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EPC terms of engagement may tackle confusion

by Brian Scannell

Energy Performance Certificates remain a mystery to many people - both consumers and agents alike. A customer care policy may help demystify the issue

It has been almost six months since the full roll-out of HIPs, so it is a good time to take stock of the impact of Energy Performance Certificates, which are a key constituent of the pack. As an accreditation body, we have had to deal with a considerable number of customer queries and complaints concerning HIPs. Admittedly, many of these are basic questions such as whether sellers require HIPs, and surprisingly, many of these have come from people working in the industry. But we have also seen a number of queries and complaints arising from a fundamental misunderstanding about EPCs in terms of how they are produced and how the data in the certificate itself should be interpreted.

Customer care

It seems that many Domestic Energy Assessors are preparing EPCs without having a clear customer care policy, which sets out their terms and conditions, including terms of engagement. This involves setting out the standard of service that customers can expect and the results of this service. It is easy to understand that DEAs may overlook terms of engagement because EPCs are standardised report documents. But these still require clarification regarding service standards, most obviously because while the document may be the same, the DEA is not. DEAs should consider the following in their terms: • A definition outlining what an EPC is and, importantly, what it is not. • How they will inspect a property. • Warranties and liabilities. • The consequences of a client failing to pay for their service. • Client obligations, such as information required prior to inspection like access to the property. • Complaints procedure. Obviously, clients receive an explanation of what an EPC is once it is produced – it is included in the standard text on the actual report, which includes the actual energy rating of the property. But that means they have paid for a document they don’t understand, which is not good business practice. So, if we agree that the terms of engagement are a key aspect of customer care, then it follows that it is only right that a basic description of what the EPC is should be included in those terms, making it clear from the very outset how it is that you approach the instruction and that it is not possible to vary the EPC. In line with best practice, DEAs should also ensure they are registered with an accreditation scheme authorised by the Government and remember that once produced, the EPCs will be lodged on a national register. Assessors should use standard methodology to make assumptions about the occupancy of a property, which the assessor is not authorised to vary.

Visual inspection

Clients should be reminded that the EPC is not an accurate record of the cost of running the property. Costs exclude energy used for cooking and, importantly, actual occupancy may vary considerably from the assumed occupancy. Moreover, an EPC is a visual inspection and does not rely on actual fuel bills. Also, an EPC report will only include basic recommendations on improving the energy efficiency of the property. As part of their terms of engagement, DEAs should also ensure they clearly outline the steps that clients need to take if they are unhappy with the EPC generated for their property. While not everyone wants to handle a complaint, all assessors must have a complaints policy, which complies with the requirements of their accreditation scheme.

Extra information

In addition, it is worth telling clients that, under the regulations, if they have additional information about their property, this can be included in the HIP. This is particularly useful for customers who have undertaken energy-saving improvements, which the methodology will not recognise. It is quite legitimate for this information to be included in the HIP to supplement the EPC. Finally, it is crucial that DEAs do not adapt their report methodology either because they do not approve of it, or in response to a client request. EPC rules, such as how to treat a conservatory, a room in the roof or underfloor insulation, cannot be varied. DEAs who breach the rules could face a disciplinary process. This information can form part of an assessor’s terms of engagement. But above all, DEAs should remember that a good customer care policy can help manage customers’ expectations and help them build their businesses.

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