Labour is calling for the government’s green homes grant scheme to be extended by at least a year after revealing that less than 5% of the allocated budget has been given to householders.
Nearly five months in, only £71m of the allocated £1.5bn budget for householders has been awarded to those seeking help to move from fossil fuel heating to renewable alternatives.
With just over a year to run, Labour says this rate of delivery exposes significant delays and problems with how the scheme is being administered.
Ministers awarded the contract to run the programme to ICF, a large American consulting corporation based in Virginia. Details of the value of the government contract have not been published.
The grants were launched with the promise that 600,000 householders would be helped to make their homes more energy efficient and less CO2 intensive. Householders were able to apply for financial support in the form of vouchers from 30 September 2020. The scheme runs to March 2022.
The government said the grants would support 100,000 jobs while cutting people’s energy bills and CO2 emissions. Householders can apply for vouchers of up to £5,000 or £10,000 depending on their circumstances, to help pay for installation of new heating systems and insulation.
But a Guardian investigation revealed installers of renewable energy were left tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket by the government scheme, and were forced to let go of workers as they struggling to stay in business.
Members of the public have been left waiting nearly four months, in some cases, to take advantage of the scheme to fit low-CO2 heating systems.
In a written answer to Labour questions, the government said the number of vouchers issued by 22 January corresponded to a total value of £71.3m. The government did not reveal how many installers were waiting to be paid.
Alan Whitehead, the shadow minister for energy and a green new deal, said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that ministers are taking so long to pay businesses what they are owed and leaving them out of pocket.
“These businesses carried out work under this scheme in good faith and reports of employees being let go are heartbreaking. The government must urgently pay its debts.”
Whitehead called for the details of the contract with ICF to be published. “Ministers have serious questions to answer about how this scheme can have been administered so poorly and they must come clean by publishing the contract. Their silence is deafening.”
Sean Ronnan, an insulation installer in the north-west of England, said 1,000 customers had applied for vouchers to have work carried out dating back to last October. But so far only 100 vouchers have been issued to his clients.
He said: “Vouchers come through each week in single digit numbers, but we need more consistent delivery of 40-50 a week. We have customers still waiting for vouchers who applied in October. At this rate we will run out of time to do the work for all our customers.”
Ronnan said there had been an improvement in the speed with which payments to installers were being made.
But he said there needed to be a clear principle agreed that payment should be made to installers within 7-10 days from the moment the job was completed and the voucher redeemed. “I don’t want to be waiting another eight weeks for these payments to come through,” he said.
Labour is urging the government to publish the contract awarded to ICF for the management of the green homes grant scheme, so taxpayers know exactly how their money has been spent, and to take urgent action with ICF to speed up the reimbursement of installers for work completed as a priority.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Over 21,000 Green Homes Grant vouchers have already been issued, helping us improve the energy efficiency of homes, and we continue to work with the scheme’s administrator to ensure voucher applications are processed as quickly as possible.
“To ensure the highest standards of service, ministers have asked the scheme administrator to pay money owed to installers and sort the processing of applications as a matter of urgency.”
Lesley Kingsley and her partner have been waiting since 5 November for their voucher to help pay for installing an air source heat pump in their new home.
Kingsley, who is in rented accommodation waiting to move into her house outside Lincoln, said she was exasperated with the delays in the scheme.
“The thing that is really frustrating is that there is a customer service number that we have to call but those staffing it are just customer service, they don’t have the authority to do anything. So they just log calls and you never get to speak to anyone about why there is this long delay,” she said.
Kingsley bought the property with her partner last year. “It is an old house that needs complete renovation so we wanted to install green energy,” she said.
“I am suffering as a customer. I have no heating or hot water in my home. It is uninhabitable. I have applied for vouchers to install an air source heat pump – a form of green energy apparently supported by the government.
“This flagship ‘green’ incentive deserves to be exposed for the mess it is and for the complete lack of care it shows towards its customers.
“At no stage of the application process have I been able to speak directly to anyone who is actually dealing with the processing of applications.
“There is no number to call. Not even the customer service people can speak to the processing team. The customer service team seems to be empowered simply to tut sympathetically and log calls.”