Green energy firm hit with record cold-calling fine was praised by Tory minister

Helms, which has been given a £200,000 fine for nuisance calls, was commended by former Energy Minister Greg Barker

Click to follow
Indy Politics

A Tory minister praised the green energy company that was handed a record fine on Wednesday for making people’s lives a misery with six million nuisance calls, it has emerged. 

Home Energy and Lifestyle Management (Helms) was given a £200,000 fine by a government watchdog for pestering households offering ‘free’ solar panels as part of the Government’s failed Green Deal initiative. 

However in January last year Greg Barker, the then Conservative energy minister singled out Helms for praise, hailing it as an example of a “new entrepreneurial disruptive” start-up that was “going gangbusters” by successfully taking advantage of the Green Deal. 

The scheme encouraged people to install energy efficiency measures in their homes by offering loans and allowing them to pay back the money in instalments on their energy bills, but was ditched shortly after the Tories returned to power after May’s general election.  

“There are new entrepreneurial disruptive companies, such as [SME Green Deal provider] Helms, that are able to make a success of it. Helms, from a standing start, is going gangbusters with Green Deal plans,” he said. 

Labour MP Dave Anderson said Mr Barker’s “lack of knowledge about energy matters” showed “once again that the Tories will always put the interests of business before the public of this country”. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) gave Helms the record fine for “deliberately and recklessly” breaking marketing call regulations and inundating homes with calls on an “industrial scale”. 

It said it had received 242 complaints about calls offering the ‘free’ solar panels between October and December 2014. 

Under the law, companies must have individuals’ permission to make automated calls. 

One complainant said they were hit with the calls while waiting for news of a terminally ill family member, while another said it brought back memories of receiving a phone call one morning to say a grandchild had died.

Helms blamed the calls, which gave a misleading offer of free solar panels, on another company that it had hired to make them. They were often repeated and offered no way of connecting to a person or opting out.

But ICO head of enforcement said the company’s ignorance was “beyond belief”. 

He added: “The monetary penalty is for a significant amount because of the clear failings of the company, and the number of people affected by its deliberate and unlawful campaign,” Eckersley said.

Helms is seeking legal action against the company it claims is responsible for the calls.

The Conservative Government decided to scrap the Green Deal – the Coalition’s flagship environmental programme – as part of their drive to slice £3.3bn from the Department of Energy and Climate Change budget. 

The home improvement plan was deemed a failure by Decc, who decided to pull the funding after only 10,000 installed the taxpayer-subsidised green technology in their homes.

When the Green Deal was launched in 2013 Mr Barker hailed it as a “revolution” in transforming Britain’s typically energy inefficient housing stock. 

A year later he was very critical of large contractors for being the “slowest to adapt” and “struggling to make a reality of opportunities” created by the scheme, while pointing out that small and medium size firms such as Helms had made the most of the scheme. 

Mr Barker stepped down as an MP at the General Election but will soon be sitting in the House of Lords after being given a peerage by David Cameron in the summer’s Dissolution list.