Domestic central heating boiler control panel

Obstacles prevent homes going green, consumer groups warn

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A group of consumer and industry groups have addressed on open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that it is currently too complicated and risky for homeowners to adapt their houses for a low-carbon future.

An important part of the UK’s effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will be adapting its 29 million homes to be more energy efficient and to use alternatives to natural gas for heating, such as electricity and green hydrogen.

Citizens Advice, Which?, Aldersgate Group and the Federation of Master Builders are urging the government to work with them to address obstacles currently faced by consumers and learn from previous lessons or else risk undermining efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

They warn that installing low-carbon heating, upgrading insulation or installing smart home technologies such as smart meters can be time consuming, stressful, and confusing. For instance, researching and choosing the right product, finding a reputable installer, and having the work completed “demands huge amounts of knowledge, time, and effort,” they say. The coalition warns that the process can be beset by problems such as poor installations, technologies not working as expected, and difficulty fixing things when they malfunction.

“Our evidence is clear. Right now, making green changes to homes is too confusing and too often things go wrong for those trying to do the right thing,” said Clare Moriarty, CEO of Citizens Advice. “The public are behind the net-zero transition, but they need the right information and tools, particularly when it comes to adapting their home. By getting things right now, the government can give people the confidence to make changes and play their part in getting to net zero.”

The group says that the government must avoid repeating the mistakes of previous energy efficiency schemes, which left homeowners struggling with damp and mould due to poorly installed insulation and other long-term problems that were expensive, disruptive, and stressful to resolve. This is a matter of public trust, they say.

Consumer protections are not ready for the pace and scale of the work that must be undertaken in order to improve millions of homes, they add.

The letter calls for households to be provided with accessible and objective information to help them make the best choices, updating consumer protection to be fit for purpose, and provision of financial support to make changes to homes.

Rocio Concha of Which?, said: “Decarbonising millions of households across the UK is a vital, but complex component of the government’s net-zero strategy, and its success will depend on ensuring consumers are supported in transitioning to low carbon heating systems, which will involve radical changes to their home.”

“The level of support consumers need must not be underestimated, and we are urging the Government to ensure its net-zero policy has provisions to help consumers navigate the heating market, through access to the right information, strong consumer protections, and if needed, financial support.”

Nick Molho, director of the Aldersgate Group, added: “The government has a significant opportunity with the upcoming Net Zero Strategy to set a clear direction of travel through predictable regulatory targets, easily accessible policy incentives and much improved information and local support measures. It is vital that energy efficiency and low-carbon heat schemes are placed on a long-term footing, so that industry can invest, train its workforce, and grow consumer confidence.”

The letter was published as a study from the National Housing Federation estimated that England’s 25 million homes alone produce 58.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year, more than the 27 million cars in England emitting 56 million tonnes annually. It identifies poor insulation and gas central heating as responsible for high domestic emissions.

The National Housing Federation is pressing the government to spend £3.8bn retrofitting social housing in the upcoming spending review as a matter of urgency.

Its CEO Kate Henderson, said: “If we don’t start making serious progress on decarbonising and retrofitting our homes, we won’t achieve the government’s target of net-zero by 2050. It’s critical that we act now.”

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