Tuesday 26th March 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Latham. I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for leading the debate. Things are different in Northern Ireland, and it is not the Minister’s responsibility to reply for Northern Ireland, but I wanted to come along to support the hon. Lady in her request for justice. Ultimately, that is what she is looking for: justice for her constituent. Hon. Members who speak after me will be seeking justice, too. The scheme was for England, Scotland and Wales—the Northern Ireland scheme is different—but I support the hon. Lady.

In my research for this speech, I read the background information, and today I have listened to the hon. Lady’s comments about the despair that some people feel. She referred to one lady who was unable to sleep for 10 nights, such was her trauma and concern. That level of concern was financial, ultimately, and she was presented with a huge bill. We have heard about figures of £17,000, £25,000 or £35,000, which indicate just how worrying the issue can be. People do not understand why they are in that position, because that was not what they signed up for.

The hon. Member for Halifax was right to set the scene. She described the financial ruin that her constituents have faced, with unexpected legal bills running to tens of thousands of pounds. Without doubt, more needs to be done to support those families and protect people from such schemes in future. It is not only about helping people with the problems that they have today, but about ensuring that such things do not happen again. [Interruption.] I think there must be something wrong with the plumbing, Mrs Latham: there is definitely a background noise. Whatever it might be, I am sure that it will not silence me or anyone else.

It is important that all constituents have good access to thermal insulation to prevent heat loss in their home. I will give some examples about our heat loss and cavity wall insulation schemes in Northern Ireland. We were able to sort the problems out, by the way, and we did not have individual companies soliciting round the doors for no-win, no-fee representation. There is no doubt that the insulation process is expensive, and many will struggle to pay for it. The Government need to be commended for what they do: it is incredible that we have schemes to enable people to upgrade their homes and ensure that they have the levels of insulation and heating that we all need.

Schemes are offered across the United Kingdom to ensure that those on a low income can avail themselves of cavity wall insulation. The schemes are different across the United Kingdom, as I have intimated. Beginning in 2013, the Government’s energy company obligation has required large energy suppliers to pay for energy-saving measures in British households that meet certain conditions, covering wall and loft insulation. We have different schemes back home: a cavity wall insulation scheme and a roof insulation scheme. The new schemes are offered through the Housing Executive and sometimes through local councils. The ECO scheme covers England, Scotland and Wales, and it is no surprise that we have differing circumstances in Northern Ireland; we often do. We have a scheme that seems to be working well, and whenever there are indiscretions or things do not fall into place, we have been quite able—so far, anyway—to come up with solutions.

Northern Ireland has a sustainable energy programme, which was set up by the utility regulator. Some 80% of the funding has been targeted at vulnerable customers and at those who are older or on a low income. It is important that we enable those people to bring their houses up to a standard such that they can avail themselves of the same energy savings and efficiencies, as well as helpful cavity wall and roof insulation. It is great that those most in need of assistance are getting it.

In my office, I deal every week with people applying for the cavity wall insulation scheme that we have in Northern Ireland, the sustainable energy programme. We have been successful in enabling people to get on it; we just wish there were a wee bit more financial aid available. Now that the Northern Ireland Assembly is back, that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the Assembly and of the Department that looks after these matters. In my constituency of Strangford and in my main town of Newtownards, many of the homes are of a certain age and standard, so they need the cavity wall insulation schemes. The Housing Executive is the major provider of homes, although the Housing Association provides homes now, some of which are old as well.

With some cavity wall insulation schemes, we have seen examples of insulation not even being put into the walls, although people said it was. We have also seen cavity wall insulation having a detrimental effect, as the hon. Member for Halifax noted. I am not quite sure of the reasons for that, but ultimately we have been able to sort those things out because the companies involved have an obligation to deliver what is right and what is proper.

The priority is to ensure that the Government properly back those schemes to ensure that they are being done legitimately, and that constituencies like Halifax are not being lumped with thousands of pounds of fees to pay back. There certainly must be justice for those who were victims of the scheme. I am pleased that many of them have already contacted the legal ombudsman and the financial services ombudsman to question the level of service that was provided. When it gets to the stage of contacting an ombudsman, we hope for recourse, justice, restitution and ultimately compensation for the people who have been part of that process.

I thank the hon. Member for Halifax again for leading the debate. She should know that she has my full support in this matter; she has the support of all of us in this room, and that is why we are here today. I hope that the Minister and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), will be in a position to offer some support and answer some of the questions that the hon. Lady posed. There is no doubt in my mind that the Government must now step in to right the wrongs and ensure that people are protected financially. I believe that that is their obligation. That is why we are here: I am here to support the hon. Lady and support her constituent. Other Members who will speak in this Chamber want the same justice.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (in the Chair)
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I am sorry for the buzzing noise that we can hear in the background. The Doorkeepers have contacted the engineers, and they are going to address the issue. Meanwhile, it is quite difficult to hear—I cannot hear from the Chair what is being said—so can people speak up so everybody can hear?