Karl Mathiesen writes in The Guardian about a new report by Which? that says successive governments’ failures mean UK’s housing stock remains the least energy-efficient in Europe and that a radical new approach is needed. With a national election coming in May, it would be good to think that at least one of the political parties would champion the need for change.
Watchdog urges reform of UK’s ‘failed’ energy efficiency drive
Millions of draughty homes are the result of the collective failure of successive governments to tackle energy efficiency, according to UK consumer watchdog Which?. In a report published on Tuesday, Which? calls for a radical new approach to energy efficiency to deliver on historical promises to tackle fuel poverty, high energy bills and climate change.
Major consumer-funded programmes have been rolled out in the UK for low-energy bulbs, insulation and new boilers since 2002. Yet the country’s housing stock remains the least energy-efficient in Europe.
Which?’s executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “With millions of homes still not insulated, energy efficiency is a collective failure of successive governments. The next government must grab this issue by the scruff of the neck and commit to an aggressive energy efficiency strategy as soon as it takes power.”
More than 7.4m homes remain without proper ceiling insulation and 5.4m homes have not had their cavity walls filled. The cost to the NHS of treating illness exacerbated by cold homes is estimated by Age UK to be £1.36bn.
The report made several recommendations to the next government, including a call for the creation of a single, central funding pot to be distributed by local authorities and an immediate rethink of the green deal – the current government’s flagship “pay-as-you-save” loan scheme that resulted in just 9,583 homes being improved in its first two years.
The report also said the energy companies obligation (ECO) should be replaced by a levy. Under ECO, home improvements are paid for through consumer bills. Which? argued that a levy paid into the central pot would ensure the funding went to those who needed it. Currently, less than two-thirds of ECO funding assists low-income or vulnerable consumers. “We want to see radical improvements to the rollout, funding and takeup of energy efficiency measures so people can enjoy warmer homes, lower bills and better health,” said Lloyd.
According to the UK Green Building Council (GBC), measures that cut household energy use, such as insulating homes and retrofitting boilers, are the most cost-effective way to bring down energy bills and meet national carbon emissions targets.
Richard Twinn, a policy officer for the GBC, agreed that the UK’s existing policies were in need of an overhaul. “Which? is right to suggest we need a local approach to improve home energy efficiency,” he said. “Fundamental changes to current policies, such as a reduced interest rate for the green deal and refocusing ECO on tackling fuel poverty, would also give a much needed boost to home retrofit.”
Which? said it did not expect additional funds to be made available for energy efficiency, so its report focused on improving the cost-effectiveness of existing programmes. But Twinn said a newly thought-out model ought to be backed by extra funding. “The real game-changer, however, would be for government to back energy efficiency with infrastructure funds to create a programme that would not only transform the UK’s cold and draughty homes, but create jobs and make additional money for Treasury,” he said.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change was not available for comment.