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UK government axes green homes scheme months after launch

·3-min read
Heating Britain's homes makes up about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Photo: Getty
Heating Britain's homes makes up about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Photo: Getty

Britain's government is scrapping a flagship green homes scheme introduced just over six months ago, which was aimed at upgrading homes in England with better insulation and low carbon heating.

The Green Homes Grant — part of prime minister Boris Johnson's aims to help the country "build back greener" and chancellor Rishi's Sunak's efforts to build more green jobs to restart the economy following COVID-19 — will close to new applicants on Wednesday.

Those whose applications for vouchers under the scheme were approved will receive any money owed.

Chancellor's Rishi Sunak announced the scheme in July last year. It allowed people to apply for up to £5,000 ($6,900) to fund green renovations on their homes.

Under the scheme, the government would cover at least two thirds of the costs of renovations and low income households could claim up to £10,000 to cover the full costs.

Watch: The £2bn Green Home Grants scheme explained

Around 19 million homes in Britain need to be insulated in order for the UK to reach its net zero emissions target by 2050. Heating Britain's homes makes up about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change.

But, the scheme, launched in September 2020, which was introduced to help tackle the issue, has struggled to take-off. It has reached just 10% of the 600,000 homes Sunak promised would be improved.

By the end of February, there were over 123,000 applications for the grant. However, only 28,000 vouchers had been issued and only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed.

The government said that applications were low and many people were afraid to apply as they were worried they would catch the coronavirus from the contractors coming into their homes.

The £300m previously allocated for the scheme will now go into a separate initiative administered by local authorities, targeted at lower income households.

READ MORE: 'Sharp rebound' anticipated for UK private sector as Britain's economy reopens

UK's business Kwasi Kwarteng said improving energy efficiency remains a top priority for the government. "Upgrading the country's homes with energy efficiency measures means we can cut emissions and save people money on their energy bills."

He added that a "funding boost" means more households in England are able to access "vital grants" via local authorities.

"This latest announcement takes our total energy efficiency spending to over £1.3bn in the next financial year, giving installers the certainty they need to plan ahead, create new jobs and train the next generation of builders, plumbers and tradespeople," Kwarteng said in a statement.

Campaigners have voiced disappointment over the end of the scheme and said that it was a "tragedy that was avoidable."

Responding to the news, Ed Matthew, campaigns director at E3G, a climate change think-tank, said: "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.

He called for a "new grant scheme" to replace the green homes grant which "can get grants out the door fast, with long term funding to give business the confidence to invest."

Matthew Pennycook, the shadow climate change minister said that the £300m doesn't "come close" to plugging the investment hole left behind due to the government's decision to cut over £1bn from the scheme and then axe it.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace UK head of climate, Kate Blagojevic reflected on the UK's upcoming COP26 event and said that the country is supposed to be a leader on climate action. Adding: "We cannot expect anyone to think we’re a credible leader when our own policies on climate action are going in the wrong direction."

The UK is getting ready to host the COP26 — the UN Climate Summit — in November this year.

Watch: Lights go out across Europe to mark Earth Hour