I recently took a call from an irate homeowner who’d paid £60 for a domestic Energy Assessor to provide an EPC on their one-bedroom barn conversion – and for that price, he even made a three-hour round trip.

Building control had refused the EPC because he’d incorrectly used Reduced data Standard Assessment Procedure (RdSAP) methodology on a conversion. With everyone pointing the finger at someone else, she rightly queried whether the Assessor, architect and building control should have had a duty of care.

While we can help her resolve the problem by carrying out a new assessment using correct methodology, this neatly illustrates the risks of dealing with some of those working in our sector. Low cost is the nub of the problem, where the Energy Assessor doesn’t even take time to understand the client’s requirements or follow the correct protocol. It’s understandably tempting for them to plump for a budget ‘tick box’ EPC, but a more thorough service will save time and avoid potential problems in the long run. Compare it to the heating industry: would you be happy to pay a gas engineer £50 to service your boiler, if they just took a quick a look under the cover? You’d be powerless to complain if the boiler blew up the next day and then discovered they didn’t have professional indemnity insurance – but that’s exactly the sort of problem impacting our sector. I’ve even noticed that some reputable companies don’t always bother to outline their terms and conditions on correspondence.

I come across similar issues in the commercial sector and have just been asked by a client to advise on the strategy to improve their newly purchased 45sqm industrial unit from an EPC band C to a B. I asked the NDEA (Non-Domestic Energy Assessor) for a fee proposal to run the simulations and for advice on the strategy, but his response was, “he would have to think about it”. This was despite the urgency and the fact he was 30 minutes away from the estate where there are about 30 other buildings that need similar treatment and for which he did the assessments and has all the survey and model data, while I’m several hours from the site.

The client sent me plans and photographs of the building, so I could build my EPC model, establish the correct current EPC rating which was an F, not a C (the NDEA had ignored the EPC Conventions by not putting in assumed electric fan heating in the office, but left it as unheated), ran some options for improvements and established the sweet spot to achieve a B rating with an indicative capex – all within 24 hours of receiving the enquiry. I also had a Teams call with the client where I modelled some options live. I’ll conduct a proper survey once the works are complete, but my client can now plough on with confidence. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the fee proposal from that NDEA.

With a dearth of regulation and inconsistent training and qualifications during a cost-of-living crisis where many clients are opting for the cheapest quote, we’re likely to end up with a race to the bottom – jeopardising both standards and reputations. So, while Energy Assessors need to find out what clients want from a survey and how they hope to improve their property, clients should interrogate Energy Assessors about their credentials, experience and knowledge of relevant legislation.

Here’s five questions to ask. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, it’s probably best to steer clear:

1. Have they covered the basics?

Energy Assessors need to glean key information, checking the building’s age and type as well as the space heating/cooling system as a bare minimum. They should also review the existing EPC to compare any disparities; EPC methodology was updated in June 2022 along with Building Regulations Part L, meaning that an EPC produced on software before this date is likely to be different when run through the current version (buildings with fossil fuel are likely to fair similar or worse off while those buildings with no fossil fuel for space heating or hot water could have an improved EPC rating). Relying on an EPC registered before June 2022 for investment decisions also won’t provide the most accurate or up-to-date information, so a re-assessment to current methodology is a must.

2. Do they have their own professional indemnity insurance?

Many Energy Assessors rely on their accreditation scheme’s click fee insurance, so they won’t be covered for any advice or activities prior to registering the EPC. I would hope that the training centres explain this clearly to trainees and hammer home the point that if they carry out an advice service, they’ll need to have their own professional indemnity. This is hugely important for clients who increasingly want advice on how to implement energy saving suggestions. If Energy Assessors aren’t upfront about their limitations before taking on an instruction it frustrates clients and leaves a bad mark on our profession. To tell the client that the EPC falls below the MEES threshold and they wouldn’t be able to advise on improvements is a poor show.

3. What software interface do they use?

Several approved interfaces use the National Calculation Methodology to generate an EPC. The free version created by BRE (Building Research Establishment) is quite clunky and not always suitable for larger buildings, while interfaces such as DesignBuilder aren’t free, offer better visual impression and hence error checking, suggesting that those using it are a better quality of Assessor.

4. Do they have the right qualifications?

Non-domestic certification requirements differ widely to reflect the diversity of commercial buildings, relating to size, complexity of air conditioning, and automated systems. While there are three separate categories of buildings, most NDEAs will either have a Level 3 & 4 or Level 5 – ranging in scope from a small retail premises to a large shopping centre. It’s important to appoint the right level of Assessor before undertaking a new EPC.

 5. Are they still accredited?

Many Assessors have left the industry in recent years while many have joined, and a simple check of the EPC Register will determine this. There might be cost savings in renewing or updating the EPC by using the original Energy Assessor who should have their original survey notes. Assessors are subject to Quality Assurance Audits by their accreditation scheme, so it’s worth checking the history of audits which will indicate their calibre.

We need clarity in a sector where, unfortunately fraud isn’t uncommon. I’ve heard of some Energy Assessors being asked to drop the EPC rating on buildings so clients can get grant money for energy efficient upgrades – and if the conditions are right, some are no doubt happy to oblige. Despite this, I believe it’s a fantastic industry to work in, and helping clients improve their properties – or fixing problems caused by other assessors or contractors – is hugely satisfying. Although there is best practice, the sector doesn’t always operate professionally, and standards need raising. Improving training is vital, but it’s equally important for clients to understand that not all Energy Assessors are the same and to ask those pertinent questions at the outset.

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