MPs criticise government home insulation programme

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The slow pace of progress achieved by a government scheme aimed at tackling climate change and keeping homes warm in winter has been criticised by MPs.

Ministers admit the Green Homes Grant has issued only 21,000 vouchers towards the cost of installing insulation.

At the current rate it would take more than 10 years to meet the government’s target of vouchers to 600,000 homes, the Environmental Audit Committee says.

The government says it is striving to improve its performance.

The scheme offers to fund up to two-thirds of the cost of installing insulation, heat pumps and draught proofing.

But householders often cannot get through to accredited tradespeople on the scheme because they are overwhelmed with calls.

And the MPs say delays in the grants system are often hampering insulation firms from getting paid by the government for the work they have done.

Some firms are pulling out of the scheme altogether.

The committee says part of the problem is a severe shortage of engineers. Many such posts were closed when the government turned off the tap of grants for home insulation in 2013.

The MPs want Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce a multi-year extension to the scheme in his Budget on 3 March to give confidence to the industry to train more installers and engineers.

This demand is echoed by the government’s advisory climate change committee, which says ministers need to spend £4bn a year into the next decade to tackle the problem. The chancellor has currently committed £1bn for one year.

The issue underpins the UK’s international credibility as head of this November’s UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The UK cannot meet its own carbon emissions targets unless it radically cuts emissions from homes.

Homes warmed by gas central heating will need to shift to low-carbon sources in the coming decades – most likely heat pumps which act like a fridge in reverse to heat the home.

For people campaigning for warmer homes with fewer carbon emissions, this is Groundhog Day, as it is only five years ago the government closed its Green Deal programme, which offered loans to homeowners to insulate their properties.

It was a bad deal, and cheaper to get a loan from the bank.

The environment audit committee heard last November that 1,200 companies had registered with TrustMark – the accredited certifying authority. MPs say the government admits this number has only slightly increased since then, to 1,300 companies.

The committee’s chairman, Philip Dunne said: “The principle of the green homes grant should be commended. It is a timely initiative not only to boost energy efficiency of homes – which is urgently needed to stem carbon emissions – but to address our growing unemployment crisis triggered by the pandemic.

“But unless it’s overhauled and extended, this scheme will fail to deliver its ambition.

 ”Issuing vouchers is continuing at snail’s pace,” he said.

Mr Dunne said many of the builders and installers are in limbo as a result of the time taken to approve applications, and some are even having to lay off skilled workers as orders have been stalled pending confirmation of vouchers.

A government spokesman said ministers have asked the scheme administrator to pay money owed to installers and sort out applications “as a matter of urgency.”

Checks on installations were vital to avoid fraud, the spokesman said.

He explained that payment to installers is a four-step process. It requires the customer to confirm the work has been completed, the installer to lodge the work, the scheme administrator to undertake scheme checks – all before they can proceed to payment.

The spokesman did not comment on the request from MPs – and also from many campaign groups – for a long-term funding plan to give the industry the confidence to invest in training.

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