The recent announcement by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) that the £2 billion Green Homes Grant has seen only 20,000 vouchers issued since it opened last September, highlights that the policy needs a radical overhaul to succeed, suggests Simon Storer, chief executive officer of the Insulation Manufacturers Association.
The scheme is a long-awaited step towards improving the energy efficiency of existing housing and other buildings, but it has been beset with problems to the extent that at the current rate, it will take 10 years to meet the government’s target of 600,000 households.
What is the Green Homes Grant?
Announced with much fanfare last summer by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Green Homes Grant scheme gives homeowners a £5,000 voucher to fund up to two-thirds of the cost for insulation and energy home improvements.
Initially set to run on a limited timescale until March 2021, it has now been extended until March 2022.
Its shaky launch is down to a number of reasons with applicants struggling to secure approval for vouchers, a lack of accredited installers across the country and the bureaucracy and complexity of the application process causing long delays. Sadly, some of the specialist firms that do carry out the work are withdrawing from the scheme as they are not getting paid.
The scheme is laudable, but as with so many previous efforts to decarbonise housing and improve our woefully underperforming housing stock, the devil is always in the detail.
One of the principal issues is timescale, as there was little chance the government was ever going to achieve the 600,000 homes target in just six months. There was also too much confusion over the scheme and not enough preparatory work being carried out to make it work in the long term.
Whilst many homeowners want to get the work done, they simply cannot find the installers to do it. If you live in Cornwall for example, the nearest approved installer is in the Midlands. Have we not seen this postcode lottery many times before?
The government needs to listen to the industry and those at the front line as to what was done right and the mistakes that were made before extending into the second stage of the scheme.
In the first instance, there needs to be greater transparency. Properties need to have a proper audit as to the remedial work that needs to be carried out. It’s imperative that you have people who know what they are looking at; can interpret it correctly and then be able to suggest the appropriate energy improvement measures.
There should also be more training to get installers in place, and there needs to be work carried out to establish where the interest is in terms of customers.
Companies need reassurance if they are going to be involved for another 12 months, otherwise more will drop out. The scheme was far too short-sighted and without a joined up approach, it was always going to fall at the first hurdle.
The other important consideration is extending beyond the March 2022 deadline as this will play into the longer term 2050 zero carbon targets. The government also has a target of bringing all existing homes up to EPC band C by 2035. This will involve 1.2 million homes a year being refurbished. This equates to 3,400 properties a day, every day, every year between now and 2035. The Green Homes Grant should therefore, be part of a longer term objective to meet both our 2035 and 2050 targets.
We also need to make sure that whichever work is carried out, it is done to the right standard. Competency in installation is vital because when a high performing product such as PIR/PUR is not installed correctly, it could lessen performance and undermine thermal performance.
Once the high-quality building fabric has been completed, there should be no need to worry about it. In short, this means you don’t have to revisit that particular part of the refurbishment 10 years down the line and be forced to carry out further improvements.
For example, thermal improvements which are good enough for 2050 will be more cost effective in the long run. This requires some form of coordinated analysis of the property, which is why there needs to be an independent audit of a property to look at what needs to be done, and in what order, before work commences.
I’m not pretending it’s easy. It is quite hard, but then the government has set itself hard targets. We have the materials, technology and knowledge to improve our buildings, but agreeing what needs to be done and then confirming the work has been carried out to a decent standard and is value for money, is the real challenge.
Ultimately, a scheme which kickstarts thermal improvements is a good thing and will benefit small builders, installers and homeowners alike, whilst at the same time meet our climate change targets in the long term.