Hopes and fears
We hope the grants will go some way to improving the lives of the million older people in England living in fuel poverty. Retired households have the highest average fuel costs compared to those of other ages. Many also live with health conditions that require more heating or energy. Covid has exposed how vulnerable those with respiratory conditions can be, the same conditions that are caused and exacerbated by cold and damp homes. The next six months will see most of us spend longer at home, so it is vital that those with the greatest needs are as comfortable as possible.
However, there are some concerns about the scheme and the timescales for delivery during a pandemic and likely further lockdown restrictions. Whilst work can begin this autumn, people are likely to have concerns about the disruption to their home over the colder months particularly if anyone living there is vulnerable to coronavirus and needs to be shielded. We hope that the Government will extend the period for work to be completed from the end of March 2021.
This short window for completion may also make it harder to get skilled and experienced tradespeople. Those carrying out work must be accredited to ensure the installations are of high quality. Many may be booked up on other jobs given the backlog of work from earlier in the year. There is also the danger of scams linked to the grants and people being mis-sold or overcharged. Ultimately decisions will have to be made about whether possible short-term inconvenience can be offset by the likely lasting benefits that a more efficient and warmer home will bring.
We hope this announcement is the first of several initiatives to improve the homes of vulnerable and fuel poor older people. The Government’s 2019 election manifesto promised £9.2 billion of funding for energy efficiency programmes over ten years. The Green Homes Grants is the first scheme to be announced as we wait for news of planned improvements to social housing and public buildings like schools and hospitals.
The Age UK network already does amazing work helping older people across the country maximise their income, reduce their energy bills and make their homes warmer. The next 6 months are likely to be challenging but green shoots can grow to keep older people warm and well this winter.