Hundreds who missed out on retrofit grant may lose application costs

Homeowners not entitled to claim for costs linked to expensive application process

The position remains that the scheme is closed and the 302 applications have been put ‘on hold’ pending a review. Photograph: iStock

The position remains that the scheme is closed and the 302 applications have been put ‘on hold’ pending a review. Photograph: iStock

 

Hundreds of homeowners who applied for deep retrofit grants after funding had dried up for a State-run scheme will not be entitled to recoup any of the costs associated with their applications.

Some 302 homeowners involved in 52 projects were told this week that the scheme administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland was closed and they would not be entitled to grants worth 50 per cent of costs involved in retrofitting their homes, which ran into tens of thousands of euro in all cases.

Moreover, the applicants are not entitled to claim for any of the costs associated with the expensive application process, despite there being no prospect of the application being successful. Many homeowners paid more than €2,000 in preliminary costs.

The terms of the scheme administered by the authority clearly state that “pre-projects costs are ineligible for grant payment”. This includes all costs that pre-dated grant approval, including the cost of submitting the proposal as well as the fee for BER and air-tightness evaluations.

Minister for Employment Regina Doherty suggested this might be addressed, saying the Government might look favourably on those people and their application costs. However, she said it would be in the context of “the climate action plan”, which is at least a year away.

Senator Catherine Noone of Fine Gael went further, telling RTÉ she “anticipated” that homeowners affected by the decision would receive the grant.

The Department of Climate Action did not respond to questions relating to the controversy. The Minister, Richard Bruton, is on leave and has not been available for comment on the matter.

Applications ‘on hold’

The position of the department and the authority remains that the scheme is closed and the 302 applications have been put “on hold” pending a review, which is likely to continue well into next year.

When announcing the closure of the scheme, the authority stated: “It is not possible at this stage to say with any certainty whether currently open applications will ultimately be reconsidered for funding once the review is completed.”

Opposition politicians criticised handling of the issue and how matters had been communicated to applicants.

Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien said some vague promise being held out of support at some time in the future would bring “cold comfort” for those who have been left out of their homes and in the middle of their builds.

Labour TD Alan Kelly asked: “Are people meant to stay living in caravans out of their houses for another year while waiting for the Government to make up their minds?”

Twelve projects

There has been confusion surrounding the actual funding made available for the scheme, and the Government’s claim of a €20 million budget. The department said €10 million would be spent this year, on top of €4.7 million spent last year and a similar outlay in 2017.

However, only 12 projects out of 64 were approved this year, with each including a cluster of at least five houses.

The specialist magazine Passive House Plus made contact with 11 of those projects and calculated the grant total at €2.88 million.

“Even if the 12th project came in at the maximum allowable €500,000,” its editor Jeff Colley said, “the total cost would be €3.3 million” for this year.

He said based on the average grant cost, cited by the then chief executive of the authority Jim Gannon at an Oireachtas committee last month, the figure for the overall spend would come closer to €8.75 million than the €20 million claimed.

“There is a question mark over the funding which needs to be clarified,” Mr Colley said.

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 authority and the department was to “close the 2019 programme immediately to new applications, but proceed to process applications already submitted”.