LESSONS need to be learned before the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) 3 energy efficiency scheme is rolled out in Powys.

ECO 3 is the successor of the ECO 2 government grant scheme funded by energy companies, administered by local authorities and designed to tackle fuel poverty.

After a damning report of how Powys County Council (PCC) had mismanaged running ECO 2 the housing department explained at the council’s audit committee that it had been overwhelmed by the volume of applications it had received.

Members of the audit committee wanted assurances that the new scheme would work better than the old one.

Newly appointed head of housing, Nina Davies, said: “I can assure you we are looking at this very seriously.

“We are looking at this in depth and a working party is being set up to look at the recommendations in detail.

“With hindsight this should have been done differently.

“This scheme, with the time scales and volume of applications, was unexpected.

“Things will be put in place differently for ECO 3.

“It’s important to note there is different guidance and criteria for the ECO 3 scheme which I believe will address most of the issues.”

Julian Preece, private sector housing lead, explained to the audit committee what PCC did for the administration fee of £150.

He explained that one officer dealt with calls from the public interested in the scheme. And with contractors and energy providers.

Mr Preece said: “We were dealing with thousands of applications.

“We had one officer permanently dealing with this scheme.

“With hindsight it was too much for one individual.

“We were dealing with thousands of applications; the phone was hot and ringing off the hook from morning to night.

“In future we would have two people cross-checking to make sure this does not happen again.”

Mr Preece added: “From a paper work perspective it does not look like a lot of work, but there was a heck of a lot  going on behind the scenes.

“We did not make a profit out of this, that was not our intention, and we specifically said the fee should be paid by the agent not the client.”

He said that ECO 3 would have more checks and balances and clients would have to submit more information akin to a “means test.”

Mr Preece added: “We accept the criticism, the scheme wasn’t perfect but we didn’t invent it.

“I would rather bring the financial checks in house, in a secure environment, than having vulnerable people giving information to these ‘cowboys’ on the doorstep.”

Mr Preece added that letters would be sent to ECO 2 clients whose applications ran out of time, suggesting they apply again for ECO 3 but that the terms and conditions would be different.