A report from the National Audit Office states that the Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme was “delivered to an over-ambitious timetable and was not executed to an acceptable standard, significantly limiting its impact on job creation and carbon reduction.”
With the Government having identified the decarbonisation of home heating as a key part of its plan to deliver net zero by 2050, between September 2020 and March 2021 as part of its ‘green recovery’ from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy ran the Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme. The scheme offered homeowners up to £5,000 funding, or £10,000 for low-income households, for the installation of energy efficient improvements.
The Department originally expected the scheme to support up to 82,500 jobs over six months, and enable up to 600,000 households to save up to £600 on their energy bills. However, the scheme did not deliver the expected number of energy efficiency home installations, or support the expected number of jobs.
In total, the Department estimates that it will spend £314 million of the £1.5 billion funding available, of which £50.5 million (more than £1,000 per home upgraded) is on administration. It forecasts that the scheme will eventually support efficiency measures in 47,500 homes, and create up to 5,600 jobs over 12 months.
According to the NAO report, “many homeowners and installers had a poor experience using the scheme. There were delays issuing vouchers to homeowners and paying installers, causing frustration. Homeowners also found it challenging completing applications, and were often asked for more information, which took time”.
From October 2020 to April 2021, over 3,000 complaints were made to the Department and the scheme administrator.
The report continued: “HM Treasury gave the Department an over-ambitious 12-week timescale to design the scheme, consult with stakeholders and procure an administrator. This came at a time when the Department was supporting vaccine procurement, and undertaking activities related to EU Exit. The Department accepted that delivering the scheme within this timescale posed a high risk, but judged it was justified by the need to support businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
However, it was found that BEIS “did not sufficiently understand the challenges facing installers, failing to learn from its own previous energy schemes”. Other energy schemes, it said, “have shown the need for a robust evaluation of stakeholders’ views” yet the Department “only consulted with installers after the scheme was announced, which limited the opportunities to include installer views in the scheme design”.
The costs of installer accreditation and the short duration of the scheme when it was first announced (six months) are said to have deterred some installers from participating whilst the Department “did not fully manage the tension between maximising long-term reductions in carbon emissions, and creating jobs in the short-term”.
The scheme was designed to focus on measures that would provide the biggest impact on reducing carbon, such as insulation and low-carbon heat installations. However, “these require specialist skills to install, which meant it took some time for employers to take-on and train staff. Jobs might have been created more quickly in areas that require less specialist skills, such as window and door installation. The initial plan for a two-year scheme would have allowed more time for jobs to be created, but this was rejected by HM Treasury”.
Nevertheless, the report shows that the Department “chose to proceed to its timetable, even though none of the firms that bid for the grant administration contract thought it was possible to fully implement the required digital voucher application system in the time available”.
By March 2021, the required system was still not in place, and much more manual processing was required for applications than expected, contributing to a growing backlog. The Department decided to close the scheme in March 2021, reasoning that insufficient improvement had been made, and that existing voucher applications would fully use the £320m provided by HM Treasury for the next financial year.
The NAO recommends the Department should engage properly with the supplier market for future decarbonisation schemes, and base its planning on a realistic assessment of how long it will take the market to mobilise. The requirements placed on homeowners and installers for such schemes should be tested from the start, with the aim of simplifying administration.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO said: “The aim to achieve immediate economic stimulus through the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme meant that it was rushed. As a result, its benefits for carbon reduction were significantly reduced and ultimately, it did not create the number of jobs government had hoped for.
“Decarbonising our homes is a key element of the government’s net zero strategy. It is vital that future schemes learn from this experience.”