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Domestic Energy Efficiency: Retrofitting

Volume 810: debated on Monday 1 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what policies they plan to put in place in relation to the use of domestic energy efficiency retrofitting to meet their goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

My Lords, the UK has made good progress in improving the energy performance of existing homes but reaching net zero will be challenging. We are responding to this challenge by introducing long-term minimum standards, providing financial support where it is needed most and getting the market conditions right so that people can access tailored advice, green finance and quality supply chain. We will set out further details in our heat and building strategy in due course.

My Lords, I know that the Minister will not be able to pre-empt the Budget but, given the abject failure of the green homes grant, can he reassure me that the Government are well advanced with plans to bring in a quick, simple and workable scheme to inject government funds—ideally with the administration not outsourced to a US multinational—to deliver the £65 billion in investment for the 2020s that he told me in a Written Answer in November would need to be spent on domestic retrofit this decade to meet the net-zero 2050 target?

The noble Baroness is correct that I cannot pre-empt the Budget, but I agree that there have been significant challenges in getting the green homes grant voucher scheme up and running. We are working closely with the scheme administrator to streamline the voucher issuance and redemption process as a top priority. The noble Baroness might be interested to know that, as of 22 February, we have issued 25,000 vouchers against a total of 110,000 applications.

My Lords, the £1.5 billion green homes grant scheme was launched by the Chancellor last July with a target of 600,000 homes. It was going to reduce carbon, create 16,000 jobs and tackle fuel poverty. The Prime Minister extended it for a year in November, yet here we are in March with it on the verge of being scrapped. As the Minister said, fewer than 25,000 grants have been made and less than £100 million of the £1.5 billion has been spent. What lessons will the Government take from this total failure into a much-needed plan B?

We are of course always keen to learn lessons. I acknowledged in the previous answer that there have been significant challenges in getting the scheme up and running, but I assure the noble Baroness that considerable effort is going into improving its performance.

The Minister cannot pre-empt the Budget, but someone is briefing the press that the green homes grant will be slashed on Wednesday. Our ambassadors are warning that COP 26 is in danger because of the perceptions abroad of government action. Does the Minister agree that there must be a review of where the Government are going with their green policies, very quickly?

We are progressing well with our green policies. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan indicated the route map forward, and we will be publishing the heat and building strategy shortly.

My Lords, a vital part of our efforts to tackle climate change and reach net-zero targets is catching CO2-emitting boilers in households across the country. This is a painstaking and expensive job that must be rolled out household by household. Can the Minister confirm that the commitment to installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 still stands, and if it does, are the incentive arrangements in place to deliver this adequate?

The noble Baroness is right that these targets are a challenge, but I can confirm that the target remains the same for heat pump installations. We will set out further details in the heat and buildings strategy. She will be aware of the tremendous commitments that we made in the manifesto to spend money in this area.

Does the Minister recognise that, contrary to his earlier assertion that we have made good progress on energy efficiency upgrades, at the rate of progress achieved by the green homes grant scheme it would take 480 years to retrofit all the homes in the UK that need it? Does he also recognise the huge damage that the stop-start, short-term nature of the scheme has done to industry confidence, which is vital if industry is to invest in the skills required to undertake this immense and vital task?

It would of course be best to have long-term guarantees of funding, but we continue to have these discussions internally. I agreed earlier that the green homes grant scheme has been a challenge. We are working hard to improve its performance because we must get it working and up and running to bring about confidence in the supply chain.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the advent of another huge government subsidy scheme will be widely welcomed by cowboys? Can he assure me that the new scheme will work closely with local authorities to ensure that those thinking of having their homes retrofitted can find a reputable person to undertake this easily and quickly?

My noble friend’s reference to local authorities reminds me that the other part of the scheme, the local authority delivery scheme, is working extremely well. We are working closely with a number of local authorities. He is right that we need to invest more in training. We have awarded more than £7.5 million of funding to support the development of new and better retrofit technologies.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government agree with the Sustainable Energy Association—I declare an interest as its president—and the Committee on Climate Change, that a target for all domestic properties to reach energy performance certificate band C by 2035 is important and realistic as the halfway marker to achieving the Government’s net-zero goal by 2050?

We remain committed to getting as many homes as possible to EPC band C by 2035 where it is practical, effective and affordable.

My Lords, the Government heralded the green homes grant scheme as a key programme for retrofitting and net zero, but the scheme has descended into a fiasco, as we have heard, with small businesses not being paid, cuts to funding for the next year and the slow installation of measures. According to the Government’s own statistics, nearly 61,000 voucher applications were from low-income households, but only 799 measures have been installed for those families—just 1.3%. Can the Minister explain why the scheme is failing low-income families so badly?

I am not sure that the noble Baroness’s figures are correct, but I will write to her with the correct information. The scheme is not failing low-income families. We have maximum grants of £10,000 available, many of which are being taken up by low-income families. We have issued thousands of vouchers to installers to retrofit works in low-income families’ homes.

What consideration are the Government giving to reducing or eliminating VAT on energy-efficient products and services, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee? I was always told that EU membership prevented the Government doing that, so what is to stop them now?

The noble Baroness is tempting me down the same path as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, of trying to predict what the Chancellor might announce in his Budget. She will need a little patience.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the proposed energy efficiency rating measurement does not consider vital differences in properties? For instance, rural properties are less likely to be heated by mains gas, and old rural houses with solid walls have a thermal capacity that is not considered. Consequently, it will be disproportionately difficult and expensive for them to be adapted. Will these differing circumstances be recognised?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. I have received a number of representations from rural landlords and others on these matters. We recognise that improving older rural properties may be more challenging. That is why we have provided an incentive for off-gas homes to be insulated under the current eco-system and will focus the future home upgrade grant on poorer performing homes. The noble Lord will also be aware that we produced a range of exemptions under our minimum standards regulations for homes that are too expensive or too difficult to improve.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as president of National Energy Action. Will my noble friend work closely with bodies such as NEA to ensure that the least-efficient homes will obtain the highest amount of warm home grants and other grants that are available through the government schemes?

We work with a wide range of organisations. My noble friend is right to point out that it is important that we target the poorest-performing homes for the first and most urgent action. We will certainly do that as far as possible under many of the current schemes.