The government must bring in financial incentives in its Green Deal to encourage homeowners to upgrade their homes
The notion of stamp duty reform has been kicked about by politicians and campaigners for years, and is seen by many people in the refurbishment sector as a necessary catalyst for igniting eco-refurbishment.
This doesn’t necessarily mean another shot in the arm for a struggling housing market, but rather a boost for small businesses doing the UK’s refurb work.
What is vital is that we ignore the reactionary headlines and “another green tax” responses in this week’s press, and understand the imperative to introduce such incentives, as part of the government’s new Green Deal.
Let’s remember, the driving theme of the proposed stamp duty change is: insulate your newly bought home (to cut carbon), and get cash back off your tax bill.
Improving the energy efficiency of our existing housing stock is vital in setting the UK on a pathway to meet its carbon budget targets by 2020.
Not only is eco retrofit one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of reducing residential carbon emissions, but also it offers immediate financial savings to UK householders
To introduce a bit of necessary drama at this stage, we’re currently pounding the planet with extraordinary, unnecessarily high levels of carbon that are devastating people, plants and animals the world over, and in the required change to a lower-carbon future, our draughty, energy-leaking homes are seen as the front line to be tackled.
Not only is it one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of reducing residential carbon emissions, but also it offers immediate financial savings to UK householders, which is crucial when we are all feeling the pinch.
Yet for all its attributes, home retrofit has so far failed to get off the ground in the UK in any large-scale fashion. With the exception of a few exemplar projects, there has been a woeful lack of interest in green refurbishment, with many homeowners attracted by the idea of a living in an energy-efficient home but put off by the often-high upfront costs.
The Great British Refurb Campaign was set up to show homeowners the benefits of eco-refurbishment, and our experience has shown that the will is there, but that so too are the financial barriers, which many see as insurmountable.
Thousands have signed our petition to call on the government to provide more financial incentives, and for these people, stamp duty rebates (coupled with the Green Deal pay-as-you-save mechanism for which we successfully lobbied to become government policy) are a welcome leg up.
If we are really to instigate a nationwide programme of eco-refurbishment and meet our carbon targets, we need to find more ways of helping people upgrade their homes
But what about the millions of homeowners for whom stamp duty makes very little difference? If we are really to instigate a nationwide programme of eco-refurbishment and meet our carbon targets, we need to find more ways of helping people upgrade their homes.
With a new energy bill forthcoming, now is the ideal time for the government to introduce a package of financial incentives under its Green Deal. Not only stamp duty rebates are needed, but a similar system applying to council tax, again rewarding people for making positive environmental choices, and a host of other stimuli.
As well as making retrofitting more attractive to the homeowner, this also has the potential to revitalise the home refurbishment market, instigating a new wave of trained fitters in low-carbon technologies and spurring investment in the holy grail of a truly green economy.
Setting ourselves on this path will involve some pain, and to an extent this will be unavoidable, but it does not have to be all about restrictions and cutbacks, it should also be seen as an opportunity to live in a warmer, more comfortable, better-quality home, which is cheaper to run – even one that profits homeowners.
We need to reach the stage where it is the norm to aspire towards Superhome status (60% cuts in CO2 through the fabric of the home), where a high EPC rating is one of the first thing new buyers look for, and where private landlords market the environmental credentials of their lettings.
Stamp duty reform should not be seen as a setback for anyone, but recognised as an opportunity for homeowners, for industry and for the economy.
Simon McWhirter is campaign director of the Great British Refurb campaign