.
Protection for tenants
Respondents who agreed that additional consumer protection safeguards should be considered sometimes also commented on protection for tenants, including that safeguards must be in place in the event that landlords fail to meet the minimum standard or that tenants must be able to seek redress against any adverse impacts they may suffer as a result of energy efficiency measures taken by their landlords. Other more general comments included that existing legislation should be enforced more robustly but must be balanced against creating an attractive market in which landlords can invest. Respondents also expressed differing views regarding the balance between the rights of landlords and tenants under current or proposed legislation.
Many comments from respondents who thought no further consumer protection to be necessary apparently related to PRS regulation in general. Views included that existing provisions are adequate, and that the sector is already highly regulated. It was also noted that tenants can take their landlord to the FTT, and that the new private tenancy regime provides sufficient safeguards.