The message promoted by most trade associations, professional bodies or ombudsman schemes is one of minimising risks to consumers should things go wrong. They may also be actively promoting better professional standards, or implying that their members have in some way proved their credentials.
To a consumer we would suggest that membership of a professional body, trade association or subscription to an indemnity/insurance backed scheme does not give you automatic protection of perfect installations every time. Such membership ought to be one of a number of factors in choosing your supplier.
To the window company we would encourage you to fully investigate the claims made by any scheme, and make sure that you understand what they are offering and how it could benefit your business.
The problem with “our industry”
The double glazing industry is not alone in having a negative reputation. Much of the negativity surrounding home improvements is down to how some (large and small) businesses have conducted themselves over many years. One only needs to read press articles, social media and look at the popularity of DIY SOS type programmes to know that there is an issue. Time-and-again the media shows consumers what happens to homeowners when things go wrong with building work or double glazing, with the implication that cowboys are rife.
You won’t see the media promoting installations that have gone well; showing happy customers with faultless window installations does not make for interesting reading or television viewing. Even Grand Designs structures the show to build tension by showing how close the whole project came to failing.
The home improvement sales process does not lend itself to engendering trust. Generally speaking the industry has a tendency to over-promise by excessively raising customer expectations or use pressure sales techniques, such as:
- one time only offers if you sign on the night
- the “let me phone my manager for a discount” ploy
- the discount suddenly available if your home can be used as a case study
- companies insisting on only carrying out home visits if “husband and wife” are going to be there
- cold calling and tele-canvassing
These tactics are still widely used even though there is an argument that they are no longer as effective. Some of the larger home improvement firms still seem to focus their sales training on closing a sale and overcoming customer objections, instead of providing them with detailed and accurate product knowledge and training.
It is also the case that the double glazing industry for years has not been transparent with their products and pricing. Home improvements remains one of the few product groups where consumers are unlikely to know how much new windows and doors are likely to cost them unless they are visited by a double glazing salesman in their home. The window industry as a whole is moving towards making their showrooms do their selling and the investment in company showrooms, particularly with bifolding doors, is growing year on year.
Do consumers need protecting from double glazing firms?
Why would consumers need protection from a multi billion pound industry that has over 12,500 active window companies employing a vast number of people across the entire supply chain.
By using words such as “Consumer Protection”,”Ombudsman” or “Deposit Protection” the implication is that consumers are somehow at risk from double glazing firms and therefore need protecting in some way. It suggests that customers need to be wary right from the start.
Arguably the likely problems that a consumer could face are:
- Lost deposits. – companies that have disappeared or gone into administration
- Incomplete installations – work half completed and the builder refuses to return to site
- Disputes over quality of work – from minor snagging to botched jobs
- Terms of guarantees – problems with completed work.
- Confusion over what is genuine guarantee work or abuse/misuse of the product
The double glazing industry is not unique. Every industry has examples of companies going into administration leaving consumers out of pocket. And there are endless examples of consumers being ripped off. Maybe the fact that we are entering people’s homes raises the stakes?
This is a list of the current schemes that apply to the double glazing and home improvement sector. The many Trade Associations, Industry Bodies, private or Government backed are either membership organisations where members pay annual fees and others are free. Others charge only for the service that is required such as insurance policies.
Please leave a comment if we’ve missed any.
FENSA stands for the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme. FENSA was set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and others following the change in Building Regulations since April 2002 covering the installation of new windows and doors. FENSA ensures that these Building Regulations are complied with.
FENSA is a self certification scheme and it is reported that they are making a “significant contribution” to compliance with the Building Regulations. FENSA is part of the five schemes covering Building Regulations that also include HETAS for solid fuel combustion appliances, OFTEC for oil-fired appliances and CORGI for gas appliances and installations.
Many now regard FENSA as the most trusted scheme for compliance with Building Regulations, and membership of FENSA helps window companies install and self certify their installations without needing a separate inspection or assessment from Local Authority Building Control.
All FENSA registered companies are vetted and part of a programme of re-assessment to ensure ongoing compliance. With over 9000 companies being FENSA registered this is the largest of the schemes.
Any installations that fall under FENSA have insurance backed guarantees available. Upon completion of a window installation the customer will be provided with a FENSA certificate confirming compliance.
The Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF)
The Glass and Glazing Federation is a long-established and very well-known organisation representing window companies across the entire supply chain and not restricted to just domestic installations. FENSA is a subsidiary of the Glass and Glazing Federation.
The GGF is one of the main voices of the glazing industry involved in discussions at Government level promoting best practice, setting standards, lobbying and offering consumer protection. This protection is not just for homeowners. Advice, good working practices, technical help and more is available via the GGF to homeowners and window and door installers.
Consumers using a company that is a member of the GGF benefit from deposit schemes and conciliation or arbitration services and has systems in place to resolve any disputes that arise between an installer and the customer.
The Glass and Glazing Federation also offers a series of excellent consumer and trade publications advising on choosing the right window company, condensation, trickle vent, glass usage and other useful sources of information. The Glass and Glazing Federation is arguably the best known of all the glazing industry bodies and organisations.
In 2016 the Helix Group was formed acting as the umbrella company for the various companies under the Glass and Glazing Federation. These include:
FENSA,used by installation companies to register for a competent person scheme.
GGFi, offering consumer protection insurance.
British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC), carries out independent testing for the energy ratings of windows and doors in all materials.
RISA, offers Inspection and Auditing services to related businesses in the fenestration sector.
Helix Training, providing education and training.
Borough IT, the IT solutions business for Helix.
The Double Glazing Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS)
The Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme or DGCOS has been set up with aims and objectives to protect the double glazing consumer and work to improve the reputation of the window and door sector.
Member companies are not just restricted to home improvement firms but also those companies higher up the supply chain that provide products to the trade. Leading bifolding door companies and others are members.
The DGCOS promotes the many benefits available to consumers by using one of their members. This includes payment protection, insurance backed guarantee schemes, mediation services, advice, independent inspections and access to a compensation fund.
DGCOS publicly reports with case studies and other information where they have helped homeowners needing their help and advice. Whilst this is a relatively new organisation members include many high profile and award winning companies that regard DGCOS membership as advantageous to them and their customers.
CERTASS is very similar to FENSA in also being a self certification scheme for the installation of windows and doors in line with current Building Regulations. An approved certification organisation, CERTASS is a not for profit organisation that vets window installers for their competence in fitting windows and doors. Upon completion of the installation a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate is issued.
For the homeowner, using a CERTASS registered firm will give insurance backed deposit protection, a 10 year guarantee and an insurance policy to cover the customer in the event of a window company ceasing trading during the guarantee period.
British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC)
Most homeowners are now well aware of the window energy ratings and the energy performance labels or certificates issued with new windows. These are similar to the energy rating labels found on home appliances, EPC’s for homes and property and other forms of energy rated products.
The British Fenestration Rating Council or BFRC is the national system and testing organisation for the rating of windows. For window installers a BFRC rating is another method for demonstrating compliance with Building Regulations. For consumers information about the energy efficiency of their windows can influence their buying decisions. Many will opt for a window with the highest energy rating possible if this matters to them and influences them.
The BFRC issues the Window Energy Ratings bands (or WER’s) with the most recent being the A+ Window Energy Rating. However the marketing of A* windows by some is causing confusiion amongst homeowners and contradiction within the glass and glazing industry. Presently there is much debate as to what exactly constitutes an A+ energy rated window when the BFRC regard it as an A+10 figure and others regard it as an A+5. These two figures are of course different yet still marketed as an A rated window.
The Glazing Ombudsman (TGO)
The Glazing Ombudsman or TGO is a non profit organisation that offers resolution services for consumers and window installers where disputes over installations arise. In line with other organisations, the aim of improving the reputation of the glazing industry is part of the work carried out by TGO as well as providing complaints resolutions, award compensation where due and adhere to current law, good working practices and procedures.
Everest Double Glazing are one very well known firm that is a member of TGO. It is not just windows that are covered by the services of the TGO but conservatories, cladding, soffits and fascias. The membership side of the TGO is kept completely separate from the complaints process ensuring a fair decision in that the two are not connected in any way. The Glass and Glazing Federation is involved with the TGO and its members.
In the event of a dispute the Glazing Ombudsman is an accredited member of the Ombudsman Association and therefore adheres to set rules and procedure. Interestingly not every organisation here markets itself as an accredited member of the Ombudsman Association therefore consumers are advised to check other schemes.
Whilst not a consumer organisation like many serving the glazing industry, Checkatrade is gaining momentum as an online resource offering reliable and trustworthy glazing services. As with any review website it is hard to control what complaints and negative reviews are valid or posted by disgruntled customers unfairly harming the reputation of otherwise good double glazing installers.
However, with millions of reviews and now a substantial and well known organisation, Checkatrade may be for many homeowners one way of deciding whether to use a particular company. Checkatrade registered companies agree as part of their terms and conditions to allow online feedback for all to see whilst at the same time offering some level of help where consumers have complaints against one of their members.
Trustmark is another non profit and Government licensed organisation and similar to Checkatrade whereby it offers consumers looking for reputable installers information about registered firms.
Essentially a “quality mark”, TrustMark has a vetting and monitoring procedure that annually audits and monitors its members to ensure they remain compliant. Companies registered and approved with Trustmark are independently inspected through site inspections, financial stability checks, trading records and other essential company policies such as suitable complaints procedures, health and safety, the provision of insurance backed warranty schemes and others.
Consumer Protection Association
Many may already be aware of the Consumer Protection Association that is today one of the leading UK Consumer Protection Organisations. Operating throughout the UK, the CPA is another scheme that puts consumers in touch with reputable firms.
It is one of only a few organisations that is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and provides insurance and other products that protect consumers should things go wrong with their home improvement installations.
Several different products and services are offered should contractors go into liquidation or administration, loss of customer deposits, financial services and more. Vetting and inspection is at the core of the CPA in approving companies for membership and the organisation claims in dealing with only reputable and competent companies. Part of this vetting procedure includes sending questionnaires and surveys to consumers that have used CPA approved firms to ensure ongoing monitoring and checking.
Competent Persons Schemes
The Government introduced Competent Person Schemes (CPS) as a further way of enabling companies and individuals to self-certify installations without needing Building Regulations assessment or approval.
Competent Persons Schemes are not just for double glazing firms. The full list of current schemes is available online.
For installers to be successfully registered with a Competent Persons Scheme, there are various “minimum technical competence requirements” that need to be met. These include competencies for installers and also for surveyors.
Membership of competent persons schemes is voluntary. Consumers can benefit from possibly lower prices as inspection or building control fees will not apply and installers benefit because the local council building inspector will not need to check any of the work carried out.
Insurance Backed Guarantee Company
The Insurance Backed Guarantee Company (IBG) provides insurance policies designed to protect the deposits of customers buying home improvements. Limited to 25% of the overall contract value, these insurance policies aim to provide protection in the event of a home improvement firm ceasing trading after the customer has paid their deposit and before the installation work has commenced.
Other insurance policies involve providing protection in the even that the company ceases to trade after the installation and during the guarantee period. These policies are underwritten by larger insurance firms.
Consumers are therefore offered comfort that any deposit paid is secure. There are consumers that will be comforted by this and particularly with more expensive installations such as conservatories or glazed extensions. For window firms it should demonstrate that by offering an insurance backed scheme they are vetted and credible.
As with any insurance policy it is important for customers to be aware of what they will cover and what they won’t as well as any minimum period stipulated for claims to be made and other conditions.
Other Window Industry Schemes and Industry Bodies
The UK home improvement and construction industry across the entire supply chain is also represented by many Federations, Councils and Associations. This is further added to by testing institutes, quality control organisations and many others. Whilst these do not directly affect consumers they are used by the trade and those operating within it either to be approved as competent suppliers, processors and manufacturers or as part of lobbying and working towards changing standards. There is a huge list of such organisations that won’t directly affect the average consumer but are trusted by the many companies active in the home improvement sector higher up the supply chain.
- The British Plastics Federation (BPF)
- British Woodworking Federation
- Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB)
- Steel Window Association
- The Fair Trades Trade Association.
- National Federation of Glaziers
- Guild of Master Craftsmen
- British Standards Institute
- British Board of Agrement
- Guild of Architectural Ironmongers
and many others.
Does it matter if a double glazing firm doesn’t have any “badges”?
Just because a double glazing firm is not a member of an industry body this does not mean they are in any way a cowboy company or likely to do a bad job. There are many double glazing firms that are long-established, financially secure, ethical, highly competent and professional without ever needing membership of anything except what is legally required. And equally just because a company displays a badge does not automatically follow that every job they complete is perfect. Every installation, customer, property, window requirement, sales or administration process will be different.
What consumers should know.
So as you can see, there are a great many organisations, both private, non-profit making or Government approved set up to help consumers choose the right double glazing firm and get protection as well as offering benefits for window firms.
It is important to understand the difference between the self certification schemes for compliance with Building Regulations, and more general schemes that deal with wider issues.
A consumer could be unhappy with:
- the quality of the external perimeter mastic seal
- the internal finishing or trimming off of windows
- scratches to handles or glass and other minor items that are common with window fitting.
These issues do not come under self certification or Building Regulations. They are cosmetic and contractual matters between the window company and the installer.
Consumers will sometimes withhold final payment pending the resolution of site snagging and other items. This can be a source of frustration to both the customer and the window company and it is not unheard of for a window firm to delay giving the customer their FENSA or other certificate unless all monies have been paid. Good communication is key to resolving any dispute.
It is not clear how much notice consumers take of membership of the various schemes. But if your purchasing decision is being based on such membership then it would be a good idea to spend some time researching the scheme in question and understanding the provisions and limitations.
As with any major purchase doing your research is key. Recommendation and local reputation is vitally important to many window firms and the success of their business. It must be stressed again that in the vast majority of cases window firms act professionally and ethically and the cowboy installer or rogue double glazing firm remains very much in the minority. As standards, legislation and specifications get even more stringent it should become harder for rogue firms where they exist to continue trading.
Online Reviews of double glazing firms.
There are a growing number of “Trip Adviser” style review sites on the internet. Mostly these sites work hard to block bogus and malicious reviews. We would recommend leaving negative reviews only if accurate and as a last resort if the problem has not been resolved to your satisfaction. Our advice to window firms that have been left negative reviews is to act on them, communicate with the customer and once resolved encourage the customer to leave final feedback saying that the problem was resolved to their satisfaction. This kind of problem resolution is of huge benefit to a business and demonstrates that they take complaints seriously and act on them.
What is more important? The window or the company providing it?
The professional window companies operating in double glazing today are well aware of the negative reputation that surrounds the sector and many are working hard either independently or collectively to change it. Many cite frustrations with too good to be true offers and budget window companies as reasons why double glazing can be perceived negatively. You will find many window companies operating at the quality end of the market and others appealing to the consumer that simply requires new windows and doors at the lowest possible price.
Budget, product choice and individual requirements all play a part in the choice of window company. Those offering high end products rely on their good name and reputation and other than being certified or approved by the necessary legal bodies applicable to their trade don’t need any other membership of other organisations.
Other window companies operating at the medium to low end of the market are well aware of the extremely competitive market they operate in and perhaps choose to be members of as many schemes as possible to give them a competitive edge in a highly competitive industry and the necessary good reputation as vetted and approved installers to give confidence to their customers.
Have your say.
Whether you are a window company or a homeowner, we are interested to hear of your experiences with any of the professional bodies, insurance schemes and your window installations. Have you had cause to make a claim on an insurance scheme or seek redress from any of the industry bodies? Did the process go smoothly with the result you expected or did the scheme not work for you?
Let us hear your views and stories.