South Bucks District Council - Green Deal Communities project

This project was one of 24 Green Deal Communities projects delivered across England to promote the Green Deal with a focus on the insulation of hard-to-treat properties. We were appointed as Project Managers by the lead partner, South Bucks District Council, on behalf of a partnership of 14 local authorities across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire.

There were few examples of solid wall insulation across the 14 local authority areas included in the project, except on Boundary Way, Watford. The target number of installs was 586.

The project deadline was extended, which allowed a second phase focusing on the installation of energy efficiency measures for customers in fuel poverty across eight local authority areas, and a second phase of installs on the Harebreaks estate in Watford.

Services and key activities we provided:

Working alongside South Bucks District Council, the National Energy Foundation managed the administration of grants from the DECC Green Deal Communities Fund and all the councils. In the first phase the appointed installation company was Green Deal Provider (GDP), Lakehouse. In the second phase, customers chose their own Green Deal Installer (GDI). The things that we did included:

  • Worked with the local authorities and the GDP to identify the streets to be targeted.
  • Worked with several local authorities to offer top-up grants to customers.
  • Produced grant application forms, show home applications, template invoices and guidance for installers.
  • Developed an Invitation to Tender and procured a GDP and drafted the contract with them.
  • Liaised with local authority planning officers to produce guidance on permitted development rights for external wall insulation.
  • Developed a marketing plan, ran ten show home competitions and liaised with local community groups to promote the show home competition and the availability of grants more generally.
  • Produced marketing leaflets and promotional letters in conjunction with the local authorities, the GDP and DECC.
  • Organised and attended community events to promote the project.
  • Reported on progress to DECC and the local authority partners, initially on a weekly and a monthly basis.
  • Managed the Project Board (which ran on a monthly basis) and the risk register.
  • Negotiated with DECC on grant levels, target numbers, the widening of the funding criteria to include other measures for those in fuel poverty and the requirement for a GDI.
  • Procured two organisations to deliver Energy Performance Certificates and Green Deal Assessments in the second phase.
  • Also in the second phase, we assisted customers with finding Green Deal Installers.
  • Worked alongside ECO providers to offer eligible customers boiler installs and loft and cavity wall insulation.
  • Checked the documents such as warranties and insurance-backed guarantees on behalf of customers before paying out the grant to installers.
  • Liaised between clients, the local authorities and all the contractors, and managed the payment of installers on customers’ behalf.
  • Carried out customer surveys to establish the customers’ experience of the project and their satisfaction with their installs.
  • Wrote the interim and final evaluation documents for DECC.

Key outcomes/insights/learnings/benefits:

By project end we had achieved 577 installs, of which 423 were solid wall installations and 154 were other energy efficiency measures.

The project worked well in the first phase when the procured GDC undertook archetype surveys and from this offered customers a fixed price for the insulation of their properties. However, the delivery model did not work well for one-off installs of solid wall insulation. Customers whose homes were considered sporadic infill and those is rural locations were subject to long delays, missed install dates, and experienced poor communication and uncertainty. As a result, several customers pulled out of the process either before or after placing an order, including three show home winners.

There was a mismatch between what the procured GDP wanted (high numbers of installs concentrated in small geographical areas) and what was available (a mixture of areas with the potential for high conversion rates and areas where the conversion rate was likely to be much lower) in spite of this information being made available to all prospective bidding GDPs. The procured GDP was unwilling to put much by way of resources into the latter – whether this be marketing or prioritising installs for those customers who had placed orders.

The quotations initially produced by the GDP for both internal and external wall insulation were very vague and did not provide sufficient detail about what was going to be done. Customers were given a generic quote for external wall insulation with the use of ‘if applicable’ marked against many items. There was poor communication with customers about exactly what was going to be done and no evidence that the customer had agreed the approach that was then taken. To address this issue, we agreed the following with the GDP:

  • The technical survey for an internal wall insulation job should be done in conjunction with the customer (and signed off by them) and
  • In the case of external wall insulation customers, it was agreed that the installer would use a Confirmation of Works form, again to be signed off by the customer, which set out what exactly was going to be done with things like flues and soil pipes

We also found that customers were often unaware of how to judge whether the work had been carried out to a satisfactory standard. Customers highlighted any damage done (e.g. scratches to windows, damaged coving) or poor aesthetics (e.g. mismatching guttering, marks on the render etc.), but not the potentially more serious technical issues (e.g. sealing over loft vents, not replacing flue pipes). When we run similar projects in the future we will produce guidance for customers which provides technical details on how their install should be done, to make it easier for them to decide whether or not the install was being done in accordance with the requirements of the system manufacturer.

The role of the Resident Liaison Officer (RLO) is of significant importance. The RLO is the first point of contact for customers who have questions and complaints about the way in which the work is being done. RLOs are usually found on social housing projects. They are on the ground to ensure that all the paperwork to run a grant-funded programme is complete. We had to deal with significantly more complaints in areas where there was no RLO to carry out customer liaison.

The administration of the grants for those in fuel poverty would have been far simpler and more equitable if we had not been required to use ECO funding for customers where available.  Unfortunately, many of those who were sent down this route either ended with no install or with a customer contribution they would not have had to pay if they had been able to claim a grant through Green Deal Communities.

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