/ Home & Energy

£8.4bn price tag for failing energy efficiency schemes


£8.4bn – that’s the estimate of how much we’ve spent on successive government’s energy efficiency policies. And yet the majority of Britain’s homes still don’t have adequate insulation. It’s time something was done.

It’s when the weather turns chilly, like it has over the last week or so, that you really begin to feel the odd draught in your house. But sometimes it’s more than the odd draught. Some homes are really poorly insulated, costing thousands of pounds a year to heat without ever actually feeling warm and cosy.

Our latest report reveals that, by 2015, consumers’ will have spent around £8.4bn on schemes designed to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. And yet successive governments have failed to comprehensively address the problem.

To say these schemes have been completely ineffective would be unfair. The Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) has seen hundreds of thousands of loft and cavity wall insulation installations, for example. However, despite all that effort and money, there are still 14 million homes without adequate insulation. That’s more than half of Britain’s homes.

We need a radical overhaul

You’ll often hear politicians claim we have the lowest electricity prices in Europe. Even if that’s true, our energy bills have been on the up and up in recent years and this is partly because of how energy inefficient our homes are compared to our European neighbours.

And with four in 10 people saying they can’t cut back on their energy usage any more than they already have, making homes more energy efficient has a crucial part to play.

Saving energy to save money is a bit of a no-brainer. Loft and cavity wall insulation are simple and effective ways to cut energy bills. And yet no government has really got to grips with how the money taken off our bills to pay for these measures is best spent. There’s little or no scrutiny of where much of this money goes – that has to change. It’s time for a radical overhaul of how energy efficiency policies are delivered by the Government.

Cut them down, George

This is why we’re calling on the Chancellor George Osborne to use his Autumn Statement to take action, by cutting the cost of Government energy policies down to size. For example, we want the Chancellor to reform the Energy Company Obligation so that it’s spent on more cost-effective measures, saving between £242m and £363m a year. We also want to see the Government put in place firm insulation targets, concentrating on low-cost loft and cavity wall insulation.

Six in 10 people say it would make a big difference to their standard of living if George Osborne cut their energy bills in his Autumn Statement. But we only have days to convince him – you can help by emailing your MP to increase the pressure. And tell us – do you think it’s important that the money taken from our energy bills is spent sensible and fairly?


This is crucially linked to the issue of fuel poverty. For want of effective insulation and efficient heating appliances large numbers of people cannot afford to keep warm. Lots of people living in old houses have gaps round the doors and windows as well as thin materials and single glazing which they cannot afford to replace, even with a subsidy, Many cannot afford to renew their old boilers, radiators and hot water systems and fit efficiency controls even with a grant or other assistance. Pre-1918 properties often have very high ceilings meaning that more heat is needed to make the rooms comfortable, The government has access to millions of Energy Performance Certificates for houses put on the market over the last few years. That would be a starting point for targetted intervention to devise bespoke energy-saving and cost reduction solutions for people living in such properties. The next time there is a blanket of snow over the country it would be a good idea to commission some aerial surveys and satellite imaging of the extent of heat loss due to inadequate loft insulation. No property owned by the public sector or the social housing sector should be deficient and private landlords could be incentivised to bring their lets up to standard. Apart from the downstream side of this question, there is the enormous potential saving in power generation capacity and reduction in carbon emissions if we can reduce the waste. So far we haven’t done much more than make people change their light bulbs; I know its difficult, but it’s high time there was a programme of direct prioritised intervention focussing on the greatest heat losses and the greatest needs, property by property, all over the country starting with the coldest places and the worst dwellings first.


JW – You will be pleased to know that at least one forward thinking borough has carried out an aerial survey to highlight properties without loft insulation. The downside of course is that unless people are known to be home the lack of visible heat escaping may be because it is unoccupied.

Which? is a very wealthy charity and I am advocating practical measures and have already suggested that thermal imaging teams on the ground could be a useful way to check on those 2m of houses already retro-fitted with cavity and roof insulation. However how well it has been done is a very interesting point. There are potential problems with cavity wall retro-fits that neither the contractor or the Government would wish to highlight.

As for fuel poverty firstly lets be honest and say the WHO definition includes living room temperatures of 71F which for the UK is surely a rarity in summer let alone winter. Perhaps they work on the assumption a shirt is the normal mode of attire?!

Anyway in the UK it is translated as 21C in the primary room and 18C elsewhere in the house. This is warmer than I choose to heat my house. In a cold snap I may turn on the heating [94% efficient] to 16 or possibly 18C and wear more clothing. Basically my idea is that we need to examine closely these arbitrary definition temperatures.

Secondly it is acknowledge that may elderly single people choose to live in larger properties which are more difficult to heat. And as I know through personal experience older people are loathe to spend on long term efficient heating as they expect to peg-it before they get payback.

Thirdly in my road I cold reduce all the retired folks heating bills by at least a third by suggesting they alternately visited their elderly neighbours and heat only one of two houses during the day.
Sounds radical but really it is just highlighting that their are choices to be made.

This relates really to extended families, alms houses, close communities, and people who are unwilling and unable to take any action. To say energy is expensive and that is THE problem I think is a simplistic approach.

Building passive heating houses on every development should be a requirement of every builder
and council – it may be a percentage of build and they will be more expensive – but we have to get started. The savings on running costs could be added back as an increased multiple on the income to mortgage requirement.

peter wilde says:
27 November 2013

“… concentrating on low-cost loft and cavity wall insulation.” No. This is where policy so far has been fixated. Some of the worst performing houses have solid walls and cannot benefit from such a policy. It’s unfair to concentrate government effort on helping people in more modern homes with cavity walls.


In terms of bangs per buck cavity walls are a lot cheaper than solid walls to insulate. However I agree that it should not be ignored, and the Which? paper alluded to in the post also discusses it.

What is not made clear is that insulating inside the property with false walls is an alternative and cheaper option than external cladding.


Insulating solid walls on the inside seems an obvious solution but on the Conversation about damp, several contributors have stressed that the walls of older buildings need to ‘breathe’ because there is no cavity and the brickwork is somewhat permeable to moisture.

Having heard of cases of dampness caused by cavity wall insulation, I have not yet taken the risk of having it installed. If I had solid walls I would want to be sure that insulating them would be a safe solution, though I guess it would be fairly to remove the insulation if a problem developed.


I realise that there are drawbacks but :

There are ways around it. Incidentally cladding with tiles and slate etc would remove the dampness by rain from external walls and mean water migration would not be a problem – which of course was why builders did it traditionally.


Thanks. With rising energy prices and depletion of fossil fuels, we certainly should be improving the insulation of homes with solid walls.


It might be better value for money overall to have a comprehensive programme of domestic property insulation and energy conservation, available wherever and for whoever it is needed, than to pour billions into additional power stations and oil & gas production infrastructure. A whole range of considerations will be involved in drawing up priorities, including geography and climate, structural characteristics, property volumes, and the availability of fuels. There is always a reluctance in the UK to do something like this on a generous basis in case one or two people who might perhaps be able to afford it anyway manage to limbo-dance under the eligibility bar and end up with a significant benefit at little cost to themselves. Shades of this [and the collateral jealousy] became evident in the discussions over the original solar energy feed-in tariffs – although it has to be said that the government of the day did go a bit mad with the rate and as a scheme it hasn’t done an awful lot for those most in need of energy conservation and fuel poverty relief. I am also dubious that the implementation of a high-value programme can be left to the ways of the market place since there is a need for strong policy direction, regulation, quality assurance and accountability. I fear that the likes of the double glazing and solar energy industries do not inspire much confidence and cannot be trusted to use tax-payers’ money responsibly. I see energy efficiency as an investment in the country’s resources and well-being at least as useful as many other ‘public good’s; the beauty of the installations is that once done they are virtually permanent and enhance the nation’s property asset base; even if someone does get their loft lagged or their cavity filled for nothing, they can’t exactly rip it out and flog it on a well-known on-line auction site to turn it into cash.