The government has abandoned its much-heralded Green Homes Grant scheme which was at the heart of Boris Johnson’s promise to build back greener after the Covid-19 pandemic. Just over 6 months after the scheme was launched in September 2020 the government has announced that the scheme will close to new applicants on Wednesday, 31st March. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy have stated however that applications made before the deadline will be honoured and any vouchers already issued may be extended upon request.
The axing of the scheme which offered households grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to put in insulation or low-carbon heating, means the UK is left without a plan for tackling one of the biggest sources of greenhouse emissions. As things stand, Britain’s inefficient, leaky homes account for around a fifth of total carbon dioxide emissions. Green campaigners have said that scrapping the programme which was the only significant green stimulus policy announced by the government to date was a serious blow as the UK prepares to host vital UN climate talks called Cop26 in November this year.
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Ed Matthew from climate change think tank E3G said:
“The end of the government’s flagship green homes scheme is a tragedy that was avoidable. There was plenty of demand for the grants, but the scheme was plagued by incompetent administration. The reality is that we can’t get to net-zero without decarbonising our homes.”
In the end the Green Homes Grant (GHG) has reached just 10% of the 600,000 homes the chancellor promised would be improved. The roll-out of the scheme has been beset with problems from the start. There were more than 123,000 applications for the grant by the end of February, but only 28,000 vouchers had been issued and only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed.
The scheme was originally expected to create tens of thousands of green jobs, but it is more likely now that many ‘green’ jobs could be lost in a time of deep economic uncertainty for many.
Builders and installers have complained of a disproportionate amount of red tape in registering for the scheme while households have found it difficult to access. A US company was awarded the contract to administer the grants, but a Guardian investigation found that numerous people were unable to get a response at all. Although there were some householders who were reluctant to apply for the grants because they were worried about catching Covid from contractors coming into their home, in some parts of the country installers were overwhelmed by demand. To register to become a Green Homes Grant installer, installers needed to have both a TrustMark license number and a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) licence number for the installation of low carbon measures such as heat pumps.
Despite these accreditations, checks on the way the money was spent were so rigorous that some installers have ended up going out of business because payments were so badly delayed. Far from creating new jobs some builders have had to lay off staff due to problems with the scheme. Many people were given conflicting advice while builders have been frustrated by the rules imposed on heat pump installations in particular. Perhaps the scheme was doomed to fail from the start as many installers were reluctant to register for the scheme having learnt from past experience of similar schemes that saw them out of pocket while waiting for payment.
The amount of money allocated for greening homes is being reduced from the £2.5bn announced last year as part of the government’s bid to “build back better”. Of that, £1bn was set aside last year for local authorities to improve homes for people on low incomes, now raised to £1.3bn. The Green Homes Grant was meant to account for the additional £1.5bn, most of which remains unspent.
The demise of the Green Homes Grant means that 20m households on moderate incomes will be left without any government help to undertake the improvements necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
When the government announced the scrapping of the scheme, they said that the scheme was only ever intended to be a short-term stimulus, but could this be part of an ongoing problem?
Ed Matthew said:
“There has been a stop-start approach (to home energy efficiency) which has stopped businesses investing in skills and has failed to give households confidence. They (the government) must pick themselves up and create a new green programme that works and has long-term funding in place from the beginning. It is surely not beyond the capability of this government to give money away at a time of economic crisis.”