Lies by emission

The Green Homes Grant had the potential to create new jobs and lift millions out of fuel poverty. Six months later the £1.5bn scheme was cancelled. So what happens next?

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Shambolic. Misleading. These are just a couple of words used to describe a scheme that should have lifted homeowners out of fuel poverty, but instead left them anxious and confused.

“I was looking forward to being able to keep my house warm in winter and hopefully prevent mould and damp coming back, but I’ve had six months of constant stress,” says Anna Rogers*, a single parent from Wolverhampton.

She has had multiple health problems including kidney stones, sepsis and depression, and says that her health has deteriorated as a result of the constant stress of chasing up the vouchers for Green Homes Grant improvements.

“I’ve been lied to repeatedly, passed around from one place to another and fobbed off so many times. It’s just been awful.”

Rogers eventually received her first voucher, which she exchanged for cavity wall insulation last month, but it wasn’t easy.

“I sent off dozens of emails to my local scheme coordinator, and spent hours on the phone chasing up the vouchers.

“I even sent a letter to my local MP and [business minister] Lord Martin Callanan. I just got a very generic responseexplaining how the scheme works.”

The government’s Green Homes Grant was designed to make old properties warmer, greener and cheaper to run, but it quickly proved to promise much more than it was able to deliver. One criticism is that the scheme was overly complex and confusing, especially for homeowners who wanted only basic upgrades.

Applicants had to get a primary measure such as insulation or low-carbon heat source – for example, a heat pump – using the vouchers before they could qualify for an additional secondary measure like double or triple glazing, heating controls or draughtproofing.

Jonathan Atkinson, co-founder and project manager of Greater Manchester-based social enterprise Carbon Co-op, describes the scheme as unfair.

“Many householders were frustrated by the primary/secondary measures structure. Some basic but effective measures like triple-glazed windows or airtightness were ruled out because a householder didn’t want a heat pump or solid wall insulation first.”

Deborah Wroe, from Oldham, wanted to upgrade her two-bedroom Victorian terraced house. Eon, the company providing the scheme in her area, carried out an initial survey and told Wroe her house was too small for any of the heating measures. The only available option was underfloor insulation, but when the fitters came they discovered that her floor was already insulated.

Wroe describes her house as old, draughty and expensive to heat. It has basic central heating, double glazing and insulation.

“I couldn’t get any of the other options because I wasn’t eligible for either of the primary options. It was a waste of time.”

In February the government cut the Green Homes Grant funding, before deciding to scrap it entirely a month later, ministers claiming households were reluctant to apply for grants because it would mean allowing contractors into their house during the pandemic. Some of the funding was transferred to a parallel local authority-run scheme but critics said the scheme was badly run and its cancellation left a hole in the government’s environmental promises. Take-up had indeed been low, but applications were growing in the weeks before its demise.

Applications received by 31 March are being honoured but work must be completed by September. The lack of qualified installers in the North means that many householders will be left without the upgrades they were initially promised.

Ian Roberts* from Blackpool, wanted to get his living room window double glazed. “It’s currently very old single glazing and has several cracks in the glass. It’s so cold and draughty in there, so I just stay in my bedroom all the time,” he says.

Roberts, 62, applied for the vouchers in September 2020. Despite qualifying for the scheme, he has been unable to find a glazing company willing to accept the vouchers in his area. The only measure available to him, in the end, was pitched roof insulation.

“I tried every glazing company in the North West, and the nearest one still available on the scheme was in Birmingham,” he says.

“There were eight companies in the North West registered to fit double glazing, but as soon as I mentioned Green Homes Grant scheme they didn’t even want to quote. One explained they have to meet very strict criteria just to get admitted, the relevant permits and certification could cost up to £15,000, and then they had to wait months for the grant to be paid out.”

A spokesperson for the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) says the scheme is too costly and time consuming for smaller tradespeople to take part. The requirement for installers to be TrustMark-accredited and PAS2030/35-certified rules out many otherwise qualified and capable installers.

He says: “The Competent Person Scheme rules should suffice for any energy-efficient scheme. It would then open up the opportunities to most companies in the industry.”

Cancelling the scheme after only six months has led to criticism, not least because installers need time to train if supply is to match demand. As an example, there are just 950 accredited heatpump installers in the UK.

“There simply aren’t enough contractors and builders to match the scale of consumer interest, but first the supply chain needs certainty,” says Atkinson. “You can’t just pull people off the streets and put a hammer in their hands.”

Skilled tradespeople are eager to carry out work under the scheme but need the right incentives and, above all, time to train in what is a relatively new sector. Erol Tonguc, who was a general joiner before moving into retrofit, thinks the sector needs demystifying.

“A lot of contractors see it as a weird science,” he says. “There’s an air of elitism that needs breaking down, as many would be more interested if it was explained in a physical sense. With the push for renewable energy, it’s important for builders and joiners to have the skills to do retrofit in the future.”

The growing demand for retrofit creates a wealth of opportunity for jobs and training that is much needed in the wake of the pandemic, but it needs to be done over a much longer period of time.

“The government can create thousands of new jobs, and launch a green workforce of newly trained and re-trained tradespeople,” says Harriet Lamb, CEO of climate action group Ashden.

The Local Authority Delivery Scheme (LADS), into which leftover Green Homes Grant money has been channelled, goes some way to plug the gap for homeowners most in need of help. Manchester City Council, for example, has secured £3.12 million to upgrade 164 homes across the city, while £12 million has been allocated in Lancashire.

But Peter Smith, director of policy and research at fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, describes the LADS as a “postcode lottery”. He says: “Less than half of the local authorities in England that are eligible to bid have done so, or have failed to secure funding. This means residents that have been failed by the central voucher scheme will be left with nothing.”

* Names have been changed


Retrofit information

Check with your local council to find out if the LADS scheme is available in your area. You do not need to be in receipt of benefits to qualify, but you must have a household income under £30,000, and the property must have an EPC rating of D, E or F

Lancashire residents can apply via Cosy Homes In Lancashire (CHiL) at chil.uk.com or call 03306 061 488

Greater Manchester and Cumbria residents can apply via EON Energy eonenergy.com/green-homes-grant.html or call 0333 202 4820

In Yorkshire: betterhomesyorkshire.co.uk, buildingsandtrust.co.uk and yesenergysolutions.co.uk

The NEA (Action for Warm Homes) can offer advice on lowering your energy bills. Visit nea.org.uk/advice/wash-advice/ or call its advice line on 0800 304 7159

Image: Tradesman Erol Tonguc retrained to be able to carry out Green Grants work

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