Could the cavity-wall insulation rival PPI?
By Jeff Howell, Property columnist
It’s not often that this column’s influence extends as far as Parliament. But an issue that I have been warning readers about for many years – cavity wall insulation (CWI) – was debated at some length at Westminster last week.
I cannot claim full responsibility for this. All I really did was introduce to each other three Telegraph readers – Pauline Sanders, Claire Eades and Dianna Goodwin (who featured in this column last October) – whose homes had become damp and mouldy following the injection of insulation material into their cavity walls.
Together, these three formidable ladies formed the Cavity Wall Insulation Victims Alliance (CWIVA) and have been lobbying the insulation industry, trading standards departments and their MPs to try to get justice for the many people whose homes have been blighted by this ill-advised practice.
They finally succeeded in getting a debate in Parliament, secured by John Denham, MP for Southampton, Itchen, and supported by several other MPs.
Many victims’ cases were described by the MPs, and all had features in common. One was the way in which the idea of CWI had been presented to them by door-stepping and cold-calling salesmen, describing cavity insulation as being “Government-backed” or “Government-funded”. This is not the case.
Whatever the name on the side of the installers’ vans, the process is almost always funded by one of the major energy suppliers.
Now, the energy suppliers have certainly been given targets by the Government to insulate homes, and if they miss those targets, they can be fined by the energy regulator Ofgem (hence the pressure to install as much CWI as possible).
But while retrofit CWI might result from Government policy, it is neither controlled nor overseen by the Government.
This distinction is important, because it means that when things go wrong, the Government can deny responsibility.
Another factor that the victims’ cases have in common is the role of the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA), which issues 25-year guarantees. Salesmen often describe these as “Government guarantees”, which they are not.
CIGA is a limited-by-guarantee company that was set up by the insulation industry. CIGA proclaims itself on its website to be an independent body, but it doesn’t say exactly who, or what, it is supposed to be independent from.
Strange, then, that in every case raised in the debate, CIGA appeared to do its best to deny the installer’s or its own responsibility.
Householders who complained of dampness following retrofit CWI were told that this could not possibly be a result of the insulation. They were told that pre-existing building defects must be to blame (even though the installer is supposed to have carried out a thorough pre-works survey to spot any such defects), or that the dampness was caused by “lifestyle condensation” (even though the occupants might have lived in the property for many years with no previous condensation problems).
Denham concluded in the debate that “CIGA colludes with installers to suppress evidence of failure and mis-installation” and “CIGA takes active steps to avoid installers having to put things right”.