The avowed ambition of the Green Deal is to offer everyone the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their home at no up-front cost, so enabling them to make it warmer and cheaper to run. Given that a third of our general housing stock is occupied by older households, Age UK obviously supports any initiative which will improve the quality and energy efficiency of our homes. That is particularly important because with the introduction of the Green Deal, all the existing programmes which have operated in this field in the past, such as Warm Front and the insulation programme CERT run by the energy companies, are now closed.
The design of the Green Deal invites the householder to call the Energy Saving Advice Service (on 0300 123 1234) to find a Green Deal Provider – a private sector company accredited and monitored by the Government. This Provider will then arrange for an Assessor to visit, and identify the relevant steps which could be taken (such as insulation, new boiler, radiator valves etc). The recommended work must meet the ‘golden rule’ that the cost of getting this work done would reduce the household’s spending on energy by a greater amount – so saving the householder money. A Green Deal Plan will then be prepared for the householder to agree to, an authorised Installer would then arrive to do the work, and a repayment plan will be devised which will be added to (the now reduced) electricity bill for an agreed period. In effect, the loan is a debt on the energy meter, not on the householder, and gets passed on if the house is bought and sold.
This is a brand new approach to reducing energy consumption – it has not been tried or tested anywhere. A key concern is how households in fuel poverty would fit in? They probably ought to be keeping adequately warm as a result of energy improvements, not cutting their energy consumption, so could fail to pass the golden rule. For households on defined, eligible benefits, there is a fund accumulated by a precept on every energy bill (called the Energy Company Obligation) which will pay the capital cost outright – with no on-going cost on the electricity bill.
On paper, the scheme ticks all the boxes. But Age UK (and others in the sector) feels that the scale of work needed to help the fuel poor is far greater than the resources provided by the Energy Company Obligation. With energy prices remorselessly rising (not least because of the surcharge for the ECO), our fear is that many more people will drift into fuel poverty than will be helped out. With the Green Deal now officially launched, it is the only tool in the toolbox.
Age UK has joined with others in the Energy Bill Revolution, an alliance of over one hundred organisations, including charities, businesses and trade unions. Together we are calling on the Government to use our carbon taxes to super-insulate our homes.