Government debuts new online service designed to offer tailored, impartial advice on how to save energy, but launch comes amidst reports plans to boost efficiency funding have stalled
British households can from today undertake a ‘home energy MOT’, which aims to provide them with advice on how that could save hundreds of pounds a year on their energy bills ahead of this autumn’s anticipated increase in the energy price cap. But the launch of the new online service will inevitably fuel questions as to whether the government is doing enough to tackle the looming energy bill crisis, as Boris Johnson prepares for his summer holiday, the candidates to replace him continue to duck calls for them to deliver A more ambitious energy security strategy, and reports suggest plans to boost funding for energy efficiency programs have been paused.
The ‘home energy MOT’ service, which was first trailed in the Spring as part of the government’s Energy Security Strategy, invites people to input information on their homes and heating systems. It then generates guidance on how best they can improve their property’s energy efficiency through measures such as loft and wall insulation, double glazing, and heat pump installation. Users can also streamline the process by simply inputting their address if they already have an energy performance certificate (EPA) in place.
The resulting recommendations on how to curb energy use also include information on how to access government grants, such as the £5,000 available through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme for homeowners that replaces boilers with low carbon alternatives such as heat pumps.
The government said the new service was part of a multi-billion pound package of support to help households coping with rising energy bills and curb their removal ensure use, including direct support to reduce bills, the VAT on domestic clean technologies, the £800m Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, £950m Home Upgrade Grant scheme, and an expansion of the flagship Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme that is set to deliver £12bn of investment to improve the efficiency of around 700,000 homes. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said extending the ECO until 2026 and boosting its value to £1bn a year would help hundreds of thousands of families reduce their bills by an average of around £300 a year.
“The cheapest energy is the energy that you don’t use, and by making simple improvements to the energy performance of their homes, people can see immediate and lasting savings on their bills,” said Business and Energy Minister Lord Callanan. “With global pressures pushing up fossil fuel prices, it has never been more important to make our homes more energy efficient. This website provides a new and trusted source of information where homeowners can give their property an energy MOT and get clear, impartial advice. “
He added that households should take advantage of the new service, as “some of the simplest upgrades can be the most effective”. “Now is the time to act to make sure your home is ready for the colder months,” he said. “I am urging homeowners to get online, use this new website and see the changes you can make now that could save you hundreds of pounds on your bills this winter.”
The new ‘MOT’ was broadly welcomed by energy industry experts. Writing on Twitter, the Conservative Environment Network’s Jack Richardson hailed the service as “really positive and exactly the sort of thing the gov needs to be doing as we face paying £500 per month from January due to the 450 per cent rise in the cost of gas”.
However, others questioned whether the government would now promote the service and accompany it with a broader campaign to provide detailed information on how to optimize boilers ahead of the winter and take simple steps to reduce energy use at times of peak demand.
Meanwhile, critics continued to accuse Ministers of not doing nearly enough to enhance building energy efficiency ahead of looming increases to energy bills that are expected to push average domestic bills well over £3,000 a year. Bloomberg reported this weekend that the planned £1bn boost to the ECO scheme would not come in time to help thousands of homes this winter, after a plan to double funding for the scheme was paused in the wake of Boris Johnson’s resignation as Prime Minister.
Citing sources familiar with the discussions, the news agency reported that the plan to increase funding for the ECO scheme had been shelved, while a £30m underspend on existing local authority-led domestic energy efficiency schemes could now also be lost, as convention dictates Number 10 cannot reallocate the money while the leadership election proceeds.
Officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury had been in discussions to redirect leftover cash from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and Home Upgrade Grant, Bloomberg reported, but the talks were halted as a result of the Tory leadership contest.
The failure to fast track additional funding for energy efficiency programs ahead of a winter when average energy bills could top £3,400 a year, plunging millions of households into fuel poverty, will further fuel accusations the government is failing to adequately prepare for worsening economic headwinds. A survey this week from Legal & General indicated that more than one in eight UK households fear they have no further way to make cuts to their household spending, even before the anticipated increases in energy bills this autumn. More than a quarter of households earning less than £20,000 said they were worried they will be unable to cope with higher bills, the report found, while almost half of UK households are concerned about being able to keep up with rent or mortgage payments over the next 12 months.
The race to replace Johnson continued over the weekend, with both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss continuing to clash over their competing tax plans and strategies for accelerating post-Brexit reforms, while rubbishing much of their own government’s record.
Sunak’s campaign, which is lagging badly in the polls, performed a partial U-turn and indicated he would cut VAT on energy bills if he makes it to Number 10 – a move that would trim five per cent off bills, but only partially offset the huge increase in energy prices that is expected this autumn. However, at the same time reports suggested Sunak’s plans to protect the greenbelt would not just significantly restrict farmers from selling land to housebuilders, but would also place limits on new solar farm development. The move follows his confirmation he would strengthen the de facto ban on new onshore wind farm development, despite the fact it represents one of the lowest cost forms of new energy generation capacity.
Meanwhile, Truss said she would not impose further windfall taxes on the energy sector to fund fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes, despite the record profits being posted by energy suppliers. And reports emerged that she is considering giving Lord Frost, the former Brexit Secretary and vocal critic of the government’s net zero strategy a key role in her administration.
The new ‘home energy MOT’ service may be a welcome step forward, but at a time when other European governments are pulling every available policy lever to curb energy demand and prepare for a challenging winter, the UK government’s strategy remains stuck in the slow lane and the two candidates to become the next Prime Minister appeared to be unable to find the accelerator.