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Wed August 04 2021

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Critics raise doubts about Green Homes details

4 Aug 20 While many regard the government’s £2bn Green Homes Grant scheme to be all good news, now that the details have emerged criticisms are starting to appear.

The scheme does not cover improvements to domestic hot water storage, for example, which has been described as a “baffling exclusion” and “a missed opportunity”.

And not everyone is happy that only Trustmark accredited contractors will be allowed to undertake the work.

Under the Green Homes Grant scheme, homeowners in England will be able to apply for vouchers worth up to two thirds of the cost of hiring tradespeople to improve the energy efficiency of their home – the maximum contribution will be £5,000, or for those on lower incomes a 100% grant up to £10,000 will be available for certain work. The vouchers will be issued from the end of September.

The government has allocated £2bn to the scheme and is expecting more than 600,000 homes across England to take advantage.

The Heating & Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) was among the first to express “disappointment that more measures are not included”.

HHIC director Stewart Clements said: “Announced in the recent mini-budget on July 8th, the Green Homes Grant scheme aims to deal with green home improvements whilst providing employment.

“HHIC welcomes the release of the scheme details. Industry can now plan and respond accordingly. We think this could be an interesting scheme to raise the profile of low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps and solar.

“However, there is of course disappointment that options for the consumer appear limited. We believe it would have made greater sense to include a wider set of home improvement measures such as new hot water cylinders, heating controls, and radiators.”

He added: “Currently, hot water storage offers the only inexpensive practical solution for storing energy and banking it for when it needs to be used. We believe this is a missed opportunity.”

The Hot Water Association (HWA) said that the decision to exclude hot water cylinders from the scheme was “baffling”.  HWA head of external affairs Isaac Occhipinti said: “Government should be putting long term plans into place to improve our homes. If the UK is to increase its use of low carbon heating technology, then storage of some sort will be necessary, and currently hot water storage is the only practical solution for storing energy and banking it for when it needs to be used.

“It makes absolutely no sense that a hot water cylinder isn’t on the list of approved measures. Why isn’t the government recognising the importance of hot water storage?”

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Echoing the words of Stewart Clements, he concluded: “The Green Homes Grant scheme appears to be another missed opportunity.”

Stewart Clements and the HHIC also disapprove of the requirement for tradespeople to have TrustMark or Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation to take part in the scheme.

“Government, of course, have a duty to protect consumers who sign up to the scheme, but we believe that the mechanisms for quality assurance are already in place through Building Regulations,” he said. “Better policing and adherence to current standards is needed. We hope that this inclusion does not result in higher consumer costs and lower numbers of small businesses benefitting.”

Peter Thom, managing director of Cambridge-based Green Heat Ltd, said that that making Trustmark registration a pre-requisite had “serious implications for the majority of small heating installers and especially those qualified heating engineers who are members of a professional body like the CIPHE (Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering)”.

“ I am concerned that this scheme may well be ill thought out (if at all) and they may just revert to type with a Green Deal Mark 2 which would be a disaster! We were also given assurances following the Bonfield Review of the Green Deal, Each Home Counts, that the heating industry were already working to the PAS 2030 standards and would not require to join any  additional quality mark scheme,” he said.

“Several commentators on this also highlight the need for consumer protection as the perceived need for these overarching additional standards. But, when asked, the government have never been able to explain which current consumer protection legislation  is not actually working. Maybe the motive is a plan to create employment with an army of inspectors and administrators, all being paid for by the installer, consumer and the tax payer.”

Only 700 companies across the country are accredited with TrustMark and a further 233 with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) that can align to TrustMark. This has risen by 30% since the Green Homes Grant was first unveiled last month, Trustmark said.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) supported the Trustmark requirement and hopes that more companies will register.

“The need for high quality scrutiny and oversight, and for a complete and coherent set of standards in the housing sector is clear,” it said. “Within the domestic RMI market, lack of trust can prove a major challenge. Consumers often lack confidence when seeking to engage builders, and there is fear of falling victim to scams, poorly executed work or being overcharged. This points to a need for clear, well-enforced standards that offer protection to customers carrying out home improvement works and energy efficiency retrofits.”

However, CIOB director Eddie Tuttle recognised that it present a logistical challenge for Trustmark since so few companies are currently accredited. “With the scheme set to go live at the end of September and with firms being encouraged to rapidly sign up, there is a real need to ensure Trustmark is adequately resourced to deal with any surge in the demand,” he said.

TrustMark chief executive Simon Ayers said: “Consumer confidence is not only essential to the recovery of the UK’s economy, but also to the protection and creation of key jobs that will support the long-term delivery of quality green home improvements. That’s why having TrustMark accredited tradespeople will provide households with the confidence they need that those working on their homes have been thoroughly vetted for technical competence, customer service and trading practices.”

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