UK to scrap flagship green homes policy

UK ministers are scrapping a flagship £1.5bn environmental initiative launched only last year to upgrade England’s homes with better insulation and low carbon heating, following problems with its administration.

The UK business department said on Saturday that the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme, which was launched by chancellor Rishi Sunak last year as part of efforts to support more “green jobs”, would close to new applications at the end of the month, a year earlier than expected. The policy was also designed to tackle Britain’s inefficient, leaky homes, which account for around a fifth of total carbon dioxide emissions.

The initiative allowed homeowners in England to claim up to £5,000 off works such as installing an electric heat pump or insulation, or up to £10,000 if they were from a low income household. But installers had reported severe problems with its administration, including delays to issuing the vouchers required to access the discounts and paying companies once they had completed the work.

The decision to close the scheme early comes after the government had already pulled much of the funding for the £1.5bn initiative, a move that had attracted strong opposition from both green campaigners and installers. Ministers had previously blamed poor take-up for its decision to reduce funding by more than £1bn, a claim that was contested by the insulation and low carbon heating industry, which had called for the problems to be fixed.

The business department said on Saturday that the Green Homes Grant scheme had been “designed to provide a short-term economic boost while tackling our contribution to climate change”, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said only in November that he wanted the initiative to run until March 2022 to “help the country build back greener and . . . reach the UK’s key target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050”.

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Applications made before the end of the month would be honoured and any vouchers already issued could be extended upon request, the government said. It added that it would make an additional £300m available for a separate initiative through which local authorities in England upgrade properties inhabited by low income households with measures such as low carbon heating.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at E3G, a climate change think-tank, said the end of the scheme was a “tragedy that was avoidable”.

“There was plenty of demand for the grants but the scheme was plagued by incompetent administration. The reality is that we can’t get to net-zero without decarbonising our homes. A new grant scheme must now replace it which can get grants out the door fast, with long term funding to give business the confidence to invest,” Matthew added.

Shadow climate change minister Matthew Pennycook said the additional £300m for the local authority scheme “doesn’t even come close to plugging the investment gap created by the government’s decision to slash more than £1bn from its Green Homes Grant scheme and then scrap it altogether”.

“Ministers might talk a good game on energy efficiency but their staggering ineptitude when it comes to decarbonising the country’s housing stock speaks for itself,” Pennycook added.

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic, noted that the country was hosting a global climate conference in seven months “at which we’re supposed to be leading the world on climate action”.

“But we cannot expect anyone to think we’re a credible leader when our own policies on climate action are going in the wrong direction,” she said.

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