Plans to decarbonise 29 million UK homes are at risk because adaptations are too complicated, a coalition of consumer and industry groups has warned.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Citizens Advice, Which?, Aldersgate Group, and the Federation of Master Builders have urged the government to work with them to address the obstacles currently faced by consumers and ensure lessons from previous energy efficiency schemes are learned.
According to the coalition, by making the decarbonisation process as easy as possible for the public to engage with and understand, the government can maintain public trust and support and realise the benefits of emissions cuts, safer and warmer homes, and innovation and jobs.
The group warns that the process of installing low-carbon heating, upgrading insulation, and installing smart technologies is currently time-consuming, confusing, and stressful, adding that researching and choosing the right technology, finding a reputable installer, and having the work completed demands huge amounts of knowledge, time, and effort.
And they caution that thing go wrong too often, with the process of making adaptations frequently beset by problems, including poor installation, technologies not working as expected, and people facing difficulties fixing things when they go fail.
The coalition is also urging the government to avoid the mistakes of past energy efficiency schemes, such as leaving people struggling with damp and mould due to poorly installed insulation. Others have suffered damage to their homes, leaving them with long-term problems that were expensive, disruptive, and distressing to resolve.
Despite recent improvements, current consumer protections are not ready for the pace and scale of the work needed to improve millions of UK homes, the coalition says.
The group is calling on the government to take the opportunity to fix these gaps through its upcoming Net Zero Strategy and put in place a long-term strategy to help households overcome the barriers to adapting their homes for the net-zero transition.
The coalition has highlighted three key areas:
Information – from installing low-carbon heating to upgrading insulation, it’s confusing for people to know what steps to take and what technologies to install. People need more accessible and unbiased information to help make the right changes to their homes.
Consumer protections – the consumer protection landscape must be fit for purpose. If protections don’t keep up with the pace of change, the door will be opened to scammers and rogue traders. Previous energy efficiency schemes have been marred by such problems – which also began to emerge with the Green Homes Grant.
Costs – many people will need financial support to make changes to their homes. There needs to be a comprehensive long-term policy framework that provides certainty for businesses and consumers, which offers financial support such as predictable and well-advertised grants, low-cost loans and financing.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our evidence is clear. Right now, making green changes to homes is too confusing and too often things go wrong for those trying to do the right thing. The public are behind the net-zero transition, but they need the right information and tools, particularly when it comes to adapting their home.
“By getting things right now, the government can give people the confidence to make changes and play their part in getting to net zero.”
Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?, said: “Decarbonising millions of households across the UK is a vital, but complex component of the government’s net-zero strategy, and its success will depend on ensuring consumers are supported in transitioning to low carbon heating systems, which will involve radical changes to their home.
“The level of support consumers need must not be underestimated, and we are urging the government to ensure its net-zero policy has provisions to help consumers navigate the heating market, through access to the right information, strong consumer protections, and if needed, financial support.”
Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said: “Cutting emissions from homes is a significant part of achieving net-zero emissions but the transition also presents a real opportunity to improve the quality of the housing stock and the affordability of energy bills across the country.
“The government has a significant opportunity with the upcoming Net Zero Strategy to set a clear direction of travel through predictable regulatory targets, easily accessible policy incentives and much improved information and local support measures. It is vital that energy efficiency and low-carbon heat schemes are placed on a long-term footing, so that industry can invest, train its workforce, and grow consumer confidence.”
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “With our homes consuming 35% of all energy in the UK and emitting 20% of our total carbon dioxide emissions, it’s clear that net zero will only be possible alongside a long-term plan to green our homes. Short-term interventions, such as the prematurely closed Green Homes Grants Scheme, served only to undermine, rather than create, certainty for both consumers and builders.”
“Any policy framework must be long-term, allowing time for local building firms to complete the relevant training to retrofit homes. Homeowners need to be informed about what changes need to happen to their home to make it environmentally-friendly. We recommend each building should have a renovation passport, setting out the path to net zero. We also need a locally-led approach that is sensitive to local communities’ needs.”