Deep retrofit scheme: Bruton approved closure of home insulation programme

Minister told agency responsible he was unhappy with how decision was reached

The three-year pilot scheme gave owners of old homes a grant worth 50 per cent of the cost to bring their houses up to an A3 rating. Photograph: iStock

The three-year pilot scheme gave owners of old homes a grant worth 50 per cent of the cost to bring their houses up to an A3 rating. Photograph: iStock

 

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton gave full approval for the ending of a pilot deep retrofit scheme for homes despite later saying he was unhappy with the way the decision was reached.

Correspondence between the Department of Communications and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), which administered the scheme, show Mr Bruton indicated on several occasions his approval for the effective closing of the scheme in July.

The decision left 300 households that had applied before the deadline without any prospect of receiving State funding.

The three-year pilot scheme gave owners of old homes with poor insulation a grant worth 50 per cent of the cost to bring their houses up to an energy-efficient A3 rating. For some households, the grant was worth more than €50,000.

Households could not apply individually but in clusters of at least five, administered by an approved service provider. After a slow take-up 2017, the volume of applications increased substantially in 2018 with a huge escalation in 2019.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also show that officials from the department and SEAI were aware that the number of applications would greatly exceed the funding available by spring 2019.

However, no action was taken to “slow down” the scheme or change the final deadline for applications of July 19th, despite knowing that those who applied at that stage had no hope of getting funding.

€7.2m over

The documents state the Minister was made aware on June 14th there was significant demand for the scheme. At that stage, applications worth €7.2 million had been received above the €10 million allotted for 2019.

The Minister approved the decision that all applications be put “on hold” until an evaluation of the pilot scheme was completed. However, that was effectively a closure of the scheme as the evaluation would take a year, with no guarantee the scheme would reopen at that stage.

In a note Mr Bruton said he had “no objection” to the decision to put the scheme on hold and then discussed the need to consider how such a scheme would work in the long run.

When the closure of the scheme led to widespread public controversy, an adviser to Mr Bruton said on August 8th that the “Minister agreed that existing decision stood”.

However, amid increasing public clamour, he reversed the decision on August 19th, saying all the applications would be evaluated and, if approved, would receive funding.

He agreed it was unreasonable to put applications on hold indefinitely and give householders no indications if they would receive the grant at a future date.

“This was a pilot scheme. It was always the intention to review it and, in undertaking, they suspended applications,” he said. “I’m not happy with the way this decision was reached, but I can understand it.”

Early warnings

Letters and emails between officials showed there were early warnings of an upsurge in 2018.

By last April , at the monthly meeting of the Better Energy Performance team from the SEAI and the department, it was stated the high levels of interest was now causing a risk.

An email from an SEAI official on May 16th said there had been an upsurge of applications that month and warned that evaluations would have to “slow down”. He warned applicants who were not successful might complain or make representations.

By late June, the SEAI was warning that “demand continues to increase dramatically for this programme” and would lead to a likely overspend.

“A slowdown is essential. Given this demand profile, we believe this programme could require spending of €15 million without intervention to meet demand.”