Published in The Sunday Times November 22, 2020
When the Green Homes Grant was announced in July it seemed like perfect timing. I was in the process of buying my first home, a draughty Victorian terraced house in Sheffield. The idea that the government would help pay to insulate it properly, and replace the ancient single glazing — to the tune of several thousands of pounds — within a month or so of me moving in appeared . . . almost too good to be true.
And it was. The grant is great in principle, but in practice it is a headache for homeowners and business owners. The £2 billion of investment seems unlikely to reach the kinds of small local businesses it would ideally support, with many finding it too expensive or complicated to sign up.
The news that the scheme, which has seen 42,000 people apply so far, will be extended until March 2022 is welcome — having applied for the government vouchers almost a month ago, I’ve yet to get a sniff of them. When I rang the helpline a fortnight ago for clarity on how the vouchers will work, a beleaguered customer adviser said they had not yet been told.
There are two phases of improvements homeowners can carry out that are eligible for the scheme, with total grants of up to £5,000. First you have to install insulation or low-carbon heating systems, then you can apply for funding for secondary measures such as new windows or doors. For my house that meant getting quotes for underfloor, loft and flat-roof insulation, then for double-glazing.
While there were a few companies in South Yorkshire accredited for insulation work, I found only one window company that was TrustMarked and participating in the green grant. Several disgruntled Yorkshiremen told me it “simply wasn’t worth it”.
The insulation company I have employed has been great, but is snowed under with requests. Every person I have spoken to has been practically vibrating with stress — exasperated by unclear government advice and the administration demands of the scheme. They have even put their prices up as it is costing them so much more in office hours. I have also encountered some dodgier price-massaging.
Still, at least I have been able to get quotes and start applying for the vouchers. For many that’s been impossible. I’m hopeful that the scheme will come good thanks to this extension, with money going where it’s meant to: making Britain’s homes more energy efficient and stimulating the economy. But creating a scheme so complicated that even the businesses that could benefit from it don’t want to sign up feels like a bit of an own goal for Rishi Sunak.