Trusted information and good consumer protections would give people the confidence to make their homes ready for net zero
The government has finally set out the road map for how we decarbonise the UK’s homes and buildings in its long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy.
There’s a lot to welcome in the strategy, including grants to help people replace their boilers with air-source heat pumps and an important focus on bringing down the upfront cost to help people install this important technology.
But there is still a key missing piece. For all the ambition and detail about the changes that will be made in the coming decades, there is very little on how people will actually go about adapting their homes. Nor is there much on the safeguards that will be in place if things go wrong.
Our latest research shows you have far better consumer protections when taking out everyday products and services like a mobile phone or a personal loan, than when making potentially major changes to your home.
Retrofitting 29 million homes will be a huge undertaking. In order to get there, installations of low-carbon technologies like heat pumps will need to increase by around 2000 per cent in the coming years. That’s why it’s so important there is a consumer protection landscape that’s fit for purpose.
There needs to be a single accreditation and enforcement scheme for anyone installing low-carbon technologies in people’s homes
Right now, if you install a heat pump in your home (and pay for it yourself) then chances are the installer doesn’t have to be part of any recognised scheme or hold a license to do it. That means there’s no single set of guidelines the person doing the work has to follow; there’s no requirement to have a complaints process to resolve any problems; and you have no protection if things go wrong through fraud or mis-selling.
That’s if you can even get to the point of understanding what technologies are right for your home, whether your house is well insulated enough and then finding an installer you can trust.
We know that people find it hard to understand the process when it comes to making these changes and find it really confusing. And when they do, if something goes wrong it’s too hard to get problems resolved.
It’s a problem made worse by the fact that there are currently 12 different accreditation schemes out there for installers of low-carbon technologies like insulation, heat pumps or solar panels.
If we’re going to achieve this once-in-a-generation undertaking to upgrade 29 million homes, we have to give people a way to do it that’s as simple as possible.
At Citizens Advice we think there needs to be a single accreditation and enforcement scheme for anyone installing low-carbon technologies in people’s homes. This means one scheme that makes sure that standards are high, action is taken against installers who aren’t up to scratch and consumers can get involved with confidence.
There’s already a precedent for this kind of scheme. The Gas Safe Register makes sure anyone installing gas boilers is on a register, to protect the public from unqualified people carrying out unsafe gas work.
The Financial Conduct Authority makes sure nearly all firms operating in financial services adhere to certain standards. There’s no reason this should be any different when people are making net zero related changes to homes.
It’s critical the government gets the question of how people make these changes right. People are increasingly aware of what net zero means and that this might mean changes to their homes - and the majority of people are willing to make these changes.
The government needs to make it easier for people to do the right thing. A single source of trusted information about the changes they need to make and options they have, including financial support, backed up by good consumer protections will give people the confidence they need to make their homes ready for net zero.
Gillian Cooper is the Head of Energy Policy at Citizens Advice.
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