Ministers told about public’s difficulties accessing initiative

Nearly nine out of 10 people who have tried to access the government scheme for green home improvements have had a poor experience, a parliamentary select committee has told the minister in charge of it.

Green party MP Caroline Lucas said a survey carried out by the Environmental Audit Committee found 86% of respondents who had tried accessing the Green Homes Grant complained their experience was either poor or very poor.

Kwasi Kwarteng

Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng admitted there had been problems with the launch of the initiative

Lucas, who is a member of the cross-party committee, made the revelation earlier this week at a grilling of ministers including energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng and housing minister Christopher Pincher on the government’s environmental policies.

Kwarteng (pictured) said: “We’re always looking at trying to make the system more efficient. We’re always having conversations about tweaking the offer and I would hope that in the new year we may have some progress on this but we’re obviously reviewing the rollout.”

The grant, which launched last month, offers homeowners and landlords vouchers which cover the cost of up to two thirds of green improvements to homes.

The scheme offers grants worth up to £10,000 per home, based on estimates from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) of the average cost of the improvements being around £4,700 per home.

But earlier in the session, the ministers were told that the average cost of the retrofits could be more than five times department estimates.

Tory MP Philip Dunne, who chairs the committee, said he had been given evidence by the Northern Housing Consortium, a body which represents housing organisations in the north of England, that the cost of retrofits could be as high as £24,300 per home.

Turning to exchequer secretary to the Treasury Kemi Badenoch, who also attended the session, Dunne asked: “You will have signed off the Green Homes Grant and applied specific amounts which individual households could apply for. You must have done that with some understanding of the cost of the measures it is supposed to be funding?”

Badenoch replied that the Treasury had signed off the scheme using estimates that were even lower than BEIS’s estimates, at around £3,000 per home on average.

Dunne asked: “So you haven’t challenged those figures, you’ve just accepted them although I’ve just given you evidence that they’re woefully inadequate?”

Badenoch said: “Our officials work together so we challenge figures depending on where they come from but we have to work together in order to have an approved scheme.”

According to the figures quoted by Dunne, the retrofits were estimated to cost an average of £19,300 and heat pumps were estimated to cost around £5,000 each.

Kwarteng said: “In terms of the cost of heat pumps, that’s another thing that we are trying to figure out ways, as you rightly say, of closing the gap between the cost of heat pumps and the cost of less energy efficient boilers.”

Pincher said his department was focused on new build homes and declined to comment on the cost of retrofits subsidised through the grant.

Kwarteng later came under fire from Lucas over the number of businesses which had been accredited by Trust Mark, the accreditation scheme for businesses taking part in the scheme.

She said that according to Trust Mark, just 1,200 businesses had been accredited for a programme which the government is hoping will support 100,000 green jobs and retrofit up to 600,000 homes over the next 18 months.

Asked by Lucas how these businesses can meet these targets, Kwarteng replied: “Take-up in terms of accreditation was very much hampered by the fact that people thought until very recently that the scheme would come to an end at the end of March 2021.”

He added that he hoped more firms would now apply to the scheme, which was extended until March 2022 by prime minister Boris Johnson when he launched his 10-point climate action plan last month.

The government has now earmarked £3bn for the scheme, which was first announced in July and started issuing vouchers on 5 November.