The government's long-awaited plan to overhaul how Britain heats its homes for the climate emergency has been branded “inadequate” and “not a very good start” by environmentalists.
Just 90,000 of the UK's 22 million gas-heated households will benefit from £5,000 grants to replace their boilers with green heat pumps – assistance which will not even cover the costs of the 0.4 per cent of households who benefit.
And ministers have ignored the advice of their scientific advisors and failed to bring forward the phase-out date for the sale of new gas boilers, with sales to continue as late as 2035 despite looming climate targets.
Under the plans released by the government overnight a £450m boiler upgrade fund would be spread over three years until 2024, with grants provided to help replace just 30,000 boilers each year.
Boris Johnson has previously set a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year across homes and public buildings by 2028 – which campaigners say he is now unlikely to meet.
The government is betting on the price of heat pumps and other green heating systems coming down rapidly, and is providing a £60m “innovation fund” to encourage that process.
But campaigners say households need more help if climate targets are to be met. Just 67,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK in 2021 according to industry figures, compared to around a million and a half new gas boilers.
“£450m pounds delivered via individual £5,000 grants means 90,000 heat pump installations over three years. That just isn’t very much, and won’t meet the prime minister’s ambition of 600,000 a year by 2028," said Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, who described the government's plan as “quite modest”.
"Investment will drive down the cost of heat pumps, and technical innovation plus skills training is a part of this, but so is scale. These grants will only incentivise the best-off households.”
Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, Caroline Jones, said: “Sadly the government has stopped short of what’s required to transform our housing into the clean, affordable, energy efficient homes that we all want and need to be living in.
“Housing is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise but the government is making it all the more difficult by leaving half its tools in the toolbox, with unambitious policies and inadequate funding.”
She added: “More money must be provided to rapidly increase the number of homeowners switching to heat pumps over the next few years, with full costs covered for families on low incomes. A clearer signal would have been a phase-out of new boilers before 2035. And all of this must be delivered with a fully funded, nationwide programme to insulate our homes at a scale and speed that the government hasn’t fully grasped.”
The government's committee on climate change, a statutory body which advises ministers on how to meet net zero, had also recommended bringing forward the phase-out date for gas boilers to 2032.
But this recommendation was nowhere to be found in the government's strategy, with the date staying at 2035, potentially baking in millions of new gas boilers in the intervening years. The government has a legally binding target to hit net zero by 2050, though some scientists argue the date needs to be brought forward to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The committee says that in order to meet climate targets, by 2030 at least 80 per cent of all new heat installations need to be low-carbon systems like heat pumps – around 1 million installations a year.
Announcing the new policy, Boris Johnson said: “As we clean up the way we heat our homes over the next decade, we are backing our brilliant innovators to make clean technology like heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers – supporting thousands of green jobs.
“Our new grants will help homeowners make the switch sooner, without costing them extra, so that going green is the better choice when their boiler needs an upgrade.”
But Labour's shadow business secretary Ed Miliband branded the plan a “meagre, unambitious and wholly inadequate response”.
“Families up and down the country desperately needed Labour’s 10-year plan investing £6bn a year for home insulation and zero carbon heating to cut bills by £400 per year, improve our energy security, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions,” he said.
“People can't warm their homes with yet more of Boris Johnson's hot air but that is all that is on offer.”
Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse described the policy as “a kick in the teeth for families across the country facing soaring energy bills this winter”.
“These proposals will do nothing to lift people out of fuel poverty and hardly make a dent in the emissions produced from homes. And they will help around just 1 in 300 homes, whilst millions of households face record high bills due to rising gas prices,” she said.
“We urgently need an emergency programme of investment to better insulate our homes, cut emissions and end fuel poverty. Instead the government is delaying the inevitable while condemning millions to eye-watering bills for years to come.”