Interview with Keith Jones of ECMK

Keith Jones operations director of ECMK ltd has kindly obliged to answers a few of our questions in the latest series of interviews with leading HIP and EPC industry figures.

Q 1 NHER produced some great research in relation to non-compliance of Commercial EPCs recently. Do you have any other similar research you are undertaking at present and when could we expect to see the results?

To test the market, we did a “quick poll” on our web site. Whilst 24% thought that everything seemed to be OK, 12% came across non-compliance rarely, 18% only occasionally and a massive 45% came across non-compliance all the time.

Q2. There are nine accreditation schemes with who domestic energy assessors can be accredited with; is this a good thing for the industry or would we better with one or two?

Generally some competition in any market is a good thing for its customers (in this case Assessors). Nine is possibly too much of a ‘good thing’!

Q3. The domestic energy assessment industry is highly competitive at present and I imagine this will apply to the accreditation schemes as well. Is it likely we will see some consolidation in the market place amongst accreditation schemes?

Yes, it is very competitive amongst schemes too. If the market really starts to deliver the promised volumes, we may not see much consolidation. If it remains depressed then mergers and takeovers may be more likely.

Q4. From our experience and contact with domestic energy assessors (DEAs), many are struggling finding adequate levels of instructions at a ‘sensible’ fee levels, do you see this changing in the near future?

We hope that when the market picks up, a sensible fee for EPCs will be reached. Also whilst there are desperate DEAs out there, the price will remain low. Over the coming year, it will be a case of ‘the survival of the fittest’ and some DEAs will fall by the wayside. In a year’s time, the market will be more mature and more professional, thus allowing the price of EPCs to be at a more realistic level.

Q5. We continue to receive request from trainee Home Inspectors asking us about potential work opportunities to carry out Home Condition Reports (HCRs) on our behalf. The Home Inspector training course is still being sold even though almost no HCRs are being undertaken, how do you feel towards this and do you still offer this training course?

We have never offered Home Inspector training on Home Condition Reports.

Q6. Within domestic energy assessment training courses a section is dedicated to ‘conflict of interests’ i.e. assessors not ‘selling’ insulation services or similar if undertaking the EPC. Many accreditation schemes offer accreditation, run training courses and manage commercial ‘panel’ operations gaining EPC work; is this not a conflict of interest?

The operation of the training courses and the accreditation schemes are separate businesses within our organisation and there should not be any conflict of interest between them.

It is the role of the awarding body for the qualifications (in ecmk’s case this is ABBE – the Awarding Body for the Built Environment) to ensure that candidates pass the relevant competence tests. ecmk is proud of the fact that we have been granted Direct Claims Status for a number of the ABBE Diplomas (meaning we can carry our more of the final assessment of candidates ourselves). However as a professional training body we want very much to retain that special status and so will not risk jeopardising this position.

ecmk has not generally operated in the capacity of a ‘panel’ nor does it directly employ Assessors to carry out surveys as we believe that this is the business of our accredited members. However as part of a complete consultancy package we do offer a managed service for our major clients which involves us organising the whole EPC process or helping them to deliver when projects are too large. Usually our Members benefit from these activities.

Q7 We have seen EPC fee levels fall and many DEAs are carrying out EPCs at what we consider as unsustainable and non profitable, what has caused this situation? Many DEAs blame ‘panels’ for this do you hold this view?

We understand that some organisations (not necessarily accreditation schemes) acting as agents in running panels have been associated with paying very low fees to Assessors. We do not support this and ecmk has not generally operated in the capacity of a panel. (see above). Occasionally accreditation schemes are the only organisations with the necessary coverage of Assessors to be able to deliver a particular job and in that case we believe that it is better to gain some of this work and provide it to our members. The price level has also been driven down by the basic economics of supply and demand. Less demand and too many DEAs to supply the EPCs has driven the price down.

Q8 Our research from a FOI Act application regarding DEA numbers there was about 12,000 accredited DEAs on the 29th June 2009. What number of DEAs do you feel are actually ‘required’?

We believe the 12,000 figure is misleading as it includes about 1,000 on-construction energy assessors and multiple accreditation accounts for individual assessors. Our analyses indicate that there are approximately 9,000 individual DEAs who have current accreditation and we would estimate about half of these are actively working, ie doing more than one or two EPCs per month. However, we do believe that the market, as it currently is, cannot sustain even that number in the long run. If the housing market does not pick up significantly in 2010 we might expect to see a further reduction of 15% to 20% in the number of active DEAs.

Q9 What advice would you have to someone who was considering training as a domestic energy assessor (DEA) at present?

Most of our candidates are already employed by social landlords and so have a business need to attend. For the others we way make sure you have done your homework and produced a realistic business plan. Know where your customers are going to come from and how much they are willing to pay. How can you differential yourself from other DEAs in your area?

Q10 Do you support the current HIP legislation and if it was ‘scrapped’ what impact do you envisage it will have on your members?

The EPC element is still part of the EPBD legislation and can’t be scrapped under European Law. We train our delegates to deliver EPCs which isn’t the issue at the moment.

Q11 The conservatives talk about extending the validity of an EPC to 10 years as has happened within the rental market, what are your views on this?

EPCs are already valid for ten years – only where it is included in a HIP must an EPC be less than three years old. The Conservatives also talk about scrapping the HIP completely, in which case all EPCs for all uses would be valid for ten years. We believe ten years is too long. If improvements to building energy efficiency are to make a serious contribution to carbon reduction, they must be implemented on a much shorter timescale and we are in danger of a situation in a few years time where most buildings have EPCs which don’t reflect their true energy performance.
EPCs are like MOTs and are only valid at the time they are done. A 10 year old EPC will not take into account if a boiler has been changed etc in the intervening years so won’t give a necessarily accurate report on the house.

Q12 Thank you for your time and finally what stands your accreditation scheme apart from the others?

We have been in the energy rating of homes business for ten years and have an established client base amongst social landlords with our housing management software. We are interested in providing cost effective, professional solutions that meet the needs of our customers. We pride ourselves on customer care, flexibility and responsiveness to clients’ needs. For DEAs we produce the best software on the market and some of the lowest lodgement fees.

Further information can be found out about ECMK on their website.

There are further interviews planned for the coming weeks and months and we look forward to your thoughts and views.

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