Ministers are accused of failing to take basic measures to help people cut their energy use ahead of average bills soaring to £3,549 in October and a predicted £5,300 or more from January.
Just 126,131 homes received help with work such as loft and cavity wall insulation through the Energy Company Obligation scheme in the first six months of 2022, the figures uncovered by Labour show. This is a 51 per cent fall on the 261,315 installations carried out in the same period last year – which itself followed a “shocking” decade-long failure to act, climate experts have said.
Furthermore, the 35,000 homes that received help between April and June this year represent the lowest quarterly figure since just 16,093 at the end of 2018, the official statistics show.
“The energy price cap has just soared to record levels, and people are terrified of what that means for their bills this winter,” said Kerry McCarthy, the shadow climate change minister.
“The government should have been working around the clock to insulate homes and ensure as many households as possible benefit from lower bills. Its failure to do so, despite repeated warnings, risks leaving millions out in the cold.”
Doug Parr, policy director at the campaign group Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s frankly astonishing that this dip in insulation rates comes at exactly the time we should be ramping up this proven, long-term solution to the cost of living crisis.
“We’ve known for months now that households will be facing tough and frightening energy bills this winter. That’s precious time which could have been used to ease bills by rolling out a nationwide insulation programme.”
And Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, said: “This winter, millions of households will be paying sky-high bills for heat that will simply escape through roofs, walls and draughty windows and doors.
“The next prime minister must make energy efficiency a top priority, and commit to funding a free, street-by-street home insulation programme – focusing on those most in need.”
Experts calculate that 9 million households are paying an extra £170 a year on energy bills because of a collapse in insulation work after the Conservatives came to power in 2010. The chief executive of the independent Climate Change Committee condemned the removal of support a decade ago, saying in March: “We call this shocking – that’s what it is.”
The sharp fall in insulation work is revealed as polling for the Liberal Democrats suggests that 23 per cent of UK adults will not turn on their heating at all this winter. The proportion of people so desperate to save money that they will live in an unheated home rises to 27 per cent among parents with children under the age of 18, the party said.
Labour pointed out that it put forward a warm homes plan in September last year, proposing an urgent “national mission” to upgrade the 19 million UK homes that need insulating. A £60bn fund would give a grant to every home rated below band C on its official Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), potentially cutting £1,000 from annual energy bills.
Instead, insulation installations have fallen even further, amid the scrapping of the failed £1.5bn green homes grant scheme – which funded improvements to just 10 per cent of the 600,000 homes ministers said were eligible.
But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy defended its record, pointing to the transition between schemes as an explanation for the decline in grants.
“We are investing £6.6bn this parliament to improve energy efficiency across the country, with the majority of our support targeting those on low incomes and vulnerable households,” a spokesperson said. “Huge progress has already been made, with the number of homes with an energy efficiency rating of C or above at 46 per cent and rising, up from just 14 per cent in 2010.”
Home insulation is widely seen as the missing link in government promises of help with the energy crisis, which have been attacked as inadequate during the vacuum created by the Tory leadership contest.
British homes are among the most heat-leaking in Europe after grants “fell off a cliff” in the years after 2012, the Climate Change Committee said. The watchdog has also warned that the UK is building energy-inefficient homes that will need expensive retrofitting in the years to come if they are to meet net zero emissions goals.