A Lords inquiry has labeled the government's flagship green heating program as "seriously failing.".
Homes can receive £5,000 through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to help them switch from a gas boiler to a low-carbon heat pump.
The Lords Net Zero Committee stated on Wednesday that the national target for green heating is "very unlikely to be met" due to the low grant take-up.
In response, the government announced that it would start a marketing campaign to increase public awareness of the program.
Nearly 17% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, are generated by domestic heating.
The government wants to install 600,000 low-carbon heat pumps annually within five years to meet the UK's climate change targets; currently, only 50,000 are installed annually.
The goal of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme was to jump-start the heat pump market in England and Wales and lower installation costs for homeowners.
However, in her letter to the government, Lords Committee Chair Baroness Parminter sharply criticized ministers for not doing more to promote the program, which is on track to only distribute half of the grants allotted.
The plan isn't performing as well as it should, she told the BBC. The government must do everything possible to increase public awareness. People need to feel empowered to understand the significance of these changes. ".
As we transition to renewable electricity, homes will cost less to heat and emit fewer emissions because heat pumps use electricity to operate and are three times more efficient than a gas boiler.
In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Anthony Hibbs used the program to have a heat pump installed in his newly constructed home last year. He praised his new heating system to the BBC, calling it "absolutely brilliant.".
However, he claimed that learning about installers and the program was challenging: "I had to look online and do a lot of research. Although I have never seen the scheme advertised as being simple at first, it wasn't at first. ".
According to the government's own research from the fall of 2022, 80% of UK residents had no idea what a heat pump was, let alone were aware of the program.
We recently launched a marketing campaign to further raise public awareness, and we'll be considering options to make sure our targets are met, a government spokesperson told the BBC. " .
Another BUS voucher recipient, John Taylor, 71, agreed that the government should be more explicit about which installers to hire: "I searched online and found cowboys out there. You are on your own because there isn't much guidance pointing you in the direction of good people. ".
In the UK, there are 130,000 registered gas heating engineers compared to an estimated 3,000 heat pump installers.
The committee stated that while the government is funding some training opportunities for installers, engineers need more assurance that their time is well spent investing in further education.
The program's issues remind us of the government's earlier Green Homes Grant, which was intended to help families with energy-saving measures like insulation but was abandoned in 2021 after less than a year due to a lack of installers.
The Committee commended Octopus Energy for its investment in heat pump design and training, but Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Octopus Energy, said the program had increased industry confidence and that Octopus Energy currently has 50,000 people on its waiting list for a heat pump.
"Government and business need to collaborate on this, and we hope the grant will continue," she declared.
"We are confident in our ability to create demand, and the grant would assist those who are struggling financially. ".
The committee has stated that the grant is insufficient for lower- and middle-income households, and that these households are turned off by the heat pump's more expensive initial outlay when compared to a gas boiler.
Mr. Taylor and Mr. Hibbs paid £8,500 and £6,000, respectively, for their heat pumps despite receiving grants.
"That upfront cost is a real issue, and policy has to focus on addressing that," said Stew Horne, head of policy at The Energy Savings Trust, to the BBC. through grants, affordable loans, or green financing. ".
In Scotland, where they also provide a free energy advice service to assist households with installing a new heating system, he claimed that model was not novel and was already in use there.
To make heat pumps more affordable, nations like France and Germany have pledged twice as much money to their low-carbon heating programs and offer larger grants for low-income households up to £9,700.
According to the Lords Committee for Environment and Climate Change, the government must both expand the program to accommodate this scale and ensure that any unused funds from Year 1 of the BUS, which they estimate to be worth approximately £75 million, will be carried over to succeeding years.
Regarding what would happen to this unspent funding, the government chose not to comment.
The BBC was informed by Baroness Parminter that she had made it crystal clear to the government that they needed to recover the funds. If the first-year underspend somehow returns to the Treasury, that will not be acceptable. The funds were reserved for a worthwhile cause.