Out-Law News 1 min. read

UK homeowners ‘need more support’ to install energy efficient tech

The UK government must offer UK homeowners more support to cover the cost of installing energy efficient technologies in their houses if it is to successfully decarbonise the country’s housing stock, according to one legal expert.

Siobhan Cross of Pinsent Masons welcomed plans outlined in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring fiscal statement earlier this week to widen the category of ‘energy saving materials’ currently benefitting from reduced VAT rates to include wind and water turbines but warned the policy “stops short of covering all the works involved in retrofitting our homes for energy efficiency. “

It comes after Sunak also announced a new five-year 0% VAT rate for installing technology, including heat pumps and solar panels, in UK homes. The chancellor said the measure was aimed at encouraging people to make their houses more energy efficient and lower their energy bills.

But Cross said: “As people grapple with the highest cost of living crisis for decades, many will ask if this is enough to encourage homeowners to commit already stretched funds to install new technologies, which even with tax relief remain costly - and whether the 0% VAT rate should extend to all energy efficiency works.”

The government is currently trying to meet its goal of having more than 600,000 heat pumps installed in UK homes each year by 2028. Cross called Sunak’s VAT announcement “a helpful incentive” to meet that target but said heat pumps “are unlikely to provide adequate heating in most cases” - unless coupled with other measures such as insulation.

“If this announcement does lead to increased uptake of these technologies, the challenge will be to ensure a workforce with the right skills, growing the heat pump and solar panel supply chains and building grid capacity to accommodate the increased electrification of heat. Ministers will need to make swift progress on tackling these other challenges - and on the development of green finance products for homeowners - if energy efficiency retrofitting and decarbonisation is to proceed at the pace required,” Cross said.

In his statement, Sunak also announced plans to expand the ‘energy company obligation’ to £1 billion per year for 2022-26, a move that would oblige suppliers to improve the energy efficiency of low-income homes. Pete Feehan of Pinsent Masons said: “While schemes designed to support the fuel poor have strived to overhaul our housing stock, the issue has been brought into sharp focus as consumers struggle with the fallout of the pricing crisis.

“However, responsibility cannot solely be left with energy suppliers who are struggling with a rapidly changing energy landscape, price spikes, and the impact of the war in Ukraine. Tackling fuel poverty is rightly a priority for the government and the energy industry, but there are many sectors involved in the development, operation and maintenance of the UK’s housing stock that have an equally important role to play,” Feehan added.

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