There were audible sighs of relief as Rishi Sunak announced that homeowners and landlords wouldn’t have to meet proposed energy efficiency targets any time soon, particularly when landlords were expected to face fines if they hadn’t raised EPC grades to a C by 2028.
The Prime Minister also gave everyone more time to make the transition to heat pumps, with the ban on new oil boilers delayed from 2026 to 2035, and a target for only 80% to be phased out by that date. The government is evidently opting to use carrots rather than sticks to get the nation thinking about insulation and energy bill savings, as it’s now increased the grant available through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme by 50% to £7,500.
Unfortunately, previous carrots haven’t proved particularly enticing for many people, as the Green Homes Grant ended in 2021 after only hitting a paltry 6.5% of its original target to issue vouchers for improvements to 600,000 homes. Now comes the latest push to get homes greener: The Great British Insulation Scheme (GBIS). Despite being a rebrand of ECO+, and cynically speaking, quite timely in what could be the run-up to a general election, it complements the Energy Company Obligation (EC04) scheme. However, unlike ECO4’s whole-house approach, this focuses largely on delivering single lower-cost insulation measures. Set to run until March 2026, families in council tax bands A-D in England and A-E in Scotland and Wales, with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or below are eligible and the onus is on energy companies to deliver measures to cut energy use.
As well as having a longer deadline than previous schemes, GBIS should also better protect consumers, unlike the poorly timed and executed Green Deal, for example, where government-registered assessors decided whether improvements could be made, but the burden of debt stayed with the property, and its new owner. Unfortunately, one friend immediately went online to fill in a GBIS application form and was told her provider, British Gas, wasn’t currently offering the service.
But with bigger grants on offer, at least heat pumps should start to become more mainstream, particularly Octopus Energy’s new Cosy 6. Even before the government announcement, the company had promised these wouldn’t cost some homeowners a penny if they live in well-insulated homes that qualify for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. With the ability to make more savings by linking with the Octopus tariff, it’s a bit of a no-brainer for anyone needing to replace their old system. Octopus also offer a £9-a-month service plan and let customers get a loan for the heat pump over four years, which they need to pay back if they sell the property or move. However, there’s a bit of a theme here, as when another friend enquired online about Octopus’s heat pumps, he was told they didn’t have any engineers available to install one in his area.
Unlike the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, it’s not yet clear whether there’s a requirement to update the EPC after you’ve had the installation under the GBIS, or indeed if you’d need to get one beforehand. In fact, there’s no recommendation about getting an EPC done before installing a heat pump, which surely goes against the government’s aim of giving homeowners and landlords guarantees and confidence when investing in retrofit. Plus, there’ll also be that thorny old issue of trying to find a contractor to install the kit in the first place – particularly one that knows what he’s doing. Some homeowners with longer memories won’t have forgotten government initiatives which resulted in the scandal of poorly filled cavity wall insulation. I hope the thousands of necessary contractors will be properly recruited and trained, and in time there’ll be a better regime for monitoring and managing their work. Sadly, another government initiative set up in March to do just that, by reducing skills gaps and accelerating pathways to accreditation, has just bitten the dust, which doesn’t bode well. The Energy Efficiency Taskforce also aimed to show how the UK could reduce energy demand from buildings and industry by 15% on 2021 levels by 2030. I doubt it got very far in six months.
Like contractors, there’s always the good, the bad and the ugly among energy assessors – something the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is trying to address by developing a professional standard that will elevate the industry. Those carrying out a PAS 2035 – the over-arching document in the retrofit standards framework detailing how to carry out retrofits, alongside best practice guidance for implementing energy efficiency measures – are typically domestic energy assessors who might only have been on a one-day course and can adequately fill in a form. Chartered surveyors, however, are bound by ethical standards and covered by liability insurance. There’s still a legacy around energy assessors not having that gravitas and in-depth knowledge of buildings, but by bringing more chartered surveyors on board – with some additional training and a retrofit qualification – it should elevate the sector and make it easier for companies like ours to recruit an RICS trainee surveyor who wants to specialise in retrofit.
As that perception changes, perhaps when I fill in my insurance indemnity form on the RICS website, computer won’t say ‘no’ and I’ll be able to tick a dedicated energy assessor category instead of being lumped ignominiously into ‘other’.