Net-Zero Strategy must not repeat past mistakes on low-carbon homes, major groups warn Prime Minister

A coalition of industry and consumer groups are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure that the upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy and Net-Zero Strategy do not repeat historic mistakes on decarbonising homes.

Decarbonising homes has been a hot topic in recent weeks, amid further delays to the Heat and Buildings Strategy

Decarbonising homes has been a hot topic in recent weeks, amid further delays to the Heat and Buildings Strategy

In an open letter sent to Johnson today (25 August), the Aldersgate Group, the Federation of Master Builders, Citizens Advice and Which? are urging the Government to work more closely with consumers and the private sector to develop upcoming policy packages for decarbonising homes in line with the national net-zero target for 2050.

The letter has also been sent to COP26 President Alok Sharma and Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng.

It outlines some of the most common challenges the groups have seen in improving home energy efficiency and installing low-carbon heating, covering high upfront costs; difficulty accessing information; inadequate consumer protection measures; a lack of low-cost loans and grants and difficulty accessing existing loan and grant schemes. In brief, the groups argue “it is too complicated” for most households to access the technologies they need and “things go wrong too often”.

To this latter point, the letter states: “Previous energy efficiency schemes didn’t start out with strong enough quality standards and many people were left struggling with damp and mould due to poorly-installed insulation.

“Others suffered damage to their homes, leaving them with long-term problems that were expensive, disruptive and distressing to resolve. While some improvements to consumer protections have been made since then, they don’t go far enough for the pace and scale of changes to homes needed for net-zero." 

According to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), direct emissions from buildings accounted for 17% of the UK’s annual national emissions footprint in 2019. Tackling these emissions, the Committee has stated, will be vital for the UK to meet its long-term climate targets.

The letter implores Johnson, Sharma and Kwarteng to ensure that the schemes detailed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy and Net-Zero Strategy are developed in collaboration with industry and consumer bodies. In this manner, key pitfalls will be avoided. The Green Homes Grant, for example, closed with some 10% of the promised £2bn vouchers issued, with the Government citing a lack of tradespeople qualified to deliver works that met the scheme’s requirements.

The letter also emphasises the importance of the Government providing longer-term certainty over its plans for retrofitting. The Green Homes Grant was envisioned as a one or two-year scheme. A longer-term pla2n would “allow industry greater time to upskill, better support implementation and improve the experience for people making changes to their homes”, the letter states.  

“Decarbonising millions of households across the UK is a vital, but complex component of the government’s net-zero strategy, and its success will depend on ensuring consumers are supported in transitioning to low carbon heating systems, which will involve radical changes to their home,” Which?’s director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha said.

“The level of support consumers need must not be underestimated, and we are urging the government to ensure its net-zero policy has provisions to help consumers navigate the heating market, through access to the right information, strong consumer protections, and if needed, financial support.”

Policy update

The Heat and Buildings Strategy was initially promised in late 2020, as two separate Strategies, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) chose to combine the two, resulting in the initial delays.

Delays have, of course, been compounded by the Government’s need to prioritise the response to Covid-19.

But, in recent weeks, it has been reported that Conservative Party MPs have been rowing over the specific design of the ‘carrot and stick’ policies designed to decarbonise domestic heating.

Specifically, some MPs are reportedly pushing for a ban on gas boilers in homes to be pushed back to 2040 from 2035 – the date recommended by the Government’s own advisors, the CCC,

The Strategy is now expected shortly after Parliament officially returns from the summer recess on 6 September. MPs were recalled to Parliament recently in light of the crisis in Afghanistan, but this will be the only topic on the agenda until recess officially ends.

The Net-Zero Strategy will come after the Heat and Buildings Strategy. It has been promised ahead of COP26, which begins in Glasgow on 1 November.

Sarah George



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