UK households call for national retrofit plan amid reports of Tory rows over Heat & Buildings Strategy

UK households have written an open letter to COP26 President Alok Sharma, urging him to push the Government to develop a national strategy for decarbonising existing buildings. The call to action comes amid reports of rows within the Government about the cost of low-carbon heating.

Emissions from the UK’s domestic building stock notably account for around one-quarter of annual national total

Emissions from the UK’s domestic building stock notably account for around one-quarter of annual national total

The open letter is being convened by Households Declare, a new campaign launched this week as an offshoot of the Architects Climate Action Network.

Households Declare has been set up to help households declare a climate emergency – as many local councils and businesses already have – and to convene their voices to press policymakers to set more ambitious decarbonisation policies.

Flagging the repeated assertation of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that the UK will not meet its legally binding emissions targets “without near-complete decarbonisation of the housing stock”, the campaign is calling for the Government to develop a national strategy for retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency.

This was the original aim of the Green Homes Grant and Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme,  which help households and public sector organisations respectively with the bulk of the costs of improvements that reduce energy consumption. But the Green Homes Grant closed in spring, with less than 10% of the £2bn promised in vouchers issued.

The Government has partly blamed difficulties in getting tradespeople who deliver retrofitting works certified in line with the scheme’s requirements. It has since confirmed that £500,000 originally earmarked to the scheme will go to English and Scottish Councils directly, enabling them to deliver their own home retrofit schemes.

Ministers have been pressured by trade bodies, NGOs, local councils and activists to clarify plans for replacing the Green Homes Grant in full, but this has not yet been confirmed. Households Declare is calling for strategy details as soon as possible, calling on Ministers to “do it now and make it fair”. To this latter point, it wants the Government to uphold its commitment to levelling up by ensuring that new policies do not exclude low-income houses and that they tackle the fuel poverty problem as well as the climate crisis. BEIS figures have shown that one in ten UK households is in fuel poverty.

Households Declare is additionally campaigning for VAT breaks for products that improve household energy efficiency, as well as the retrofit services themselves.

Heat and Buildings Strategy controversy

After missing the chance to outline a replacement for the Green Homes Grant at the 2021 Budget speech, the Government’s next chance to do so will be through the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy. This policy package initially consisted of two separate Strategies, both originally slated for publication in autumn 2020.

Delays, until recently, had been attributed to the need to combine the Strategies and to the Government’s prioritisation of the Covid-19 response. However, the Strategy was due ahead of the start of Parliament’s summer recess on 22 July and recent delays have been attributed to disagreements within the Conservative Party over the financing of the plans.

Publications including The Times, The Mirror and The Sun are reporting that the Strategy will not commit the UK to banning gas boilers in homes from 2035, as recommended by the CCC. Instead, a less ambitious deadline of 2040 is reportedly being considered. This is largely to enable the costs of technologies like heat pumps and hydrogen-ready boilers to fall.

Additionally, it has been reported that the current maximum grant of £4,000 for households looking to install new low-carbon heating systems, currently offered through the Clean Homes Grant scheme, will be increased. There has been backlash from MPs over proposals, however, to only offer grants to low-income homes. Backbenchers have argued that middle-class households should not need to pay upwards of £10,000 towards the cost of decarbonising their home heating.

edie has heard reports that the Hydrogen Strategy is likely to be published before the end of August, with the Heat and Buildings Strategy following shortly after.

Emissions from the UK’s domestic building stock notably account for around one-quarter of annual national emissions. The CCC has repeatedly cited energy inefficient homes, dependent on fossil heating, as a key hurdle on the road to net-zero by 2050. The Future Homes Standard has been launched to ensure that homes built from 2025 will be net-zero, but the UK Green Building Council estimates that 80% of the buildings which will exist in the UK in 2050 are already standing. 

Sarah George


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