Have you been affected by HELMS?
Speaking in a debate in Parliament this week, I highlighted the plight of dozens of my constituents in Blantyre who have been experiencing financial and trading standards issues over the past three years.
These relate to solar panel deals they purchased through a now defunct energy efficiency company, Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems (HELMS).
HELMS were a Cambuslangbased company who sold energy efficiency, or “green deal”, packages to thousands of customers across the UK, which also included insulation and external cladding.
The green deal was an initiative introduced by the UK Government in 2013 to “deliver energy efficiency to homes and buildings across the land.” Through the green deal, energy customers in England, Wales and Scotland received loans and/or grants to make energy efficiency improvements.
Customers who bought into solar panel deals were told they would not pay any more for their electricity, that they could save money and that they were helping the environment.
High pressure sales techniques were employed and householders subsequently discovered that they will have to repay the cost of these panels for the next 25 years through their electricity bills.
Feed in tariffs – the money householders were owed for generating electricity from their panels for the national grid – were signed over to a third party with little if any explanation to the purchasers.
The promised cost savings have not materialised. In fact, some customers have seen their bills triple. Many, are paying for their electricity usage but are withholding the disputed daily charge and, as a result, are in debt to the tune of several thousand pounds, in some instances.
Some low energy users have stated that they have seen little or no change in the electricity usage part of the bill.
It was incumbent on the provider to advise customers who were low energy users whether any improvements would make a significant impact on their existing bills. Several customers have claimed that they failed to do this.
Citizens Advice Bureau in Hamilton have advised that they are dealing with cases where meters which are incompatible with the solar panel installation have resulted in customers being charged, not only for the electricity they have used, but also for the electricity they are feeding into the grid.
In addition, the debt of the solar panels rests with the property, not with the individual house holder, which has caused issues for those looking to sell their homes.
After being fined £200,000 in 2015, HELMS went into liquidation in April 2016, leaving many customers with no recourse for the financial issues they were facing whilst the financial Ombudsman determines where liability lies.
Since the first meeting on this issue was held in Blantyre at the end of 2016, the number of affected customers has grown. There are now 37 households affected in Blantyre, at least 12 in Hamilton, with dozens more in Provan and other parts of Glasgow. In some areas a dozen, or more, homes in the same street have been affected.
The more we learn about this issue, the more we come to realise that there are, potentially, hundreds, if not thousands of people affected across Scotland and the UK.
This is a situation that is causing real financial hardship to many customers who fell foul of what appear to be sharp practices and mis-selling.
Myself and fellow MSPs have been pursuing a resolution for affected customers and the debate in parliament was part of our efforts to raise awareness of the issue and to help get our constituents the resolution they deserve.
If you, or anyone you know, have been similarly affected by this issue, please contact my office and we will endeavour to help and advise you.
The promised cost savings have not materialised
Speaking out Clare Haughey has spoken at the Scottish Parliament on the problems caused by HELMS