Government decided against funding open retrofit applications

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland scheme now shut, leaving applicants in limbo

The Government considered processing applications from people who have now been shut out of the State’s deep retrofit scheme before deciding to leave them unfunded.

Among the options considered in June by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Department of Environment was to “close the 2019 programme immediately to new applications, but proceed to process applications already submitted”.

Another option was for a “2020 extension for 2019 open applications only”, as well as an option for “contract extensions into 2020”, and to “communicate 2019 programme closure and extension of scheme in 2020”.

The authority, in conjunction with the department, ultimately decided to close the scheme, leaving these open applications in limbo.

More than 300 homeowners, some of whom have already begun work and spent tens of thousands of euro, will not now receive the grants that would have covered half the cost of the work.

While some of the options considered would have meant those who have applied but not been approved could still receive funding, all would have required an extra commitment in funding from the SEAI.

The SEAI and the Department of Environment had "let people down who acted in good faith", Fine Gael TD Noel Rock told The Irish Times.

The authority was aware in the second-quarter of the year that it did not have the funding to commit to all the projects that had applied for the deep retrofit grant, but continued to accept applications.

While participants in the scheme had been warned not to commit to spending money before their project was approved, many had done so.

Under fire

The SEAI had told applicants not to commence until a letter of offer had issued, while it was also a condition of the scheme that any costs that predate a formal grant approval letter will not be paid.

However, the Government has come under fire for allegedly failing to communicate the funding cliff edge in the scheme, or the fact that it would be closed at short notice, as applicants were informed earlier this week.

The SEAI's former chief executive, Jim Gannon, told an Oireachtas Committee early last month that the scheme was still open for funding.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty asked on June 27th if the scheme had run out of money and Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton suggested it was fully funded and proceeding as normal.

The controversy has sparked criticism of the SEAI and the Department from within the ranks of government TDs.

Mr Rock, a TD for Dublin North West, told the Irish Times that "both the SEAI and the Department should have been far clearer about where the programme stood and where people's applications stood.

“They’ve let people down who acted in good faith - that’s never a good thing. The Government should move fast and make funding available for valid applications received up to the closing deadline.”

Contractors involved in the scheme have alleged that the situation would have been known to the SEAI in March or April, but the department insisted on Wednesday that the first communication on the matter from the agency came in June.

Following this communication, which included the above-outlined options, the department engaged with the SEAI in relation to the submission and sought clarification on some issues, a spokeswoman for the department said.

“A submission was later made to the Minister noting that the scheme was closed and that applicants who had not yet received approval or letters of offer under the scheme would be placed on hold pending an evaluation of the scheme,” she said.

The decision not to proceed with a new phase of the deep retrofit scheme, which was a time bound project, was made in the context of the State’s new climate action plan, which commits to retrofitting 500,000 buildings and new regulations to phase out oil and gas boilers in new buildings.