The government has been accused of worsening the heating bill crisis by ending a successful home insulation programme just as fuel prices surge.
The Liberal Democrats have said ministers need to introduce an emergency insulation programme ahead of a winter of surging bills – as new figures show millions of people expect to be unable to heat their homes this winter.
The Green Homes Grant offered households vouchers to go towards the cost of insulation, but it was scrapped in Rishi Sunak's last budget and replaced with a new scheme that gave funding to local authorities to distribute the cash.
The party’s leader, Ed Davey, who served as energy secretary in the last coalition government, told The Independent that the new scheme had failed because it has only insulated 3,000 homes since coming into effect in October – “no bigger than a large village”.
The Lib Dems have said targeting the worst-insulated band F homes by converting them to band A homes would save households on average £557 in heating bills.
Those in more common band D properties would still save an average of £202 more with an upgrade, the party said.
But the government said the claims were “spurious and theoretical at best” and that it would upgrade 50,000 homes living in the worst-insulated buildings this year.
New research from housing charity Shelter has found that a quarter of renters cannot afford to keep their homes warm because of soaring fuel prices.
The surge in heating bill costs caused by rising gas prices is to hit at the same time as the government's cut to universal credit, with the furlough scheme also set to end on 30 September.
More than a third of private renters in England, equivalent to two million households, now receive housing benefits to help pay their rent – up from 25 per cent pre-pandemic.
YouGov polling commissioned by Shelter found that 26 per cent of adult renters in England already say they cannot keep their homes warm in winter – and the polling was conducted in April, well before the latest price hikes.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that the “triple whammy of the furlough scheme ending, cuts to universal credit and rocketing fuel prices may be the final straw for many renters barely hanging on to their homes”.
She added: “We are facing a perfect storm for homelessness to rise, and the new housing secretary must get a handle on the situation before winter arrives.”
The Liberal Democrat leader said that an emergency insulation programme should begin this winter.
“This Conservative government has hit household finances with an energy bill bombshell this winter,” Mr Davey said. “By slashing a grant which could have saved cash-strapped households hundreds of pounds amidst gas prices escalating, the Conservatives have worsened the energy crisis for millions of people across the country.”
He went on to add: “This winter people could face the stark reality that they may not be able to heat their homes. At the same time, bills are soaring and food supplies could run short. We are facing a winter of discontent.
“The government must make amends for their unforgivable mistake of scrapping the Green Homes Grant. I am calling for an emergency package of support for households which are not properly insulated. This time the scheme needs to be long term, both to make sure suppliers back it and so it also helps tackle the climate emergency.”
Business minister Lord Callanan told MPs this week that only 80,000 of the vouchers were issued under the Green Homes Grant scheme before it was scrapped in March.
The minister said the figure fell short of the projected target of 600,000 because of “fairly challenging timelines”.
“It’s fair to say the Green Homes Grant has not been one of our finest success stories. It clearly did not fulfil the huge expectations,” he added.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK has a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes, with 40 per cent now above energy performance band C, up from just 9 per cent in 2008.
“We are committed to going further and faster, which is why we’re continuing to invest £9bn in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, including £1.3bn this year alone to upgrade an additional 50,000 low-income households with the worst energy performance certificates, while supporting hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs.”