Campaigners seek reform of retrofit supports that ‘favour wealthy’

Report says transforming the worst performing dwellings into energy-efficient homes could lift people out of energy poverty

Green MEP Ciaran Cuffe led talks on the issue in European Parliament. Photo: Frank McGrath

Caroline O'Doherty

Retrofitting supports are too focused on people with money instead of prioritising those on the lowest incomes in the least energy-efficient homes, poverty and climate campaigners have said.

A redesign of retrofit schemes is among 49 recommendations they make for a complete overhaul of the Government’s approach.

The report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Ireland, says transforming the worst- performing dwellings into energy-efficient homes could permanently lift people out of energy poverty and cut carbon emissions faster.

“Grants remain skewed to already well-off homeowners and leave many groups and communities who are most at risk of energy poverty out in the cold,” it says.

Under-resourcing of the free home energy upgrade scheme for low-income households means waiting lists of up to three years.

The report adds that the criteria for the scheme needs widening to take greater account of the building energy rating (BER) of houses. This, it says, is because many people were just above the income threshold, but could not afford the extensive works needed on the worst performing homes.

Social housing should also be prioritised, with the aim of getting all local and housing authority homes to B2 standard by 2030.

A minimum BER should be set for all rental properties to push landlords to make energy upgrades, particularly in the one-in-five rentals believed to have an F or G rating.

The report is critical of the universal electricity credit paid over the past year to all households regardless of income.

“One-off payments granted in Budget 2023 have helped many to deal with increases in energy prices, but they do not respond to fundamental issues of income inadequacy and in-ability to carry out retrofitting measures or access associated schemes,” it says.

The report, funded by the European Climate Foundation, is based on input from 32 experts on housing, poverty, climate and energy.

Clare O’Connor, energy policy officer at Friends of the Earth, said it showed how the energy, cost-of-living and climate crises and their solutions were intertwined.

“If the Government is serious about meeting climate targets, they will need to change their current approach and do it in a way that protects and prioritises households that are most in need first,” she said.

Under the Climate Action Plan, the Government has a target of retrofitting 500,000 homes to B2 standard by 2030 through various supports. It is off to a slow start.

A new package of regulations approved by EU politicians yesterday could force a rethink of that approach. They have to be approved by member states before becoming law, but if passed, they would place more emphasis on upgrading the least efficient buildings.

They would require all buildings to have a minimum rating of E by 2030 and D by 2033, with a long-term goal of renovating all to zero-emission standard by 2050.

Countries would have to devise national renovation plans to implement the new regulations, but there are exemptions and deferral options that critics said weakened them.

Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe, who led the negotiations in the European Parliament, said flexibility was necessary to get agreement.

He hopes the package will become law by the summer.

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