Green Homes Grant voucher scheme scrapped well short of target and replaced with direct grants to councils
The Conservative government has been accused of worsening the coming heating bill crisis by ending a successful home insulation programme just as fuel prices start to surge.
Opposition politicians said ministers needed to introduce an emergency insulation programme ahead of a winter winter of surging bill – as new figures show millions of people expect to be unable to heat their homes.
The Green Homes Grant offered households vouchers towards the cost of insulation, but it was was scrapped in Rishi Sunak’s last budget and replaced with a new scheme that gave funding to local authorities to distribute the cash.
But Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey told The Independent that the new scheme had failed because it has insulated only 3,000 homes since coming into effect in October – “no bigger than a large village”.
The liberals says targeting the worst insulation Band F homes and converting them to Band A homes would save households on average £557 in heating bills. Those in more common Band D properties would still save an average of £202 more with an upgrade.
The government said the claims were “spurious and theoretical at best” and that it would upgrade 50,000 homes of low-income families living in the worst-insulated buildings this year.
It comes as new research from housing charity Shelter finds that 1 in 4 renters cannot afford to keep their home warm because of soaring fuel costs and other government policies.
The surge in heating bills caused by rising gas prices is to hit at the same time as the government’s cut to universal credit, with the furlough scheme also set to end on 30 September.
Over a third of private renters (36 per cent) in England, equivalent to two million households, now receive housing benefit to help pay their rent – up from 25 per cent before the pandemic.
YouGov polling commissioned by Shelter found that 26 per cent of adult renters in England – or 5.3 million people – already say they cannot keep their homes warm in winter. The polling was conducted in April, well before the latest price hikes.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that the “triple whammy of the furlough scheme ending, cuts to Universal Credit and rocketing fuel prices may be the final straw for many renters barely hanging on to their homes”.
She added: “We are facing a perfect storm for homelessness to rise, and the new Housing Secretary must get a handle on the situation before winter arrives.
“Our research shows that one in four renters couldn’t keep their homes warm in winter, even before this latest price hike.”
Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, who served as energy secretary in the last coalition government, told The Independent that an emergency insulation programme should begin this winter.
“This Conservative government has hit household finances with an energy bill bombshell this winter. By slashing a grant which could have saved cash strapped households hundreds of pounds amidst gas prices escalating, the Conservatives have worsened the energy crisis for millions of people across the country,” he said.
“This winter people could face the stark reality that they may not be able to heat their homes. At the same time, bills are soaring and food supplies could run short. We are facing a winter of discontent.
“The Government must make amends for their unforgivable mistake of scrapping the Green Homes Grant. I am calling for an emergency package of support for households which are not properly insulated. This time the scheme needs to be long term, both to make sure suppliers back it and so it also helps tackle the climate emergency.
“Not only should there be a mass insulation scheme rolled out across the country, but those without modern insulation should receive help in paying their bills during the winter energy crisis. It is the Conservative’s government fault, so it is only right they foot the bill.”
Business Minister Lord Callanan this week told MPs this week that only 80,000 of the vouchers were issued under the Green Homes Grant scheme before it was scrapped in Marc.
The minister said the figure end well short of the projected target of 600,000 because the scheme had been rushed.
“It’s fair to say the Green Homes Grant has not been one of our finest success stories. It clearly did not fulfil the huge expectations,” he told a select committee, blaming “fairly challenging timelines”.
A Government spokesperson said it was committed the “going further and faster” on insulation and said the UK had a good record on the issue.
“These claims are spurious and theoretical at best given the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme was successful in delivering 80,000 upgrades to homes. In reality the UK has a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes, with 40 per cent now above Energy Performance Band C, up from just 9 per cent in 2008,” they said.
“We are committed to going further and faster, which is why we’re continuing to invest £9 billion in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, including £1.3 billion this year alone to upgrade an additional 50,000 low-income households with the worst energy performance certificates, while supporting hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs.”