Like many people working on net zero policy we’re eagerly awaiting the publication of the government’s heat and buildings strategy.
The strategy should set out the roadmap for how the UK will reduce emissions in homes and buildings by 2050. According to the Committee on Climate Change, energy use in homes accounts for 14 per cent of all UK carbon emissions.
Chances are there’ll be a few things that get the headlines, like a date for the phasing out of gas boilers in existing homes or whether the area you live in will have the option of hydrogen heating. But, beyond the immediate headlines, there’s a number of things we, as the official consumer watchdog for energy, think the government is going to need to get right.
In order to get to net zero we’ll all have to make major changes to our homes, like improving insulation, installing low carbon heating systems and smart technologies to help us use energy at different times. We know people are willing to make these changes — but they won’t be able to unless they’re engaged and equipped to make the right choices for their homes and lives. To get there, the government will have to pass 3 key consumer tests.
1 — Consider the customer
Businesses around the world invest huge sums of money on making things as easy as possible for people to access their products and services. That’s because if things aren’t simple, people won’t do what you want them to do.
When it comes to retrofitting homes, if people can’t work out how to make the changes that are right for them, if they can’t afford to or if they’re put off by horror stories of things going wrong, they won’t do it. And, as a result, the government won’t hit its net zero goals.
That’s why we’re calling for a net zero homes guarantee that would give people access to high quality information and advice, support them to access the right financial support and protect people when things go wrong.
2 — Keep it local
It’s very likely many of the decisions on the changes to how we heat our homes will need to be made at a local level. So far over 300 councils have declared some form of climate emergency and a third have developed strategies or have action plans in place to deliver net zero between 2030 and 2050.
However, at the moment there’s no national coordination of what’s happening at a local level. This needs to be addressed in the heat and buildings strategy. Otherwise there’s a real risk of a postcode lottery, where people pay more or miss out on programmes to improve their homes solely because of where they live.
3 — Help for homeowners
Right now there’s very little in the way of support for people who own their homes to make these changes to their homes, especially since the short-lived Green Home Grant was scrapped.
For people in social housing there’s the Decent Homes Standard and the social housing decarbonisation fund. And in the private rented sector there are minimum energy efficiency standards designed to drive up standards.
The government needs to plug the gap in support for homeowners with bold plans. As well as learning the lessons from previous schemes, any plans will need to do a number of things, which we’ve outlined in our net zero homes guarantee:
Inform — provide people easily accessible, unbiased information about what changes they need to make and how they can make them. This will need to cover not just just insulation and heating, but the plethora of changes in our homes like smart meters, smart products, time of use tariffs and electric vehicles
Support — people will need suitable finance options to make these changes, including specific support schemes for people who are fuel poor, in vulnerable circumstances or less able to pay.
Protect — ensure that consumer protections are fit for purpose, so that when things go wrong, there are clear and easy routes to fixing them.
Retrofitting 29 million homes to help achieve the net zero target isn’t going to be easy. But, by putting in place the right policies to support people now, the government will give itself a much greater chance of success.