Green revolution of homes ‘slowed down by flaws and gaps in government support’

Exclusive: ‘We need further and faster support from government to tackle monumental task,’ Manchester councillor says

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 25 January 2022 19:47 GMT
Homes are estimated to account for up to 15 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions
Homes are estimated to account for up to 15 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (Getty Images)

Homes are not becoming green quickly enough due to flaws and gaps in government support, councils and environmental groups have said.

Progress in decarbonising both council houses and private properties is being hindered due to the way the schemes work and who can access them, The Independent has been told.

Homes are estimated to account for around a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and improving their energy efficiency - for example, with better insulation - is key to tackling the climate crisis.

While various schemes are underway to make homes greener, local leaders and climate groups said support needs to be sped up and expanded to tackle the scale of the problem.

Terry Fox, the leader of Sheffield City Council, told The Independent: “The government funding available to improve energy efficiency in council homes will fall hugely short of the investment needed for Sheffield."

He added: “Barriers like the competitive nature of bidding for funds and a complex application process has led to lack of certainty that means we can’t take action as quickly as we would like to or plan ahead properly."

Last year, local authorities bid for funding in the first wave of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which the 2019 Tory manifesto pledged £3.8bn to over 10 years.

In the trial run for the scheme earlier in the year, the government awarded £62m to 17 councils for projects. Among the successful bidders was Manchester City Council, which won around £3m to make green improvements to around 150 council houses.

Councillor Gavin White told The Independent: "This is of course a positive start, but we know we need further and faster support from government to tackle the monumental task of bringing all of Manchester’s social homes up to low carbon standards.”

He said it would help if the government made work upgrading buildings zero-rated for VAT. “This would help deliver these essential schemes faster and wider, benefiting more of our residents more quickly.”

Cara Jenkinson, who works with climate change charity Ashden, told The Independent there are “various schemes with various acronyms” that give funding for decarbonise homes, which are mostly going through councils.

“Homes are getting retrofitted,” she said, but this was “not happening fast enough”.

Ashden’s cities manager said: “I think the challenge is doing it in a strategic way. And the way the government funding works right now is it is not particularly strategic.”

She said it often involves “very short” periods of funding, such as with the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme, which partially or fully funded green improvements to households. Applications were open for six months, and the vouchers expire after three.

The latest data shows it has only helped 43,000 homes make a green installation nearly a year since applications closed  - seven per cent of the 600,000 houses it promised to help.

Since it was scrapped last spring, there has been a “void” in support for homeowners who do not fall into the low-income bracket, Ms Jenkinson said.

Last autumn, the government published its Heat and Building strategy, which, among other measures, included a grant for homeowners to upgrade gas boilers to heat pumps.

Caterina Brandmayr, the head of climate policy of the Green Alliance think-tank, told The Independent this “made some good progress” but ultimately “fell short of what is needed” to deliver a comprehensive plan to decarbonise the housing sector.

One of its biggest “gaps” was in its support for energy efficiency improvements, with only low-income households targeted for support.

One new scheme expected to get going this year is the Home Upgrade Grant, which will fund low-income households in highly-inefficient homes to carry out renovations.

MPs estimated last year this would help up to 100,000 homes. “This is welcome, but represents a fraction of the 1.5 million households off the gas grid who will need further support to upgrade their homes,” the Environmental Audit Committee said.

A government spokesperson said: “Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is one of the most important ways the UK can cut energy bills. This is why we are investing £6.6bn to upgrade the energy efficiency of England’s homes.

“We are also exploring with local government how we can improve value for money by simplifying funding schemes, including those designed to help us reduce carbon emissions associated with homes and buildings.”

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