Boris Johnson must put consumers at the heart of net zero or risk derailing 2050 target
Right now, the process for adapting homes to make them energy efficient and low-carbon is too complicated.
The clock is ticking on the government’s efforts to put in place the policies to get the UK to net zero by 2050. High on that list of challenges is upgrading our 29 million homes, which are responsible for 20 per cent of emissions. But right now, the process for adapting homes to make them energy efficient and low-carbon is complicated, and too often things go wrong.
Today, alongside the Chief Executives of Which?, the Aldersgate Group and the Federation of Master Builders, I have written to the Prime Minister calling on his government to prioritise consumer protections so people can make changes to their homes with confidence.
As representatives of consumers and industry, our organisations are committed to the net zero target. We recognise reaching our climate goals will be a shared endeavour. The benefits of the transition are clear. By reaching net zero we can unleash innovation, create millions of highly skilled green jobs, and ensure people are living in safe and warm homes for generations to come.
Consumer protections need to be fit for purpose and keep pace with the scale of change that’s coming
But our organisations believe there are significant gaps in the government’s policies that need to be addressed in the upcoming Net Zero Strategy.
Retrofitting 29 million homes as part of the net-zero transition is a once in a generation undertaking. Public trust and confidence will be crucial. Our research has found 92 per cent of people are willing to make energy efficiency changes, but 66 per cent of them say they need advice or financial support to do so.
We know that anyone looking to adapt their home today for net zero will quickly be confronted by an avalanche of questions. How do I go about finding the right low-carbon heating system for my home? Should I go for a hydrogen-ready boiler, a ground source heat pump or an air source heat pump? Is my house sufficiently insulated for them to be effective? How do I find an installer I can trust to do the work?
Most of us have no idea where to start with these questions and will quickly feel overwhelmed. We need to know where to turn to for accessible and unbiased information to make the right choices. Without that, people simply won’t get on board.
Our evidence shows that as well as being too complicated, too often things go wrong. To reach net zero it’s vital that the government learns from the experience of previous schemes. Energy efficiency and low-carbon measures are complex - and poorly designed, short-term schemes can add to the confusion.
As the official watchdog for energy consumers, thousands have already contacted Citizens Advice for support with energy-related improvements to their homes. Too many have been left with issues like damp and mould, while others suffered damage to their homes that was expensive, disruptive, and distressing to fix.
A further problem faced by people seeking our help is scammers and rogue traders claiming to be part of energy efficiency programmes. This has been a persistent problem with many schemes, including the recent Green Homes Grant. Consumer protections need to be fit for purpose and keep pace with the scale of change that’s coming. Otherwise, we risk opening the door to the scammers once more.
As well as information and consumer protections, many people will need financial support to make changes to their homes. Even those most willing to change will be stopped in their tracks by the costs of switching to low-carbon heating systems - particularly when so many households' finances are strained as a result of the pandemic.
Our organisations are not naive about the challenges this poses politically and economically, but it’s an investment in the sustainability of the environment and the economy. Whatever programme of financial support is put in place, it needs to be long-term to ensure certainty for both consumers and businesses.
A comprehensive system of information, protection and support should form the foundations of any government schemes to upgrade the UK’s homes. By getting things right now, government can give people the confidence and tools they need to play their part in getting to net zero.
Dame Clare Moriarty is chief executive of Citizens Advice.
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