The report, ‘After the Green Deal’, explores a range of possibilities aiming to produce an attractive and compelling offer for the millions who could benefit from having a more energy efficient home. It also looks outside the UK for inspiration, at other countries pursuing the same policy objectives.
THE GREEN DEAL
From its inception, the Green Deal struggled to capture the interest of older people who should have been one of its key target audiences. Back in 2013, research by Age UK found that 70 per cent of over-65s wouldn’t consider using the Green Deal, with the requirement to take out debt scaring off the majority.
Yet the problem of cold, leaky homes is huge for at least a million older people, including many of those who could benefit from home improvements. We know that older households tend to be over-represented in housing with poorer energy efficiency ratings – older couples in particular spend significantly more on their energy bills than younger groups, and cold homes pose a particular risk to their health.
In the end however, it wasn’t just older people who were underwhelmed by this solution to our energy inefficient housing stock. A mere 16,000 people used Green Deal finance before it was closed earlier this year – a drop in the ocean considering how many millions struggle to keep themselves warm at home.
AFTER THE GREEN DEAL…
In the report ResPublica used three guiding principles to frame their thinking and recommendations:
- We need to stimulate demand: a new package must be clear, simple, and offer strong incentives;
- We need to enable householders who may not have spare capital to fund work to find loans which are transparent and familiar;
- We need to engage people by promoting energy efficiency improvements as a positive way to improve their lifestyle and health and wellbeing, not as a rather dull investment opportunity.
THE WAY FORWARD..?
These broad themes underpin their more specific suggestions:
- Stamp duty on house sales could be calibrated to the energy efficiency of the house – the more efficient, the lower the stamp duty rate.
- The Government could set a timetable of dates beyond which the sale or letting of houses below prescribed energy efficiency levels would be impossible – a process of compulsory change similar to the pension age changes now rolling forward.
- a ‘Help to Improve’ scheme, modelled on the Help to Buy programme, whereby mortgage support is provided to discount the cost of money raised specifically for energy improvement purposes.
- We see huge opportunities in the devolution agenda, in which the new local authority freedoms will allow the costs and benefits of interventions to be shared across different executive departments within a single financial framework. The interests of local businesses (in local enterprise partnerships) to grow their businesses and customer base should be able to claim a higher profile.
There are just under one million older people in England living in fuel poverty – equivalent to the population of the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham. So it is vital to find a new Green Deal offer which makes a strong appeal to older people, since most will be left to their own devices to make any improvements to address the problem of rising energy costs.
This new report takes us on that journey. But it must not be too leisurely a journey. Winter ill-health and misery is just too pressing an issue, and loneliness and depression are damaging by-products. The old scheme was a flop; what comes next must be a success if we are to stand any chance of making warm homes an affordable reality for everyone.