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Green Homes Grant Scheme

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the Green Homes Grant scheme.

The green homes grant voucher scheme opened for applications in September 2020 and so far has received over 58,000 applications. There will be an independent evaluation of the processes and effectiveness of the voucher scheme, including a comprehensive analysis of scheme outcomes and evidence collected from scheme applicants and other stakeholders. This will begin this month and will run until 2023.

My Lords, given that the figures the Minister has given us show that the scheme has achieved less than 10% of its original target, does he recognise that no programme to upgrade the 28 million homes that require it will be successful if it is designed as a short-term stimulus measure, as this scheme was? Rather than downgrading quality requirements, will the Government therefore commit to a long-term sustained scheme over five or 10 years, which would incentivise the building industry to develop the skills base and create the jobs required to deliver such a major programme?

We are not downgrading the quality requirements, but the noble Lord makes a good point. We have had a number of these schemes over the years and we will look at what we can do in the future as well.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, made a very good point: this needs to be a long-term scheme that gives the supply chain confidence to invest in and expand the workforce and create new green jobs. Can the Minister assure me that, in collecting the data that he says will come from the applicants, he will look at the assessment needed not only of the scheme’s contribution to carbon reduction but of its contribution to reducing fuel poverty in less well-off households? Can he tell us when we will see what proportion of households whose applications have been approved are in receipt of benefits and what proportion are landlords whose applications will benefit their tenants?

We have already listened to feedback and announced the extension of the scheme until March 2022. We will always listen to feedback. I gave the figures earlier for the number of applications that have been received. In due course, we will a provide further breakdown of those figures.

The number of contractors engaged with the scheme appears, not least in the north and the Midlands, to be remarkably low. What will the Government do to incentivise more contractors so that issues such as the replacement of oil heating systems can be delivered through this scheme? There appear to be no contractors doing it anywhere across the whole of the north and the Midlands.

More than 1,300 companies are registered with TrustMark so far, of which 765 are registered with the scheme, including many businesses that operate nationally with substantial capacity to carry out work across the country, but the noble Lord makes a good point. We are well aware that we need to get more contractors and installers signed up to the scheme. We are actively working with TrustMark and the certification bodies to do that, but we need to ensure that the essential quality standards are met.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he has made an excellent start with the Green Homes Grant scheme? I spoke to former constituents. However, just one element causes a problem: the need for an urgent review of the smart meter installation programme, particularly for those who want to take up this green project and have an old smart meter, which means they cannot switch suppliers. Will my noble friend look at this small handicap to those taking part?

I thank my noble friend for his question. The smart meter scheme is not part of the Green Homes Grant scheme. It is a separate scheme, for which I also have responsibility, but I would be happy to talk to him separately about the issues he raises.

On Monday, the Minister announced that building contractors delivering the Green Homes Grant scheme no longer need to be registered with TrustMark, be certified with PAS or be MCS compliant, thus lowering the standard of entry for those undertaking work. This comes at a time when there is also an acute shortage of professional retrofit assessors, who are essential to check and sign off completed projects. That leaves owner-occupiers who are trying to do the right thing and make their homes energy efficient increasingly exposed to undetected bad workmanship or fraud. Exactly how does the Minister propose to increase the number of assessors, safeguard consumers and prevent this vital scheme getting a reputation for dodgy work and becoming a wild west waste of money?

We absolutely want to ensure that that is not the case. The noble Lord is incorrect. Main contractors still need to be registered with TrustMark. They also need PAS certification or be on a pathway to it. We are working with contractors to make sure that more are registered. We are also talking to the certification bodies. I have met a number of them to ensure that more contractors are signed up to the scheme. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the quality of the scheme and the standards of work carried out are of priority importance and we will make sure that that happens.

My Lords, a nationally-focused, directly-funded scheme for installing energy efficiency measures and efficient heating for fuel-poor homeowners and private renters exists in Wales and Scotland. The recently introduced Green Homes Grant scheme obviously provides funding—albeit less generous—in England through local authorities but not through a single, efficient, focused nationwide scheme with high quality standards and an easy customer journey. Will the Minister look to improve the delivery mechanisms of the Green Homes Grant scheme to match the clarity of a single, focused nationwide initiative as part of the review process that he has just announced?

I understand the noble Lord’s point, but we specifically designed the local authority delivery element of the scheme to directly target owner-occupiers in private and social rented sectors but also to allow local authorities themselves to be responsible for the design of those schemes so that they more closely matched the requirements of their area. If we had a national instruction on how to do it, I think that would cause other problems. On balance, it is probably best to allow local authorities to decide how it works best in their areas.

My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Sustainable Energy Association. Bearing in mind that there have been delays in issuing the vouchers for Green Homes Grant spending, which are leading to a likely underspend in this financial year, can the Minister confirm that the Government will carry over this phase 1 underspend beyond the end of March into phase 2 spending, so that valuable funding support is not lost?

We announced the extension of the scheme until March 2022, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware. In the 2020 spending review, the Chancellor allocated over £1 billion to make public sector buildings and homes greener, including £320 million for this scheme in 2021-22.

With the initial plan for the Green Homes Grant to last only nine months now extended a further 12 months until March 2022, there must be doubts about the ambition of this scheme against the long-term challenge of making homes more energy efficient. With only 5.6% of applicants having had their applications approved and with only a single household receiving a voucher, can the Minister tell the House what success looks like for this scheme? For example, what maintenance of a set maximum response time for applicants will be achieved and how many of the 19 million homes EPC-rated D or worse will be improved through the scheme?

The noble Lord asks a lot of questions. I think his figures are incorrect. We had 58,000 applications and have issued almost 11,000 vouchers to those applicants. Another 11,000 are being processed and 35,000 have gone back to the applicants for further information or clarification of their quotes, et cetera. We keep all elements of the scheme under review. We announced the extension to March 2022 in response to the feedback we received from the noble Lord and others.

My Lords, the sector that will deliver home energy efficiency measures wants statutory targets, such as those for climate change, to give it confidence to invest in equipment and training. The Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, in the other place has talked specifically of the benefits of statutory targets in driving action. Will the Government enact into legislation the targets for home energy efficiency they have already promised?

My Lords, I thank the Minister and his officials for a very helpful meeting in the autumn on this topic. Can he confirm that the original requirement for applicants to use vouchers for at least one primary measure, before becoming eligible for a secondary measure, has now been removed?

No. At present, we keep the primary and secondary elements of the scheme, because we think that is the best way of delivering the maximum carbon savings that I know the noble Lord is also keen on. We keep the scheme under constant review and listen to suggestions for improvements from him and others on how we can make it more effective. The noble Lord’s feedback is valuable, and I will bear it in mind.