Chartered Surveyor's Voluntary service (Challenging CIGA's inspection reports at ADR)

In this post I explain how to apply to the Chartered Suveryor's Voluntary service (CSVS) via the Citizen's Advice Bureau. RICS describes the CSVS: "This service provides free property advice to people who would otherwise be unable to obtain professional assistance from a Chartered Surveyor.

This page doesn't constitute best advice but offers one perspective on the 'redress process' which you might to consider but please do your own research and make up your own mind.

Why you probably need a survey?

The CIGA 25 year guarantee covers defects in workmanship or materials.
It seems that if CIGA is challenged on the validity of the install or some clear industry standard violation then the claimant is likely to be prematurely referred to ADR. I say premature because the  process was always supposed to a last resort not an excuse to avoid investigating in full.

However, the premature referral to ADR is a bit of a trap. Homeowners desperate to fix damp and destruction of failed CWI may be lured by the thought of an independent 'technical review' and proceed to pay the £120 to apply for the ADR immediately in the hope that common sense will prevail.

The truth is that the home owner stands little chance of winning without providing a counter survey. CIGA inspectors are not qualified surveyors by any stretch and so the arbitrator (ADR) must take note when another, one might argue more reputable and certainly regulated, professional produces counter evidence.

It's sad that many legitimate claimants abandon CIGA at this point for fear of throwing 'good money after bad'.

There is a real ethical and social justice issue here. Given that the cost of a survey may act as a deterrent to  elderly and fuel poor who are often targeted by 'Free CWI' campaigns.
If a survey cost e.g. £800 + £120 for ADR then CIGA benefits from a high barrier to ADR and may deter those with a perfectly valid case against the guarantee.

[update: CIGA do offer free of charge access to the ADR service for recognised vulnerable customers - this could include fuel poor, health, learning disability etc so please do get CIGA to recognise you as vulnerable if appropriate. See the policy here  ]

[update2: Since this blog was published highlighting the vulnerability policy. CIGA appears to have taken down the vulnerability policy and deleted all mention of free access to ADR for the vulnerable  ]

How to get a survey?
First off -stay clear of anyone blindly offering 'free damp surveys' who often peddle chemical injections - this is not a survey it's a sales opportunity.

There is no standard Cavity wall insulation survey. It broadly fits into building pathology surveying and where damp is the predominant problem may fall under damp and timber expertise. There are many individuals of various backgrounds with excelent practical damp experience - many will be acredited expert witnesses and so charted suveyor  is not the only way.

We know that the arbitrator puts weight behind a charteded surveyor so a popular option is to use the service of a  RICS (royal institute of chartered surveyor) qualified surveyor to produce a bespoke report. 
You can directly employ a RICS surveyor. I checked with RICS and they do not have a directory of those with experience in Cavity Wall insulation disputes but their website can help you find surveyors in your area who you could discuss your needs and their experience in this matter.

I would highly recommend pointing a potential surveyor to the excellent article on CWI written by RICS surveyor Ben Garner who has done tremendous work in improving the understanding of defects with CWI and offers a good template for a survey.

What is the Chartered Surveyor's Voluntary service (CSVS)?

This service provides free property advice to people who would otherwise be unable to obtain professional assistance from a Chartered Surveyor.
It is a limited resource being reliant on a number of hours donated by surveyors. As such, CSVS have arranged for the Citizen's advice Bureau(CAB) to assess the request which could potentially mean prioritising those who are at most need if demand is high.

My local branch were not aware of the process having previously had a retired RICS surveyor who they could call directly and I've heard from a number of other people that their local branches were not aware of the service. The person I spoke to at CAB consumer line were also not aware.

Steps to access the service

Thankfully my local branch were keen to help and managed to sort out so I though it would be useful to list the steps required to access the service:

  1. Don't try to contact CSVS direct or CAB consumer line. Find your local CAB
  2. Print out the following PDF and take it with you to a drop in session at the CAB (or appointment if this is available).
  3. Keep the request simple - you don't need to tell them about all your problems.  Explain that you would like to access the CSVS and show them the Printout out where it clearly says that contact is made via CAB who must then liaise with the CSVS. Be prepared to be told that you need to talk to CSVS directly - this is not the case and you may need to be insistent. 
  4. State that your problem comes under the heading "Building disputes – advising on the quality of work, possible defects, payment disputes"
  5.  CAB should ask for details of your problem - it's up to you but keep it concise. perhaps "I have defective CWI and have been offered arbitration by the guarantee agency for which I require an independent survey of the defects'.
  6. CAB may apply an eligibility criteria but it's not formally means tested. In my case I was the only one to have asked for it so far.
  7. CAB will then liaise with CSVS who will try to find a suitable surveyor.  When found, you will be asked to give consent to share your contact details with the surveyor who will then be in touch to discuss further/arrange visit.
  8. As I understand it, any report generated is then passed back to the CAB to then discuss with the home owner.
There are some things to bear in mind:
  • Not all RICS surveyors have an in depth knowledge of CWI. Most of the local surveyors I spoke to said that it was a niche area and not one they were familiar with. So it's worth having that discussion early and going back to the CSVS (again via CAB) if it's unlikely to be fruitful.
  • It is a fundamental principle of the service that surveyors are not required to attend any Court or Tribunal Hearing as a result of the volunteer work.
  • However the guide states that if the case eventually reaches Court, 
    • the client or his representative will have to present it as their own evidence having explained the circumstances to the Court.
    • Alternatively, the surveyor could provide the evidence by way of affidavit if that is agreeable to both parties

How come CIGA have never suggested this?

Since CIGA literature seems to suggest that home owners have paramountcy; It's odd that such a useful service is not mentioned as part of the the ADR paperwork or on their website.

It doesn't take much imagination to know why it wasn't mentioned. This is deliberate and not out of ignorance. 
Brian Yates the 'Consumer Focus' at CIGA confirmed as such in email:
"The RICS does have a registered Charity. Chartered Surveyors Voluntary Service. It provides free technical advice in certain circumstances. CSVS can be contacted through your local Citizens Advice Bureau. "
I've asked Brian if this information could be signposted to claimants and/or be put on the CIGA website but I've yet to hear a reply. 


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