Back in March of this year, then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that energy-saving measures such as insulation and heat pumps would have their VAT lowered to 0%. They were already at the lower rate of 5%, but would now enjoy zero VAT rates in a bid to encourage homeowners to upgrade their homes.
Windows were not included. There was gentle outrage. Since then, there have been various attempts to draw attention to the cause of lowering VAT for energy-efficient windows and doors. So far, very little progress has been made.
In March, I began to investigate why our sector was being continually overlooked by the Government for energy efficiency schemes. Not only have windows and doors been left out of lower VAT, but they were also second fiddle to other home improvement measures in the second botched version of the Green Homes Grant which the Government also canned.
What I was told by those with knowledge of the matter is that the Government will not even listen to our sector’s request for lower VAT without showing a genuine willingness to embrace qualifications and regulations. Often there is a comparison made between the gas and plumbing trades versus ours, and how they changed their entire sector by travelling meaningfully and willingly towards professionalisation of their sector.
As a result, those sectors which have evolved and become more qualified have seen benefits granted to them by the Government, such as lower VAT rates.
It appears once again that we are our own worst enemies. And it’s hard to argue against it. Every time new regulations come along, or the idea of further qualifications is raised, we’re up in arms fighting against progression. You look at sectors such as gas and plumbing, roofing, electrical etc and you can see how much further they have progressed than we have. Instead of pushing back relentlessly against change, they got on board with proposed regulatory improvements, which has resulted in the Government and Civil Servants looking at those sectors in a more favourable light.
Us? We can’t even agree to a common position on trickle vents. An issue that we had two years warning on but still managed to create a massive mess out of it.
The power of a single voice
As I have said in the past, our industry can speak with much more power if it can work collectively to approach subjects as a single voice. It carries much more impact and demonstrates to the Government that we can actually work together and set aside personal and professional differences.
The likelihood of the sector being able to do so is slim to none in my opinion. For as long as I have been in this sector trade bodies have never been able to collectively work on a common position on anything to my knowledge. I am happy to be proved wrong on that one but I cannot think of an instance where this has happened. The same can be said for the largest cliques of companies within the sector.
For our sector’s request for lower VAT to be taken seriously, our entire sector would have to agree on the need to implement more qualifications across the board, and for those qualifications to be regularly updated via training courses, as is done in other practical trades. This would likely also come with tighter regulations to try to ensure better standards of work done in people’s homes and commercial buildings. These are the conditions that have been set in other sectors and the result is that they are seen in a more professional light, so carry more favour with the Government.
I think we all know that the chances of the above happening aren’t even close. We couldn’t agree on something as simple as trickle vents.
So if we really want to strengthen our argument to lower the VAT on energy-efficient windows and doors we are going to have to set aside ego, personal differences and other motives and triangulate on one position. We have to show the powers that be that we can actually speak as one voice. We then have to demonstrate the willingness to improve qualification and regulation levels.
This will take some time, a process that could take a handful of years. But it is worth doing. New windows and doors can make one of the biggest material differences to the energy performance of a home. With the UK amongst one of the worst countries in Europe for leaky homes, and with around 28m homes in need of retrofitting, it is very much in our interest to work towards this end goal.
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