Government ‘failing to grasp’ challenge of decarbonising homes, MPs say

A white house with its doors and window frames painted green.

The government is “failing to grasp” the challenge of decarbonising the UK’s housing stock, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The Environment Audit Committee has warned that the government’s legally binding target of making the UK net-zero by 2050 will not be achieved “unless urgent action is taken to improve energy efficiency of homes this decade”.

Around 19 million homes across the UK need energy efficiency upgrades to meet Energy Performance (EPC) band C by 2050, but the government so far appears to be underestimating the scale of this task.

In a new report, the committee has criticised schemes such as the Green Homes Grant and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, saying they are “poorly designed” and are “failing to make a big impact”.

MPs have expressed concern that of the £9.2 billion promised by the government for energy efficiency measures in its 2019 general election manifesto, just over £4 billion of it has been announced.

The committee has called on the government to frontload funding to roll out its housing decarbonisation schemes immediately if the UK is to hit its 2050 net zero target.

The EAC chair Philip Dunne MP, said: “Making 19 million homes ready for net zero Britain by 2050 is an enormous challenge that the government appears to have not yet grasped. In the next 29 years, the government must improve energy efficiency upgrades and roll out low carbon heating measures: a material start must be made now.

“Government investment to improve energy efficiency has been woefully inadequate. The £9 billion that the government pledged at the election was welcome, but 16 months on, there appears to be no plan nor meaningful delivery.

“Further schemes that endure must be rolled out, boosting the government’s credibility with householders and their contractors that it is determined to decarbonise the nation’s homes. This will give confidence to businesses that they can invest in upskilling and green jobs.”

The committee has warned that the government appears to have underestimated the costs of decarbonising UK homes by 2050, believing the total cost to be between £35 billion and £65 billion.

However, this estimate does not factor in properties for which energy efficiency installations could be more challenging, such as properties with solid walls or in conservation areas.

Last autumn the government launched its £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme, £1.5 billion of which would be handed out through vouchers, saying that the scheme would help create new green jobs.

However, the scheme has been plagued with difficulties, with only £125 million worth of vouchers so far issued from the £1.5 billion budget. This delay in issuing vouchers has caused problems for companies who have hired staff especially to carry out decarbonisation work.

While welcoming the intent of the scheme, MPs commented that the Green Homes Grant scheme has been “laden with lengthy bureaucracy, which bizarrely has led to reports of businesses laying off staff to cover loss of income rather than creating green jobs as heralded”.

The government’s £3.8 billion Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, promised in 2019, has also so far only spent £50 million on demonstrator projects, the report added.

The report said: “The government should bring forward the allocation of the £3.8 billion of funding pledged before the 2019 general election. This would deliver cost savings at scale. This funding should be frontloaded to reap the benefits of cumulative emissions savings towards net zero.

“The government should also allow housing associations to lead bids, so as to ensure that the available funding is used quickly and effectively.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “The UK has a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes, with 40% now above EPC Band C, up from just 9% in 2008.

“However, we are committed to going further and faster, and are investing £9 billion in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, while creating hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs.

“This includes funding for the first hydrogen powered houses and allocating more than £500 million this year alone to improve the energy efficiency of 50,000 households in social and local authority housing across the UK, as we work to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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