Government’s eco grants plan descends onto chaos and confusion


The plan was to give 600,000 households £2billion to make energy-saving improvements and create work for 100,000 tradesmen. 

But the Government’s Green Homes Grant scheme has got off to a stuttering start – with thousands set to miss out thanks to a multitude of problems.

The multi-billion-pound scheme, which has been rushed through in a matter of months, is already dogged by confusion and logistical nightmares – with homeowners unable to find anyone local to do the work.

The Government’s Green Homes Grant scheme has got off to a stuttering start – with thousands set to miss out thanks to a multitude of problems

Teething issues include:

  • Households cannot find approved local contractors to do the work. One was told their nearest was 250 miles away.
  • Tradesmen on the list are too busy to finish the work by the March deadline.
  • Some traders on the Government’s list had not even signed up to it.
  • One ‘registered’ contractor’s phone number belonged to a local hairdresser.

The initiative offers households in England vouchers worth up to £5,000 to be spent on eco-friendly home improvements – such as wall and loft insulation and environmentally friendly heating systems.

But homeowners must use one of 1,000 certified contractors registered with Government-approved TrustMark or the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), the national standards organisation for renewables.

Since the scheme opened on September 30, more than 15,000 bids for a share of the money have been made.

Grants at a glance 

  • The Green Homes Grant offers homeowners in England a voucher to cover two-thirds of improvement costs. A certified tradesman must complete the work by March 31, 2021. 
  • Under the Energy Company Obligation scheme, which runs until March 31, 2022, big suppliers must help low-income households make their homes more energy efficient by offering free loft/cavity wall insulation or subsidised boiler replacements. 
  • The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive rewards households for using renewable systems, such as solar thermal panels, to warm homes in England, Wales and Scotland. It offers a quarterly payment for up to seven years. Due to end March 31, 2022.
  •  The Green Deal provided loans to finance energy-efficient home improvements, designed to be paid back through savings made on energy bills. It ended in 2015. Two years later, following its acquisition from the Government, the Green Deal Finance Company relaunched, offering similar loans.

How the scheme should work… 

The Green Homes Grant scheme offers homeowners in England vouchers worth up to £5,000 – or up to £10,000 if you are on a low income – to make their homes more energy efficient.

The vouchers cover two-thirds of the cost of the work, or 100 per cent if you or someone in your household receives certain benefits. 

You can check which work you are eligible for on the Simple Energy Advice website: simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/green-homes-grant/questionnaire.

Once you know this, you should find three quotes from local tradesmen signed up to the scheme. You can search for one at simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/installer- search.

The next step is to apply for the voucher – visit gov.uk/apply-green-homes-grant.

In your application you must also provide your chosen quote and the tradesman’s TrustMark licence number. 

Vouchers are valid for three months from the date they are issued, or until the scheme deadline of March 31, 2021 — whichever is earlier.

‘No hope’ in this postcode lottery

However, many homeowners have found the scheme is not that simple.

Joseph Edwards, 55, tried to apply for a grant at 8am on the day the scheme launched. 

He rang six of the companies registered in Merseyside, but five told him they were not participating in the scheme – and one was the number for a hairdresser.

He managed to find a national contractor based in London who agreed to give him a quote for replacement windows.

He says: ‘This scheme feels like a non-starter and poorly thought through, which is a real shame.’

Joseph later found a local firm not on the government register which agreed to do the work – at a price that was cheaper than if he had used the grant. 

He says: ‘I’m probably going to bypass the grant and use them. It’ll be less fuss.’

Semi-retired NHS administrator Lesley Forrest also struggled to find someone in Kent to quote for her underfloor insulation, only able to see available tradesmen in North London. 

She thought the website was not working properly so called the helpline, but hung up after a half-hour wait. When she called back, the agent gave her the same list of North London contractors.

Lesley, 67, says: ‘The website was very confusing and it’s difficult to know what you are entitled to. I don’t think there is much hope of us finding a nearby tradesman.’

But homeowners must use one of 1,000 certified contractors registered with TrustMark or the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, the national standards organisation for renewables

But homeowners must use one of 1,000 certified contractors registered with TrustMark or the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, the national standards organisation for renewables

Time is quickly running out

Ian Rippin, chief executive of the MCS, says the six-month timeframe to get the work done is simply too short.

‘The grant was announced in July and opened in September, so was pushed through at breakneck speed without being properly glued together,’ he says.

‘Coming out of lockdown, many contractors already have their books full and want to complete those jobs before taking on more.’

Paul Leedham, managing director of Matrix Energy Systems in Sheffield, has been inundated with 200 quote requests for eco heating systems since the Government website went live last month. Some of the calls he’s received have come from more than 200 miles away.

Paul has committed to two local jobs, but is concerned about how quickly he’ll be paid by the Government. He adds: ‘I worry many of the jobs under the scheme will go to national firms who may subcontract the work to unqualified tradesmen.’

Left perplexed by the rules 

Homeowners have also complained that the grant rules are too restrictive. The available improvements are split in two categories: primary and secondary measures.

Vouchers are valid for three months from the date they are issued, or until the scheme deadline of March 31, 2021

Vouchers are valid for three months from the date they are issued, or until the scheme deadline of March 31, 2021

You must apply for primary measures – typically larger, more expensive jobs such as insulation or low-carbon heating – to get a voucher for secondary measures, such as double glazing or draught-proofing.

And you cannot claim a Green Homes Grant voucher towards the cost of work you’ve also had funded via the Energy Company Obligation scheme.

Under this initiative, the biggest energy suppliers help fund energy-efficient measures for low-income customers. 

This could include offering free cavity wall insulation, free loft insulation or a subsidised gas boiler replacement.

If you claim the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, which rewards households that use renewable heating, you must tell Ofgem once you get your voucher. 

The value of your Green Homes Grant voucher will then be deducted from the expected total of your payments.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy says: ‘Almost 1,000 companies have signed up so far with more registering every day, including many businesses that operate nationally with substantial capacity to carry out work across the country.

‘We are working closely with the industry to ensure that there are enough installers to meet demand.’

He added that the hairdresser’s contact details may have appeared on the list because a wrong number had been provided.

a.murray@dailymail.co.uk

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