CONSUMER: Cowboy builders leave Portsmouth pensioners with huge £4,000 bill - and a mouldy home

Vena and Stan Auld who have asked the News to help them sort out their cavity wall insulation problem at their home in Paulsgrove     'Picture Ian Hargreaves  (180194-1)
Vena and Stan Auld who have asked the News to help them sort out their cavity wall insulation problem at their home in Paulsgrove 'Picture Ian Hargreaves (180194-1)
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Two Portsmouth pensioners are struggling to keep their heads above water after unsuitable cavity wall insulation landed them with a huge £4,000 redecoration bill.

Devastated couple Stan and Vena Auld’s Wymering home became damp and mouldy following the injection of the insulation material.

Cowboy builders knocked them up and persuaded them to cash in on a government insulation drive. But their home has been seriously blighted and they haven’t the money to sort things out.

Stan told Streetwise that a mandatory pre-suitability survey was not carried out before Domestic and General Insulations Ltd of Worcester carried out the insulation in 2012.

The firm went bust two years later, just as rising moisture levels in their three-bedroom 1920s home became noticeable and stained walls riddled with unsightly black mould patches began to appear.

But while the retrofit cavity wall insulation (RCWI) drive was government policy, it was neither controlled nor overseen from Westminster.

The distinction means that victims of inappropriate insulation cannot turn to the government for help or compensation.

Instead, the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) was set up to pay for repairs caused by botched work, but repeated Streetwise appeals on the couple’s behalf for compensation have been rejected out of hand.

The Aulds are part of an emerging great cavity wall calamity.

An independent survey of 250,000 properties by thermal imaging experts IRT Surveys Ltd concluded that RCWI had left problems in half the homes it surveyed.

With more than six million properties treated since 1995, their research confirms 1.5 million homes may have been seriously put at risk of significant internal damage.

Landport couple Adam and Hayley Colwell had previously contacted Streetwise with a typical RCWI problem.

They complained their home became uninhabitable and like a sauna after an inappropriate insulation job left them with bills for almost £10,000 to repair the wall and fabric damage.

CIGA, who issue 25-year insulation guarantees, promptly removed the offending insulation.

They fobbed off a furious Adam with a measly £250 compensation, claiming a disconnected boiler discharge pipe was the major cause of the problem.

Seventy nine-year-old Margaret Hughes, from Gosport, was similarly door-stepped in 2011 by another cowboy insulation outfit, Worthing based Quake Energy (Domestic) Ltd. It was dissolved by Company House regulators in July 2012.

Almost three years after being persuaded to jump at the ‘free’ government cavity wall insulation offer, she noticed signs of dampness on her lounge and dining room walls.

Margaret called in a builder who had no difficulty pinpointing inappropriate cavity wall insulation as the cause, and arrangements were made with CIGA to remove it.

The damaged walls had to be skimmed and re-plastered ,leaving Margaret £2,000 out of pocket - but CIGA refused to compensate her for the cost of the repairs.

Lee-on-the-Solent reader John Small (83) decided he wanted a slice of the action when he received a brochure from Gosport borough council extolling the virtues of RCWI.

They put him onto another Worthing firm, White Consolidation Ltd, an approved company who carried out the insulation work in early 2009.

He thought no more of it until January 2014, when black mould began to show up on his internal walls.

An exasperated John rang the council for help only to learn the firm had folded in 2012 and the insulation work should never have been done.

Streetwise contacted CIGA who inspected his home and removed the offending insulation, but could not be persuaded to contribute to his DIY redecoration costs.

CIGA is a limited-by-guarantee company and has issued some six million guarantees.

It robustly denies there is a major RCWI problem and has a £19 million repair contingency fund which, it claims, exists to protect consumers who are its number one priority.

But in EVERY case when Streetwise contacted CIGA on behalf of readers whose homes had been riddled with damp problems following cavity insulation, they first sent in their own surveyor.

Without exception, the CIGA inspection report concluded it could not possibly have been a result of the insulation.

Instead, they were told that pre-existing building defects must be to blame or the dampness was caused by “lifestyle condensation” even though all the residents had lived in their properties for many years with no previous condensation problems.

The Aulds’ complaint was firmly rebuffed along these lines.

The CIGA report claimed their problem was down to no central heating or extractor fans in the bathroom and kitchen, and potential areas of water ingress in the external brickwork.

We contacted CIGA and suggested their report had been prepared with the wisdom of hindsight.

It was a bit like slamming the stable door after the horse had bolted.

We sent copies of estimates Stan had obtained for the cost of redecorating and asked for a contribution.

An unnamed CIGA press spokesperson said: ‘We have made our final position clear in that we have fully complied with our obligations under the guarantee and have now on more than one occasion suggested that, if Mr Auld remains unhappy, he does have the option of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and as such we will not be communicating with The Portsmouth News any further on this case.’

An angry Stan said: ‘It’s disgusting. I just don’t know which way to turn.

‘My wife has made herself ill with worry.

‘Our insurers have turned down a claim because it was a pre-existing condition.

‘If I wanted to put my house on the market I wouldn’t be ale to sell it.

‘By extracting the insulation at no cost to us, they’ve clearly accepted liability.’

Given the potential exposure to claims for inappropriate RCWI by the industry, its easy to see why CIGA is reluctant to offer blighted homeowners compensation.

The cost would run into hundreds of millions of pounds in a scandal to rival the PPI one. The government is equally reluctant to pick up the tab for their policy blunder in placing too much reliance on the private sector to effectively deliver their energy saving policy.

In 2015 the minister in charge, Amber Rudd, gave an undertaking to MPs that she would review the workings of the industry and implement changes, but no action was taken.

We find it hard to disagree with the stinging rebuke to the industry and CIGA delivered by former Southampton MP John Denham in a 2015 House of Commons debate on the emerging home insulation scandal.

He said: ‘CIGA colludes with installers to supress evidence of failure and mis-installation, and takes active steps to avoid installers having to put things right.’

Streetwise has told Stan he has a major fight on his hands, and we’re backing householders pressing for a full independent investigation into the extent of the problem.

We’ve offered to put him and other affected readers in touch with the Cavity Wall Insulation Victims Alliance, who’ve been at the forefront of lobbying the insulation industry, trading standards, and their MPs.

That is all in a bid to get justice for the many people whose homes have been affected by inappropriate cavity wall treatment.