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Product liability lawyers call for overhaul of Cavity Wall Insulation industry regulations

Leading product liability lawyers from Leigh Day have added their voices to calls for an overhaul of the regulations governing the Cavity Wall Insulation (CWI) industry.

Posted on 27 February 2015

Speaking in a parliamentary debate John Denham MP highlighted what he called the unacceptable practices in the CWI industry and demanded “an honest appraisal of the technology; where it works and where it does not and effective redress of victims”.

The CWI industry is worth £700 -800 million, funded in large part by the energy companies who are required to invest in energy conservation measures.

By the end of September 2014, 13.9 million homes have had cavity wall insulation or 72% of properties with a cavity wall. 

George Hollingbery MP pointed out that “there are about 690,000 remaining “easy to treat” cavity walls in Britain. If those were all insulated, the energy bill saving would be about £100 million a year, and the carbon dioxide saving would be about 450,000 tonnes a year. That would be the same CO2 saving as taking about 180,000 cars off the road”.

However, cavity wall insulation is not appropriate for all homes. According to a Department of Energy and Climate Change review in 2012, there are between 215,000 and 245,000 cavity-walled houses in the UK in locations exposed to driving rain and wind, which are unsuitable for cavity wall insulation.

Other factors affecting suitability include the width of the cavity itself and the quality of the home’s brickwork or masonry. 

CWI that is inappropriately or incorrectly installed can lead to a catalogue of problems, with condensation, damp penetration and black mould among them.

The consequent impact on health can include respiratory problems including infections, allergies or asthma. Damp and mould can also affect the immune system as mould produces allergens, irritants and, sometimes, toxic substances which can render a property uninhabitable.

Many CWI installations are purportedly guaranteed by the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) – described by its own website as an independent body that provides 25 year guarantees for CWI fitted by registered installers in the UK and Channel islands.  

However, John Denham MP challenged the independence of CIGA which he described as an organisation “led almost entirely by directors of insulation companies”.

He raised concerns regarding CIGA’s failure to deal with the problems caused by CWI. Quoting a constituent directly, John Denham MP said:
 “I have been left with damp and damaged walls… my flat is uninhabitable and has been ruined… CIGA who guarantee CWI keep trying to fob us off, even though their report states that the insulation used is now non-compliant.”

Jeff Howell, a building correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and journalist, has highlighted concerns regarding the future of CIGA,  “whose accounts show enough funds to honour only 900 of its 6 million guarantees. It has £18 million in the bank and promises remedial works up to £20,000 for each person affected.”

John Denham MP, identified that CIGA had had 11, 675 concerns reported to then, in 20% of  them CIGA covered the cost of remedial  work to the value of more than £2milion.     

John Denham MP has now requested that the minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd MP, arrange a full inspection into the operation and management of CIGA, identify the relationships between CWI suppliers and CIGA’s directors and establish an independent body to oversee compensation arrangements.

It is hoped that a response from the minister will be forthcoming before the end of this Parliamentary session on 30 March 2015, however the minister herself has expressed doubts regarding this date, although she has promised to request a meeting between her department and heads of CIGA.

Bozena Michalowska-Howells, Partner in the Product Liability and Consumer Rights team at Leigh Day, said:

“It is shocking that some consumers who had hoped that the cavity wall insulation would result in savings and reduced energy bills, now face the prospect of significant costs in having to repair the damage to their homes and a battle with CIGA to make good on their guarantee.

Consumers will however, have strong claims for breach of contract pursuant to the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999, Sale of Goods Act 1979 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 for compensation from the damage caused by CWI, including damage to health and financial losses.’’

In addition to the potential damage caused by inappropriate installation, consumers should be advised that CWI may also invalidate leases and house insurance policies.

If you have experienced problems as a result of inappropriately installed CWI please call our Product Liability and Consumer Claims team on 0207 650 1311 or email bmichalowska@leighday.co.uk