Scots told: insulate your homes or pay more in tax

Thermal image of a badly insulated home. Picture: PA
Thermal image of a badly insulated home. Picture: PA
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SCOTS who do not insulate their homes should be forced to pay higher council tax or face increased stamp duty on their property, according to a leading figure in the sector.

Alex McLeod, chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, told The Scotsman he thinks “sticks” as well as “carrots” are needed to encourage people to conserve energy in their homes.

Dr Richard Dixon: setting minimum standards for energy efficiency "vital"

Dr Richard Dixon: setting minimum standards for energy efficiency "vital"

He blamed “apathy” for low rates of use of insulation in Scotland and said other European countries were far better at conserving energy.

And he suggested penalising people for not insulating their walls and lofts by putting up their council tax or increasing stamp duty linked to the property would force homeowners to take action.

However, his views were met with a furious response from groups, who argued that at a time of austerity it would be wrong to penalise already struggling householders.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance branded the ideas “outrageous”, and even Friends of the Earth Scotland disagreed, saying the Scottish Government should instead pay for everyone to have free insulation.

Mr McLeod said: “We have the worst housing stock in northern Europe. I think it’s down to apathy. People are walking past £50 notes every day.”

Installing loft insulation saves an average household about £175 a year and cavity wall insulation about £135 a year.

Mr McLeod said he thought there were a variety of solutions available to encourage people to act.

“Should it be carrot or stick? I think a combination of both,” he said. “You could use council tax, or you could use stamp duty to force improvement in energy efficiency.”

He said people without insulation could either be given penalties, or those who had fitted it could be given discounts on council tax or stamp duty.

“A discount to council tax is not going to help councils when they are struggling and a penalty might have legal implications, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t be looked at,” he said.

“And I definitely think stamp duty is one to look at.”

Under the scheme, levels of stamp duty and council tax paid by households would be linked to their home energy ratings on their Energy Performance Certificate, which gives a rating from A to G. Mr McLeod acknowledged that “in these times of austerity this could be quite difficult to implement”.

He also supports an idea currently under consultation by the UK government of “consequential improvements”, whereby if improvements or changes are carried out to a property, energy- efficiency measures must be put in place at the same time.

Robert Oxley, campaign manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s outrageous for Alex McLeod to suggest hard-pressed households should pay any more in council tax.

“Insulation makes sense because in the long run it cuts energy bills, it doesn’t need any financial incentive beyond that.

“A council tax discount to those who’ve insulated their homes could be a good idea, but no-one should be penalised for not lagging their loft.”

In Scotland, almost nine out of ten solid walls are not insulated and four out of ten cavity walls. Although just 3 per cent of lofts have no insulation at all, 48 per cent are below the building regulation standard of 270mm.

In an uninsulated dwelling, a third of all heat lost is through the walls and a quarter through the roof.

However, Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, disagreed that council tax or stamp duty penalties were the best approach to take.

“We need to make it easy for everyone to live in a warm, healthy and environmentally-friendly home, not penalise people for not being able to afford insulation, or for not meeting the overly-restrictive requirements of the large number of confusing schemes and suppliers currently out there,” he said.

“I don’t think people are apathetic, they’re probably more likely to be cold and skint and confused instead.”

Instead, he said the Scottish Government should roll out a scheme of free insulation for everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances.

“For a fraction of the cost of, for example, the Scottish Government’s roads programme, we could insulate every home in Scotland for free,” he said.

“Not only would this significantly cut carbon emissions, but it would bring people out of fuel poverty, improve public health, enhance housing stock, create thousands of jobs and boost the Scottish economy. It’s a no-brainer.”

The Scottish Government has legally binding targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Home energy use accounts for over a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greg McCracken, policy officer for Age Scotland, does not think homeowners can be expected to meet the cost of insulating their homes.

“Bringing our existing housing stock up to the appropriate standard by maximising energy efficiency is vital. However, the cost of this for individual households can be prohibitive.”

In March last year, the Scottish Government published a report considering four options, which could be introduced from 2015 onwards. They included requiring properties to have cavity wall and loft insulation and requiring properties to meet an Energy Performance Certificate rating of C or D.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, thinks setting minimum standards of energy efficiency for homes is “vital”.

“With homes accounting for a quarter of Scotland’s climate emissions, a step change in improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s housing stock is critical,” he said.

Mr McLeod also warned that the UK government was going in the wrong direction in setting new policies for insulation through its flagship Green Deal, and he feared it would lead to lower levels of take-up.

The Green Deal will include an Energy Company Obligation that will set targets of insulating 380,000 homes with solid wall insulation and will have a very minor focus on cavity walls.

But even though most of Scotland’s older housing stock has solid walls, Mr McLeod thinks this is the wrong approach because it costs up to £13,000 for an average home to have solid wall insulation, compared with only £350 for cavity wall insulation.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the Green Deal would generate demand for “all types of insulation”.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government pointed out that an independent review was being carried out into its strategy to address fuel poverty.