The recent Commons report on the failure of the government’s green deal campaign, lambasted as abysmal by MPs, has highlighted the urgent need for the government to learn from its mistakes and implement a comprehensive UK energy efficiency scheme.
It’s high time for the government to use both carrot and stick – inspiration and legislation – to make UK homes warmer and healthier. I therefore propose that we revive the great British refurb, to harness Britons’ enthusiasm for home improvement and make our homes energy efficient. The scheme was originally launched back in 2009, ahead of the green deal launch in 2013. But now is the time to bring it back, using the carrot of our inexhaustible desire for lifestyle aspirations and backed by the stick of legislation, with a new set of national energy efficiency ratings that homes would have to meet in order to be rented or sold.
This may sound drastic, but there is general consensus within the energy industry that tackling energy inefficiency within the UK’s housing stock is the best way to fight fuel poverty. With more than 70% of the properties that will be in existence in 2050 are already standing, the UK requires a nationwide programme of energy efficiency retrofitting.
July’s report on the green deal by the Commons public accounts committee has revealed that only 14,000 loans, costing £50m, were provided to households – far short of the £1.1bn target previously predicted by the government.
Here are four things the government should do now to stimulate a successful energy efficient programme:
The failure of the green deal showed what a tough sell energy efficiency retrofitting is. It’s often confusing and expensive for households, who would probably rather spend their spare cash on a holiday. A different approach to promoting retrofitting is necessary.
The great British refurb would be a national home makeover programme, initiated by government but franchised to the private sector. It would highlight the benefits of refurbishing, in terms of comfort, style and family health. There would be features and examples by famous interior designers, architects and DIY gurus. It would be designed to appeal to British householders’ lifestyle aspirations.
Like right to buy, which offers mortgage lenders a government guarantee against a portion of private mortgage borrowing, so a new right-to-refurb scheme would enable lower interest refurb loans or higher loan-to-value limits for extending existing mortgages. Backed by government guarantee, borrowers would be able to get lower interest loans from mortgage lenders, ot extend their existing mortgages, to enable them to refurb their homes, The government would then leave it to the market to promote such deals to potential customers.
The successful decent homes programme, introduced in 2000, placed a statutory requirement on social housing providers to achieve specific thermal standards by 2010. The government should introduce a progressive set of minimum national energy efficiency ratings, below which properties could not be sold or let. This would create an ambitious, but achievable, path to national energy efficiency improvement and create demand over a timescale that private enterprise can plan for and respond to.
Some flexibility would be required in this statutory improvement regime, such as a cap on the cumulative cost a property owner is expected to pay, but this combination of inspiration and legislation is required to realise the potential inherent in its housing stock.
People in fuel poverty cannot afford the energy efficiency measures that would reduce their bills and, despite the green deal being heralded as a key policy for helping to lift people out of fuel poverty, the government is unable to determine whether it has had any impact at all on those unable to afford to heat their home.
Instead of relying on households, we need long term strategies to build relationships with local authorities, health organisations and charities in order to identify those in fuel poverty and tackle it effectively. This cannot be done against a background of constantly changing, three-year targets, implemented by short-term, cash flow-focused energy supply companies. A long term requirement should be placed on the electricity distribution network operators to ensure that all fuel poor households in their area receive the necessary retrofitting.