The government is shuttering the troubled Green Homes Grant scheme, a £1.5 billion initiative to upgrade the country’s energy inefficient homes and key component of the much-touted green recovery. The scheme will close to new applicants at the end of this month, a year earlier than scheduled.
The Green Homes Grant scheme launched 30 September and provided vouchers of up to £5,000 to homeowners cover two-thirds of the cost of domestic energy upgrades, including insulation, double and triple glazing, energy-efficient doors and hot water system thermostats. Low-income households could receive grants up to £10,000 to fund the work.
The scheme was supposed to run until March 2022. It was extended by a year in November after homeowners struggled to find participating tradespeople and local and national lockdowns delayed work.
The government had claimed the scheme would help participating households trim an average of £200 from their annual energy costs and cut their annual carbon emissions by up to 700g. The scheme was also expected to support up to 100,000 green jobs.
Heating our draughty housing stock is responsible for 14% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Upgrading homes is essential to meeting the UK’s legally-binding decarbonisation goals, including its 2050 target for net-zero.
However, the Green Homes Grant scheme been plagued by problems from the outset. While interest in the vouchers was high, homeowners struggled to find qualified tradespeople in their local area to perform the work.
Builders said the process to become certified for the scheme was costly and time-consuming and many decided it wasn’t worth the investment for a time-limited programme. Tradespeople also reported delays in being paid through the scheme that were so severe they were forced to lay off staff.
As of the end of February, 123,000 homeowners had applied for the grants, but just 28,000 vouchers, worth £125 million, had been issued and just 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed, figures from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) revealed.
Last week, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee delivered a damning assessment of the scheme, which it said was “rushed in conception and poorly implemented.” The scheme’s administration was “nothing short of disastrous,” MPs said.
“The impact of its botched implementation has had devastating consequences on many of the builders and installers that can do the work, who have been left in limbo as a result of the orders cancelled and time taken to approve applications,” the select committee added.
The scheme will now close to new applicants on Wednesday, but homeowners who have already had their applications approved will still receive their vouchers.
The government said it will commit £300 million to a separate scheme to upgrade the homes of low-income households, administered through local authorises. However, the withdrawal of the Green Homes Grant scheme leaves 20 million middle-income households with no government support to undertake costly energy efficiency improvements.
Investment in energy efficiency upgrades also falls far short of the £2.5 billion announced last summer and the £9 billion the Conservative party pledged to spend this parliament in its 2019 manifesto. Spending on energy efficiency so far had been “woefully inadequate” and there have been “no plan nor meaningful delivery” for funds that have been committed, the Environmental Audit Committee said.
The committee also warned that the government has underestimated the cost of upgrading homes, which it says could be up to £324 billion, with 19 million properties requiring upgrades to attain a band C Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). The government has estimated the cost at between £35 billion and £85 million.
Environmental groups lamented the poor delivery of the Green Homes Grant scheme and its early closure, especially in advance of the COP26 talks.
Ed Matthew, campaigns director at the E3G thinktank, said: “The demise of the green homes grant is an embarrassment [before COP26] and a disaster in terms of the UK getting on track to net zero. Emissions from buildings and transport have flatlined over the last 10 years. If we don’t have programmes to tackle this, we have no hope of meeting the net zero target.”