Have you been af­fected by HELMS?

Rutherglen Reformer - - Clare Haughey - Clare Haughey

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

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