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Inequality in support for home energy efficiency across UK

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Most of us would like to improve the energy efficiency of our property if given the opportunity and there is financial support available to help that happen. You don’t have to spend a fortune to make energy efficiency improvements in your home but many large-scale improvements, such as installing a new, more efficient boiler, improving insulation or installing renewable energy systems can feel out of reach for many. Replacing an inefficient G rated boiler, for example, could save you over £300 a year on fuel bills – depending on your property size – but it requires a capital outlay of around £2,300 to install an average boiler (excluding radiators).

Given the importance of improving energy efficiency to cut carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty, its unsurprising that governments across the UK offer support to help homeowners make these improvements, particularly for people on low incomes. However, the nature and level of that support varies widely throughout the UK. In official terms, energy efficiency is largely a ‘devolved matter’, meaning Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments each run their own home energy support programmes while the UK government in Westminster manages home energy efficiency programmes for England.

If you’re living in Scotland, you’re definitely a winner when it comes to help with energy efficiency. The thinktank E3G estimated at the end of 2017 that government spending on energy efficiency support, per person, was four times  higher in Scotland than in England, with Wales and Northern Ireland spending twice and three times as much as England, respectively.

While this devolved approach might appear to benefit householders in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, it’s actually problematic for all of us. With 13% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from UK housing stock, we need to improve the energy efficiency of housing across the UK, if we’re to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, or sooner. The limited availability of support in England – where 85% of UK homes are located – is a particular problem.

What support is available?

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Scottish Government provides a wide range of financial support for Scottish residents. If you’re based in Scotland, you can call the Home Energy Scotland service on 0808 808 2282 for free, impartial, expert advice on what grants and loans are available to you.

For many households who are on lower incomes (identified by whether or not they are on particular welfare benefits), support for energy efficiency measures is delivered free under the Warmer Homes Scotland programme. For better off households, a zero interest loan is available to help pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.

Find out more about Grants and Loans available in Scotland.

In Wales, the Welsh Government implements the Nest scheme. Nest provides advice on saving energy to anyone living in Wales.  In addition to free advice, if you own or privately rent your home and a householder is on a means tested benefit can qualify for home improvements at no cost.

Find out more about Nest.

In both Wales and Scotland there are also “area based” energy efficiency programmes. These are delivered by local authorities working with the government and involve the installation of insulation or new heating systems across many of the homes in a particular local community. That’s usually an area identified as having homes that need the improvements and where a significant proportion of residents are on low incomes. Wales’s area based programme – called Arbed – will install measures in 3000 homes this year.

In Northern Ireland, Energy Saving Trust manages the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) on behalf of the Utility Regulator, which provides grants to help you implement energy saving measures in your home. You can check the Utility Regulator website for a list of current schemes.

There is one energy efficiency support programme that’s available across Great Britain. And in fact, in England, it’s the only support programme available.  Under the Energy Company Obligation, energy companies are obliged to install a certain amount of energy efficiency measures in the homes of vulnerable or fuel poor individuals. There’s a useful eligibility checker on the Simple Energy Advice website, which can quickly tell you whether or not you qualify.

A key component to both the Nest and Home Energy Scotland provision is tailored advice, which supports householders to work out what’s the right move in terms of improving home energy efficiency in their particular circumstance. Though the Simple Energy Advice service is available in England, it’s a much more limited and primarily web-based service. Despite studies showing a clear link between the provision of such an advice service and increased uptake of home energy efficiency measures, there’s no equivalent advice provision available for English householders.

We need all the devolved UK governments as well as Westminster to support individuals to make energy efficiency changes in their home in order to achieve Net Zero targets. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) indicated that a good incentive should “…help households to overcome financial barriers and the range of nonfinancial barriers (e.g. information, perceived risk, hassle, and social norms) and have effective delivery and communication”. The current lack of policy to address energy efficiency in buildings is holding back the reduction of emissions, ultimately delaying Net Zero carbon output. Given that the CCC indicated that we only have 12 years to reduce emissions if we aren’t to exceed 1.5C global warming – we don’t have time for that delay.

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