House buyers in Scotland may be forced to install heat pumps within two years of purchase

Heat pumps
Heat pumps

Scots are to be forced to rip out their gas boilers and replace them with heat pumps within as little as two years of buying a home under “hugely expensive” plans unveiled by Humza Yousaf’s government.

Patrick Harvie, a Scottish Green minister, published a consultation on a new Heating in Buildings Bill aimed at drastically cutting greenhouse gases from homes and business premises.

The blueprint said people buying property should be forced to comply with a “prohibition on polluting heating” so that Scotland could reach its “interim targets” for reducing emissions by 2030.

They would have to make the switch to green forms of heating, such as heat pumps, within a “specified amount of time” following their purchase.

The main consultation document said ministers “think between two and five years is likely to be appropriate” but other assessments published alongside it said “likely two years”.

Although it said there would be no up-front costs for sellers, it admitted that there would be “impacts on the housing market”. Prices for homes with boilers could drop if buyers have to take into account the cost of installing heat pumps.

The consultation also proposed forcing homeowners to install heat pumps at other trigger points, for example by banning them from buying another boiler when their current one stops working.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Harvie abandoned a previous target for a million homes to replace their boilers by 2030.

He pushed back the timescale by at least three years following warnings that hard-pressed families struggling with a cost of living crisis could not afford it.

Patrick Harvie, a Scottish Green minister, has published a consultation on a new Heating in Buildings Bill
Mr Harvie, a Scottish Green minister, has published a consultation on a new Heating in Buildings Bill - SST/Alamy Live News

A new minimum energy efficiency standard will instead be introduced for all properties, applying to all homes in the private rented sector by 2028 and those that are owner-occupied by 2033.

Private landlords that fail to meet the benchmark in time would be banned from leasing to a new tenant but this would not apply to councils or housing associations.

‘Start of a 10-year timebomb’

But Holyrood’s opposition parties said Mr Harvie had still provided no indication of how the estimated £33 billion cost of decarbonising Scotland’s buildings would be met, with ministers providing only £1.8 billion of grants in the current parliament.

Miles Briggs, the Scottish Tories’ shadow housing secretary, warned Mr Harvie’s “unrealistic and hugely expensive plan marks the start of a 10-year timebomb for over half of Scotland’s homeowners”.

The Scottish Government has previously admitted that the average cost of installing a heat pump is around £10,000. This is around four times the £2,500 cost of replacing a fossil fuel boiler.

Mr Briggs said: “He has a timescale but not a plan on how it will be achieved. And there is nothing to provide reassurance that ministers understand the true costs which homeowners the length and breadth of Scotland will face.

“And no detail of the support, grants, or other measures that might help families to make their homes more efficient, or to cut bills while also achieving net zero in a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”

SNP and Green ministers have introduced legally binding targets for Scotland to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with interim targets requiring a 75 per cent reduction by 2030 and a 90 per cent cut by 2040.

Emissions from heating homes and non-domestic buildings, such as shops and offices, will have to drop by an estimated 70 per cent over the current decade for this to be achieved.

Close up view across Old Town from Salisbury Crags, Holyrood Park
Mr Harvie says: 'We recognise that different types of buildings in different areas need different solutions' - Andrew Merry/Moment RF

Boilers are to be banned from all new buildings from next year and from existing public sector premises by 2038.

For other homes, the requirement for property purchasers to get rid of boilers within a specified period would be introduced after the Bill and further regulations are approved at Holyrood.

The consultation proposed a system whereby a seller provides an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for their home that states whether it uses “clean or polluting heating”.

This means that prospective purchasers can see whether they will need to find the cost of a heat pump and discuss “lending options with a bank or building society”.

It argued that those who already have green heating would “expect to see that reflected” in the sale price. Additional time to comply could be given to first-time buyers and those who repeatedly move before the final 2045 cut-off date.

The Scottish Government had originally wanted to ban the installation of new or replacement fossil fuel boilers in off-grid properties from 2025 and from homes connected to the gas mains from 2030.

But Mr Harvie, the Zero Carbon Buildings Minister, said a single target date of 2028 for both on and off-grid properties was “fairer and clearer”.

‘No one size fits all approach’

“We’ll still be taking account of the different contexts in urban and rural areas but through our delivery programmes, our funding and our use of exemptions, rather than primary legislation,” he said.

Extra time could also be given to those in homes with “no clean heating solutions available to them” until further “technology options” become available.

Homes that need to be kept at a higher temperature, such as those occupied by the elderly or small children, may also not have to meet the minimum energy efficiency standard.

The consultation listed requirements for the benchmark - including 270mm loft insulation, draught-proofing and cavity wall insulation. It says homeowners who install “as many measures as is feasible” would meet the benchmark.

Mr Harvie said: “There will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to what we’re proposing – we recognise that different types of buildings in different areas need different solutions – but today we are giving certainty to households to plan and clarity for businesses to invest, with a pathway which recognises the cost pressures that so many of us are currently facing.”

The Climate Change Committee, the UK’s official Government advisor on meeting greenhouse gas targets, welcomed the “bold proposals” and said they could become a “template” for other parts of the UK.

Chris Stark, the committee’s chief executive said: “They recognise the importance of a long-term plan for low-carbon heat, with a very welcome focus on upgrading properties at the point of sale.”

But Sarah Boyack, Scottish Labour’s net zero spokeswoman, said: “Timescales are slipping, basic questions have not been answered, and we still have no idea how this £33 billion plan will actually be paid for.”

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