Poorer households should get free heat pumps, say experts: Help is needed to replace gas boilers with low-carbon alternatives, warn builders, energy firms and charities

Heat pumps can cost thousands of pounds to install.
Heat pumps can cost thousands of pounds to install. Photograph: KBImages/Alamy

Fiona Harvey Guardian UK, Wed 16 Jun 2021

Households on low incomes should be supplied with free heat pumps in order to kickstart the market for low-carbon heating equipment and meet the UK’s climate targets, experts have told the government.

Heat pumps can currently cost thousands of pounds to install, but the more that are installed, the faster that cost is likely to come down. They are widely regarded as the best way to replace the UK’s gas boilers and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from homes.

More than 20 organisations representing builders and construction businesses, energy companies and civil society groups have signed an open letter calling for a “fair heat deal” that would ensure people on low incomes can gain access to heat pumps.

About 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from heating the UK’s poor housing stock, most of which is also draughty and energy inefficient. The group also called for insulation to be made available to people on low incomes.

The government scrapped its program to install insulation and low-carbon heating, called the green homes grant, after only six months, during which a fraction of the homes targeted were insulated, and there were widespread complaints of poor service.

Ministers are now working on a new heat and buildings strategy, which has not yet been published. The Climate Change Committee, the government’s statutory advisers, has warned that bringing down emissions from the domestic housing sector will be essential to meeting the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Juliet Phillips, a senior policy adviser at the E3G thinktank, one of the organisations behind the call, said: “Moving from a gas boiler to a heat pump is one of the biggest carbon savings a household can make. But it must be affordable and we urge the government to support our fair heat deal to ensure no one is left behind in the green industrial revolution. If done right, the UK can lead the world in reducing carbon emissions from heat while slashing energy bills, boosting the economy and protecting the fuel poor.”

The letter also called on ministers to remove environmental levies from energy bills, to ensure it is always cheaper to run a heat pump than a boiler, and for grants to all households not on low incomes, to ensure that the cost of a new heat pump is competitive with the cost of installing a new gas boiler.

The signatories also called for the removal of VAT on green home products and servicers, and for changes to stamp duty to reduce the cost of homes that have been fitted with low-carbon technology.

The signatories include the Federation of Master Builders, Energy UK, Friends of the Earth, the UK Green Building Council, the thinktank E3G and the CPRE countryside charity.

Mike Thornton, the chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: “For the UK to reach its net zero targets, we need real pace and scale in rolling out heat pumps. A fair heat deal will provide the confidence, clarity and certainty which will unlock the investment required for this.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We are already leading the way to ensure affordability and fairness are at the heart of clean heating reforms, and more detail on our approach will be provided in the upcoming heat and buildings strategy.

“We are supporting lower income households and vulnerable people to make homes greener and cut energy bills, and will continue to do so through schemes such as the home upgrade grant and the new clean heat grant from April next year.”