No more VAT on green home improvements

 

In March this year, the UK Government removed the requirement for VAT on payments related to the installation of certain energy saving materials in residential property in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). This will be in place until the end of March 2027. Scrapping VAT on green home improvements for the next five years is a welcome move from the government and should mean that more people will be able to afford to improve the energy efficiency of their home.

RISE Design Studio green home improvements

Reducing carbon emissions

The UK Government has committed to achieving ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050. In practice, this means reducing carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 (using the 1990 levels as the baseline). Although this is a legally binding commitment (which should be applauded for its ambition), it is meaningless if no actual action is taken.

Reducing the use of fossil fuels in our homes is an important step on the road to net zero. Over 90% of residential property in the UK is still heated using gas and/or oil, the emissions from which accounts for nearly 20% of all UK carbon emissions. The current cost of living crisis also highlights the unsustainable nature of these types of fuel, particularly when prices are pushed up by global crises such as war, which impact on non-renewably energy supply chains.

Strong support but high costs

There is a huge amount of support amongst the British public for the use of renewable energy in our homes. The growing popularity of ‘green energy’ suppliers is testament to this. Increased awareness of the impacts of climate change, alongside rapidly rising energy prices, strongly motivate us to try to reduce our energy consumption and increase efficiency. However, the uptake of renewable energy installations to provide electricity and heat has been slow. For example, only 36,000 heat pumps were installed in 2020.

This is because the initial cost of installing energy efficient technology and moving away from the use of fossil fuels can be very high. These costs are even higher when VAT is part of the cost. It is therefore good news that the removal of VAT will bring the initial costs down somewhat and, hopefully, make greener electricity and heating accessible to more households.

Still more to be done?

At the time of the change in rules, it was estimated by the government that the removal of VAT on green home improvements would save homeowners installing rooftop solar panels around £1,000 a year (on average). Installing solar panels (or heat pumps or improving insulation) would also save an average of £300 a year on energy bills (although this figure may now be even higher in the context of the increasing prices).

While welcome, there is arguably still more work to be done to enable households that cannot afford new installations to make green improvements to their homes. Removing VAT is unlikely to be the ‘one size fits all’ solution it perhaps set out to be. Now is the time to develop and commit to a national retrofit strategy that would invest in improving all existing housing stock to ensure we all live in healthy and climate smart homes.

Permitted Development Rights I: An overview

 

Not too long ago, the UK planning system was overloaded with minor applications for household extensions and other changes, causing a backlog of paperwork and considerable pressure on the limited resources of local planning authorities. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order, most recently amended by the UK Government in 2016, includes a range of available ‘Permitted Development Rights’, which aim to reduce the number of minor applications by widening the definition of what can be built without requiring planning permission. In the first of a short series of posts explaining Permitted Development Rights in England, we look at the current legislation and give some examples of the types of projects that fall within Permitted Development Rights.

Permitted Development Rights I

What are Permitted Development Rights?

Permitted Development Rights are a national grant of planning permission which allow certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without making a planning application (Government Planning Practice Guidance). It is likely that your home will benefit from Permitted Development Rights, unless you live in a protected area (e.g. conservation area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, etc.). In London, where homeowners can be hesitant to move, and more and more people are working from home, Permitted Development Rights have led to lots of self-build extensions popping up across the capital. A common example in Victorian and Edwardian properties is the L-shaped dormer, which does not require planning permission if designed within certain parameters.

Are there limits to what can be done using Permitted Development Rights?

In order to carry out work on your property under Permitted Development Rights, you must ensure that the work conforms to the current criteria, which are not always easy to decipher. The rules can be unclear, difficult to understand and open to interpretation. For example, the Permitted Development Rights that apply to many common projects for houses do not apply to flats, maisonettes and other dwellings. It is also worth bearing in mind that commercial properties have different rights to residential properties. Checking details with the planning department of your local authority before carrying out the works, or working with a qualified surveyor or architect can be a wise investment of time and money. They will be able to advise you of any reason why your proposed project may not be permitted, and if you need to apply for planning permission for all/part of the work. At times, the local authority may have removed one or more of your Permitted Development Rights (issuing an ‘Article 4′ direction), in which case you may need to submit a planning application for a project that, in other areas, may not require it. There may also be the need to carry out neighbour consultation, if you are in an area where this applies.

What sort of projects can I undertake using Permitted Development Rights?

There are a range of home improvements that you can make using Permitted Development Rights. More simple examples include: building a porch, carrying out internal alterations, installing micro-generation equipment such as solar panels, and installing satellite dishes. More complex projects include: converting the loft space, inserting rooflights or dormer extensions, installing new doors and/or windows on the rear elevation of your home, and extending the back of your home.

All of these projects would be subject to design rules and we will look at the rules surrounding Permitted Development Rights and home extensions in our next post.