York Community Energy

The £5k Green Homes Grant: what you need to know

Update: we’re running a free webinar,
An introduction to the Green Homes Grant and effective home upgrades
Monday September 21st, 7pm – 8:30pm – book online through Eventbrite.

Insulated window ledge as part of a deep retrofit project near Leeds

You may have heard about an upcoming government scheme called the Green Homes Grant. Due to be rolled out in September 2020 (and wrapped up by March 2021), this scheme will give out vouchers up to a value of £5,000 to homeowners (£10,000 to those on low incomes). These will pay for energy efficiency measures (insulation, draught-proofing etc.) and renewable heating (heat pumps, solar thermal) that reduce the carbon footprint of heating homes. So finally some good news for people trying to retrofit their homes, right? Well maybe, but as ever, the devil is in the details.

Scheme overview

Let’s start with how the scheme works. In short, you can get a voucher of up to £5,000 to cover up to two thirds of the total cost of the measures you install. So if your total cost is £3,000, you are given a voucher for £2,000 and you have to pay the remaining £1,000 yourself. If you qualify as a low income earner, you can get up to £10,000 to cover 100% of the cost.

Now comes the complicated part: only certain things qualify for the vouchers. These are separated into primary and secondary measures. Primary measures include:

Secondary measures include:

The important thing to note is that you must install at least one primary measure, and the voucher value of any secondary measures can’t exceed the value of the primary measures. So for example, if you get a £1,000 voucher for primary measures, the maximum voucher value you can get for secondary measures is also £1,000.

A notable omission from the list is gas boilers, which is great from an environmental point of view; even modern efficient boilers still burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases.

In an effort to ensure quality, the above measures will only qualify for the grant if they are installed by TrustMark-accredited professionals (or Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) in the case of solar thermal/heat pumps). Whether this actually ensures quality is another matter, which we will explore later.

You can use the government’s Simple Energy Advice website for help choosing which measures to install, and you should eventually be able to apply for the grant through this website as well.

Homeowners will have until March 2021 to claim the voucher and have the work done.

In addition to the above, there is also a pot of money allocated for local council projects tackling fuel poverty.

Our concerns

On the surface the Green Homes Grant sounds like a long-overdue good news story for anyone involved with retrofit. However, the sums of money being offered are not enough on their own to fund deep retrofits and help meet the UK’s legally binding emissions targets. The total £3 billion value of the scheme also falls short of the £9.2 billion promised in the Tory manifesto. There is no indication yet of any specific successor to the grant, but as we understand it, BEIS have an ambition to do more, so in theory this is not the end of the story.

There is also the issue of quality. As mentioned earlier, only accredited installers can be used, but what does it mean to be accredited? Many in the industry had hoped that retrofits would have to be done to TrustMark’s new rigorous PAS 2035 retrofit standard, but this does not appear to be the case. There is also no requirement to have an assessment done by a Retrofit Coordinator or have the work checked during or after installation. For a successful retrofit, insulation should be installed with a great deal of care to avoid issues like cold bridging and insufficient ventilation, which can lead to a build-up of damp and mould, potentially causing structural damage to the house and/or health issues for its occupants. These kinds of considerations are included in PAS 2035, but as mentioned above, this is not a requirement for the works to be carried out, even though a whole house approach is encouraged. TrustMark accredited installers have to sign up to a code of conduct and there are some checks in place, but even still, there is a risk of causing a sort of “gold rush” effect where less scrupulous contractors swoop in to pocket the grant money, do a poor quality job and potentially leave householders with issues for years to come.

The short-term nature of the scheme also presents a problem: ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people (including YCE) have been calling for a green economic recovery, growing the market for low-energy housebuilding and retrofit, but in a sustainable way that will ensure jobs and prosperity for years to come. This requires a sustained and gradual investment in the supply chain – training, manufacturing etc. – to help it scale up as the market grows. The Green Homes Grant scheme, however, is to be wrapped up by the end of March 2021, just six months after it starts! This leads to a huge amount of uncertainty for anyone in the industry thinking of growing their business, employing extra staff etc, knowing that this could be a temporary bump rather than the sustained ramping up we have been longing for. Most installers, particularly small companies, will probably decide it’s not worth the risk, leaving us with the very real possibility of not having enough tradespeople to complete all the work before the deadline.

One thing we at YCE are doing to help counter this is trying to demonstrate to local contractors that the demand for energy efficiency work exists in York so that they see the value in getting the accreditation. If you’re a homeowner, you can help by filling in our short survey – we will not be sharing your contact details with anyone, only aggregated information on the type of work people are interested in.

Getting the most out of your voucher

Having said all that, if you have been thinking of making some of the qualifying improvements to your home and you are careful about selecting an installer, there is a good chance that this scheme will benefit you. Here are our top tips for getting the most out of it:

Make a whole house plan

Chances are, you are eventually going to need to do more work than just what is covered by this scheme. When it comes to retrofit, measures should always be considered as part of a whole house plan and not in isolation. Now might be the perfect time to get a whole house assessment to help you make your plan. You can watch our video to see what such an assessment looks like, and if you are based in York, you can contact us to arrange an assessment. If you’re not quite feeling ready for that yet, you could start with the Simple Energy Advice site or our own energy saving guide.

Find a reputable installer

All installers must be TrustMark accredited, but there is still potential for a lot of variation in quality. Get quotes from at least three installers, and beware any suspiciously cheap ones. Make sure the quotes are detailed enough to satisfy you that you are comparing like with like. If you’re based in York and need some help deciding, get in touch with us. Again, if you could fill in our short survey, this will help us to stimulate interest from local installers, and hopefully lead to more choice when it comes to looking for someone to do the work.

Stay informed

We don’t yet know all the details of the scheme, but there are signs that we will hear more in the coming weeks. Make sure you sign up to the webinar on 21st September, and also to our Warmer Homes York mailing list to receive more information in your inbox as soon as we hear it. For a deeper dive into the subject of retrofit in general, check out our post on things to consider when planning to upgrade your home.