The Green Homes Grant failed, but how could it have worked?

The thorough and proper insulation of homes used to be considered just an issue for the heating and cooling of a property. In recent years, there has been a shift in focus toward its energy efficiency capabilities. As part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and the environment, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the £2 billion Green Home Grant in July 2020. It is aimed at helping homeowners and landlords fund the cost of upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes, covering 600,000 properties nationwide.
Indeed, the Government has good motivation for encouraging British citizens to insulate their properties better – it’s estimated that around 19 million homes nationwide need further insulation and/or energy efficiency measures installed in the next few years, or the emissions from their gas boilers will block any chance of the UK meeting its climate change targets.
However, in a shock statement, the Government confirmed it would set a deadline and less than a week later, all new applications had to be submitted by 31st March 2021. No official reason was given for the scheme’s abrupt ending, but the press soon sought relevant data and discovered that just 10% of the total 600,000 homes had successfully received funding. There were no two ways about it – the Green Homes Grant scheme had failed.

So what exactly was the Green Homes Grant?

The Green Homes Grant initiative allowed homeowners and landlords to apply for vouchers to cover up to two-thirds of the cost of upgrading the energy efficiency of their property, up to £5,000 (£10,000 for households on low income or certain benefits).
Those eligible for the grant had to apply by the deadline but also had to own their own home (including shared ownership and long leaseholders), own their own park home or be a residential landlord in the private or social sector (including housing associations and local authorities). The vouchers were not to be used for new-build properties that had never been lived in before, as they were built according to the most recent building standards and should already meet optimum energy efficiency levels.

What could the vouchers obtained under the Green Homes Grant be spent on?

Those who applied for the Green Homes Grant and successfully received vouchers had a range of house improvements they could carry out using the vouchers. The measures included ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ categories of improvements, and each voucher must be used to install at least one primary measure.
These included (but weren’t limited to):

  • Insulation: solid wall (internal or external), cavity wall, underfloor (solid floor or suspended floor), loft, flat roof, pitched roof, room-in-roof and park home insulation.
  • Heat pumps: air source, ground source and hybrid.
  • Solar thermal measures: liquid-filled flat plate and evacuated tube collector.
  • Biomass boilers.

Secondary measures included (but weren’t limited to):

  • Draught proofing of windows and/or doors.
  • Double or triple glazing.
  • Secondary glazing.
  • External energy-efficient replacement doors.
  • Heating controls and heating insulation: hot water tank thermostat, hot water tank insulation, appliance thermostats, smart heating controls, zone controls, intelligent delayed start thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves.

The vouchers covered the materials and labour required for the installation of these energy efficiency methods, as well as VAT. All installations had to be done by a TrustMark-accredited professional who met PAS and MCS standards, not the homeowner, a household member, or any of their immediate family.

What happened to the rest of the money that wasn’t given out?

The money that had been allocated for the Green Homes Grant that wasn’t distributed through the scheme was diverted to a similar programme targeting lower-income households, encouraging them to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes. This scheme is administered and managed by local authorities rather than through central Government.

Why did the Green Homes Grant fail?

There was lots of speculation as to why the Green Homes Grant failed, but there seems to have been a combination of factors at play.
When they did eventually comment on the scheme, the Government suggested that homeowners were reluctant to apply for the grant because they were fearful that allowing contractors into the houses to install the energy efficiency measures would increase their chances of catching coronavirus.
Indeed, the scheme did come at a time when many were facing financial ruin, and unemployment was at a record high as a result of the ongoing pandemic.  Therefore, funding the remaining one-third of home improvements would have been out of reach for many.
Anecdotally, there was concern about contractors overcharging to take advantage of the scheme, with one newspaper hearing from a joiner who said he had witnessed a builder carry out £3,000 worth of work on a home charge £5,000 in voucher payment. Yet many in installation industries complained of not ever receiving such work at all. With the stringent checks carried out on the expenditure of the vouchers being so time-consuming, some firms went out of business before they were ever able to receive payment.

How could the Green Homes Grant have worked?

It’s impossible to deny that lots could have been done differently with the Green Homes Grant, and it definitely could have been a success if implemented in a better way. Rooms for improvement or changes include:

  • Better timing – in the midst of a global pandemic where people were at their financial lowest and wary of inviting others into their homes seems a tricky time for many.
  • A set list of installers – provided a list was adequately spread to offer geographical coverage and full-service to all across the country, a designated ‘approved suppliers’ list could have sped up financial checks and lessened the misuse of any funds. It would also have negated the inability of homeowners to find a contractor able to help them in some areas.
  • More marketing – although the scheme was fairly well-publicised to those ‘in the know’ and those who frequented consumer champion websites, it fell by the wayside of mainstream publicity, not least because of the timing, as mentioned above. Those who stood to benefit the most from the grant were the least likely to have heard of it, so more targeted, localised marketing could have changed this.
  • Easier payback – provides better and quicker access for installers and contractors, ensuring they receive their money in a timely way and are not out-of-pocket on the work they have completed.
  • Contractor help – encouragement for more contractors to become accredited installers before the scheme took off and provided more homeowners choices.

It’s fantastic that society is beginning to appreciate the importance of energy efficiency and other sustainability initiatives. Still, there is little doubt that the events of 2020 and beyond have impacted hugely on their popularity and priority across world agendas. This scheme was a pioneering one and had great potential, but unfortunately, its lack of accurate execution saw it inadvertently fail.
Multipipe focuses on and prioritises supplying only the highest possible quality products to builders, installers, and engineers in the UK. We do and will continue to do all we can to help facilitate the brilliant work being done across the country in warming, optimising and sustaining homes nationwide to benefit those living in them and the environment around them.