Angry Portsmouth homeowners Stan and Vera Auld were told they could dramatically slash their energy bills if they agreed to sign up to a government-approved cavity wall insulation deal.
But like many thousands of other householders who’d been persuaded the government energy-saving measure was the best thing since sliced bread, their home wasn’t suitable for cavity wall insulation and the work should never have been carried out.
Instead of cheaper bills, Stan says moisture levels got increasingly worse in their three-bed semi-detached home, leading to stained walls riddled with unsightly damp and mould damage which will cost hundreds of pounds to put right.
The Portsmouth couple’s woes began in 2012 when they were knocked up by Domestic and General Insulation Ltd of Worcester, an installer which went bust in December, 2014.
Their salesmen were in the area, persuading people who qualified to sign up in order to meet government targets.
Stan said: ‘Apparently they’d got the council’s permission so their door-to-door salesmen were all round our area asking people if they wanted their houses insulated.
‘They wanted my national insurance number which I thought a bit strange, so I rang the council and they confirmed it was normal procedure.
‘We agreed to have the work done because it was presented as a freebie from the government. We thought that if the council was backing it and it was going to keep our house warmer, we’d go ahead and have it done.
‘We just took it for granted our house was okay to be insulated. We never had any obligatory pre-installation survey to find out if there were any downsides to it.’
Following the installation Stan noticed gradual but worrying signs of dampness throughout the house, and unsightly patches of mould began to appear from under the wallpaper.
Although the couple’s Deal Road home was built in the 1920s and still lacked central heating and trickle-vent double glazing, they’d never previously experienced excessive condensation problems.
Stan, a 66-year-old retired painter and decorator, used mould-resistant materials in the bathroom. The kitchen had never shown any sign of condensation problems.
When the dampness started to blight his home, Stan called in central heating engineers and took advice from solicitors. Their unanimous verdict was that in the absence of a pre-installation survey it was a cavity wall calamity just waiting to happen.
He complained to the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) a private not-for-profit company that issues 25-year guarantees on behalf of installers, but he was given short shrift.
CIGA arranged a property survey and claimed the problem was all down to inadequate ventilation.
After Stan asked Streetwise to intervene, CIGA promptly removed the insulating material at his request, but the cost of rectifying the internal damage was not on their radar.
We put it to CIGA that another possible explanation was that insulating the property had hermetically sealed the house by impeding air circulation in the wall cavities. The walls simply couldn’t breathe.
It had lowered the point at which any internal water vapour condensed, intensifying potential condensation problems.
The situation wouldn’t have arisen if the contractor surveyed the property for suitability, as they were obliged to do before carrying out the work. Stan’s complaint had considerable merit and should be taken seriously.
But CIGA, which has a £16m war chest funded by the industry to rectify botched or unsuitable installations, made it clear it wasn’t going to back down.
A spokesperson said: ‘On the rare occasions things do go wrong, CIGA is there to step in. If a consumer’s claim is covered under the terms of a CIGA guarantee, then either CIGA or the installer will arrange for the necessary works to be completed, at no cost to the homeowner.
‘CIGA remains of the position that cavity wall insulation is not the underlying cause of damp at the property. If Mr Auld remains unhappy, and the claim continues to be unresolved the matter can be referred for independent review under our alternative dispute resolution scheme.’
Although CIGA consistently plays down problems with cavity wall insulation, industry experts believe it could become a problem to rival the PPI mis-selling scandal with as many as 1.5 million homes affected.
An independent survey of 250,000 properties by IRT, a thermal imaging company, concluded the addition of cavity wall insulation to existing homes had failed to work in a quarter of cases, and left problems in half the homes it surveyed.
More than six million properties have been treated since 1995, but experts back the Aulds’ claim that many homes were simply not suitable for retrofitting cavity wall insulation, while others were in parts of Britain where weather conditions should have precluded its use.
Streetwise has previously raised concerns with CIGA about the lack of pre-installation inspections after an investigation discovered a Hampshire-based installer had inappropriately insulated timber-framed homes on a Hilsea estate.
The practice is banned because it could lead to structural damage, making the properties unsaleable.
Cavity wall installation campaigner Pauline Saunders contacted Streetwise when we highlighted previous similar reader problems.
She told us she’d been inundated with complaints about people’s homes that had been ruined and telling of their difficulty in getting compensation out of the CIGA.
Fellow campaigner Dianna Goodwin has raised the problem with ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
She said: ‘CIGA certainly does have the resources to meet claims under its guarantee – yet it has a strong track record for blatantly ignoring and intransigently resisting claimants.’
The government’s energy-saving initiative is funded by a ‘green tax’ on household energy bills. It’s been widely criticised for attracting a significant number of firms anxious to cash in on a taxpayer-funded pot of gold.
Streetwise is continuing to fight the Aulds’ corner and will help them follow thorough with the independent arbitration process.
A grateful Stan said: ‘I can’t thank you enough for all your help and concern. Our case could open up a can of worms. You’re brilliant at what you do for News readers.’