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‘Woefully inadequate’ energy efficiency plans could make net zero impossible

The "botched" Green Homes Grant scheme and underfunding has the UK on track to miss its net zero emissions target, MPs said
Up to £1bn of the Green Homes Grant fund was not spent. "Lawford Road, Whitnash" by lydia_shiningbrightly is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Government’s “botched” efforts to make UK homes more energy efficient have fallen well short of what is needed, according to a group of MPs, with the failing Green Homes Grant scheme putting the country on track to miss its net zero carbon emissions target.

The UK’s housing stock produces 20 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Environmental Audit Committee warned in its scathing new report.

But management of the Green Homes Grant programme, which covers up to £10,000 for improvements like insulation and planet-friendly heating systems, has been “nothing short of disastrous,” the report said.

“Despite government talking a good game on net zero, it is clear this is failing to manifest into action to cut carbon from our homes,” said Jess Ralston, analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

“Rushed policies that are chopped and changed seemingly at random risk undermining public enthusiasm for fixing up our leaky homes, damage that could harm future schemes for years to come.

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“The benefits of getting this right are crystal clear; hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, lower bills, less carbon and more comfortable homes. The only barrier to climate-proofing our homes is government inaction, with every year of delay only making the problem worse.

“There is no way of getting to net zero without tackling emissions from homes. With a recent litany of policy decisions undermining the UK’s credibility on climate ahead of this year’s crucial COP26 summit, it would be a mistake to add another to the list.”

A Government spokesperson defended its track record on making homes more efficient and added it would be “investing £9bn in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, while creating hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs”.

The decarbonisation of homes will play a major role in helping the UK reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target the Government has enshrined in law. But it is “failing to grasp the enormous challenge” of decarbonising homes, the MPs said.

Ministers are aiming for just an 80 per cent reduction in emissions from homes by 2050, rather than net zero. The Government is “not on track to meet even this,” according to the report.

“Realism needs to be injected into the Government,” said Philip Dunne MP, chair of the committee.

“A much better understanding of cost, pace, scale and feasibility of skills development is desperately needed for net zero Britain.”

The Green Homes Grant was “rushed in conception and poorly implemented,” according to the report.

“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,” it added.

Lengthy bureaucracy has “bizarrely led to reports of businesses laying off staff to cover loss of income rather than creating green jobs as heralded,” according to the committee.

More than 123,000 households applied for the grant up to the end of February, according to the Government’s own figures, but only 28,000 vouchers had been given away and just 5,800 energy efficiency-boosting improvements installed.

More than £1 billion is estimated to be unspent from the £1.5 billion fund ringfenced for the scheme. But that money will not be rolled over into next year, earmarking just £320 million for retrofitting homes.

Up to 19 million UK properties need upgrades to meet energy efficiency targets, the Environmental Audit Committee said, at an average cost of £18,000.

Setting out a series of recommendations to overhaul the UK’s strategy to boost domestic energy efficiency, the MPs called for the Government to bring forward schemes such as the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which is to be gradually rolled out over the next decade.

A Government spokesperson said: “The UK has a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes.

“However, we ​are committed to going further and faster, and are investing £9bn in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, while creating hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs.

“This includes funding for the first hydrogen powered houses and allocating more than £500m this year alone to improve the energy efficiency of 50,000 households in social and local authority housing across the UK, as we work to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.”