Green Homes Grant: Government admits that meeting 600,000 homes target could take a decade

Retrofitting is seen as essential to the net-zero transition

In correspondence published by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today (8 February), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for BEIS Lord Callanan confirms that around 20,000 vouchers have been issued under the scheme since it opened for applications last autumn. Vouchers enable households to claim two-thirds of the cost for verified, energy-saving home improvements, with the proportion rising to 100% for the lowest-income households. Each property can benefit from a maximum claim of £10,000.

MPs on the EAC claim that, if this pace of voucher issuance continues, the Government will take 10 years to meet its 600,000 homes targets. This will, in turn, dilute the potential economic and climate-related benefits of the scheme, the Committee is warning.

The EAC’s inquiry into green jobs has heard evidence of other shortcomings of the Green Homes Grant – including a lack of professionals qualified to deliver home improvements that meet the verification criteria. Ministers told MPs in November 2020 that 1,200 companies had registered with TrustMark to participate. Providing an update earlier this month, this figure had risen by just 100 firms, despite BEIS’s push for more business participants.

Like most major economies, the UK has included new skills initiatives and expanded existing schemes as part of its plans for the economic recovery from Covid-19. It has confirmed the launch of a £6.9m skills competition for September 2021, for example, and developed a Green Jobs Taskforce.

But EAC members believe that these measures are “unlikely to have a significant impact on the availability of skilled engineers to undertake Green Homes Grant installations”, due to their scope and timing. The MPs are calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to confirm a multi-year extension to the Green Homes Grant at next month’s budget.

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said the “principle of the Grant should be commended” and that the scheme has “good potential” – but that this potential will not be realised without a “radical overhaul”.

Dunne said: “Many of the builders and installers that can do the work are in limbo as a result of the time taken to approve applications, and perversely we have heard evidence some are having to lay off skilled workers as orders have been stalled pending confirmation of vouchers.  

“The scheme must streamline the application process by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and must make sure the supply of skills meets the demand that 600,000 vouchers, and a further boost by the Chancellor in the March Budget, would drive. By doing so, it could make large strides towards meeting other Government commitments, such as installing 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.”

Heated issue

To Dunne’s point on heat pumps, further clarity is expected on the Government’s plans for delivery with the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy. This policy framework will confirm the replacement scheme for the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI). It had been due out last autumn but, after delays, is now expected this month.

Groups including the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Citizen’s Advice, CBI and UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) have been pushing the government to overhaul heat-related policies for some time. Heat is a major source of emissions in the UK and is considered hard-to-abate. As well as its climate impact, heat is a social issue. BEIS figures have shown that one in ten UK households is in fuel poverty.

The UKERC has warned that more must be done to stop homes – particularly low-income homes – from being “locked-in” to fossil fuel heating systems, While the Future Homes Standard will have an impact here, the Centre argues, it does not come into force until 2025, and hundreds of thousands of homes could be built in the meantime. Moreover, existing homes are continuing to fit new gas heating infrastructure, often citing a lack of support to adopt lower-carbon alternatives.

The Clean Heat Grant expected to be detailed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy will allow households to claim £4,000 each for heat pumps. Green groups have argued, however, that the new Grant’s approach is too similar to that with the RHI – meaning past mistakes could be repeated.

Sarah George

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