Environment

Home insulation stalled last year during 'slam dunk fail' Green Homes Grant scheme

The "botched" £1.5bn scheme was wound down last year and experts say the government is "failing to do anything meaningful" to tackle soaring energy costs after figures showed poor energy efficiency across England's homes.

A row of terraced houses, UK

The UK has some of the least energy-efficient housing in Europe, and some of the highest fuel poverty rates. Image: Pixabay

The failures of a flagship government scheme to improve energy efficiency have been highlighted in new data showing scant progress across England’s housing stock.

The “botched” £1.5bn Green Homes Grant was wound down last year and experts are now accusing the government of “failing to do anything meaningful” to tackle soaring energy costs.

Figures on energy efficiency ratings from the The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) show the majority of existing homes sampled in England were awarded ratings of D or lower throughout 2021 – casting doubt on the UK’s target of all properties achieving C by 2035. 

Energy efficiency ratings are ranked from A to G and indicate how effectively a home can retain heat, with a high rating (A) meaning household fuel bills will be lower, while a low rating (G) means household bills will be more expensive. 

Low energy efficiency is also damaging to the planet thanks to the increased amount of energy needed to keep an inefficient building warm, with housing responsible for 14 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. 

Dustin Benton, policy director at think tank Green Alliance said the figures show the government “still hasn’t done anything meaningful to improve energy efficiency” in spite of knowing about an impending energy crisis for “several months”. 

Climate and poverty campaigners have long called for mass insulation of the nation’s homes as the solution to high energy bills and carbon emissions from homes, but the latest figures suggest 2021 show that is not happening.

The data – contained in four quarterly reports – shows the number of energy performance certificates (EPCs) given to homes in England throughout the year.

As certificates are only awarded when a house is newly-built, sold, or rented out, the figures don’t represent the entire housing stock – though each report records between 350,000 and 400,000 certificates. 

All four 2021 reports showed more than half of existing homes received a rating of D or lower, while more than one in 10 consistently received a rating of E. 

Government data shows almost 16 million of England’s homes, and 19 million across the UK, have EPC ratings of D or lower.

It’s estimated that heating a household with a D rating could cost around £500 more per year than heating a household with a B rating. This figure is likely to be even higher after accounting for recent increases in energy prices.

The DLUHC data did show that energy efficiency in new homes was significantly better than in existing homes, with more that 80 per cent achieving a “B” rating throughout 2021. 

Jess Ralston, analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, however, questioned why so few new homes were being built to the very highest standard: rating A.

“There’s no incentive for housebuilders to design homes which are really energy efficient because they don’t have the direct benefit of lower bills,” she said.

Ralston said there is currently “no coherent plan” for insulating the country’s housing stock in spite of the ongoing climate and fuel crises, and points out that insulation rates are “significantly lower” than they were a decade ago.

Successive governments have made attempts to roll out insulation across the country, but many ventures have fallen flat.

The Green Homes Grant to help homeowners install efficiency measures closed after just six months, and was dubbed a “slam-dunk fail” by the Public Accounts Committee. 

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Ralston has concerns that repeated failures in this area have caused the public and businesses to “lose trust” in energy efficiency schemes, which are now crucial for meeting UK climate goals. 

The government may even be considering rolling back measures to insulate homes, with reports this week suggesting that the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) levy could be scrapped to tackle rising energy bills. 

The ECO is a £1bn levy on energy bills which helps to pay for installation of energy efficiency measures in low-income households, and experts fear removing it could worsen the country’s already-poor record on insulation. 

Ian Preston, director of household energy at the Centre for Sustainable Energy said: “At a time when we should be doing everything we can to protect people from the incoming energy price rises, the support needed for energy efficiency home improvements is drying up.”

A spokesperson from the The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said:

“We reject these claims. The UK has a strong track record in making homes more energy efficient, with 40% in England now at EPC Band C or better and 84% of new builds in the top energy efficiency bands A or B.  

“We’re investing £6.6 billion this parliament to decarbonise our buildings, helping us build back greener and reach our world-leading climate ambitions, whilst saving people money on their bills.

“Our Future Homes Standard is an important step towards improving energy efficiency and the recent uplift in building regulations means new homes will produce 30% less CO2 emissions, and 75% less from 2025.”

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