The Great British Insulation Scheme

How to get free insulation – it could save you over £300 a year

There are freebies on offer from energy providers and local authorities to make your home warmer and more energy efficient. The most common are loft and cavity wall insulation, but there are plenty of other improvements up for grabs. So if you're on benefits and/or live in a home with a low energy performance rating, you might be eligible for free insulation. Here's how to find out...

Do I qualify for free insulation?

You can get free insulation, and possibly other energy-efficiency improvements, if you fall into one of the following groups. It's available to households in England, Wales and Scotland (there are similar schemes in Northern Ireland).

The 'low income' group

If you meet the criteria below, you could be eligible to have multiple energy-efficient improvements made to your home under the ECO scheme:

  • You own your own home (or, in some cases, rent from a private landlord); AND

  • Your home has an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of D or below (EPC E or below if renting); AND

  • Someone living at the property qualifies for certain benefits, such as pension credit, universal credit, child benefit (subject to income limit), income support and housing benefit. See the full list of qualifying benefits; OR

  • You live in social housing, or are considered by your local council as being on low income (total household income under £31,000 a year) and vulnerable to the effects of living in a cold home.

The 'general' group

Under the Great British Insulation Scheme, those who meet the criteria below may be eligible for free insulation – though you will only be able to get one type installed (eg, cavity wall insulation OR loft insulation, but not both). You may also have to pay a proportion of the costs, but you'll be told this before any work is approved. To be eligible, ALL of the following needs to apply:

  • You own your own home or rent (either renting privately or from a housing association).

  • Your home is in council tax band A to D in England, A to E in Scotland and Wales. You can easily check your home's council tax band on the Government website.

  • Your home has an EPC rating of D or below.
  • I rent – am I eligible?

    Yes but you'll need your landlord's permission. You'll also have to live in a property that has an EPC rating of D to G.

    However, households that rent and fall within the 'general group' can't get cavity or loft insulation under GBIS, they can only get the higher cost insulation measures.

    It's also worth noting in England and Wales, landlords can no longer let or continue to let a property if it has an EPC rating below E, unless they have a valid exemption in place.

  • I live in a flat, can I still apply for free insulation?

    If you live in flats, you should still be able to install free home improvements, but you may have to get it installed for the whole block, which means getting agreement from all your neighbours.

    In fact, for solid wall and cavity wall insulation, if at least half of the properties in a block of flats qualify under the Great British Insulation and ECO schemes, others in the same block may be eligible also. This is what's known as 'in-fill' and it's a way for the Government to cheaply improve the energy efficiency of multiple properties at once.

    It doesn't matter whether the other flats are privately rented, owner-occupied or social housing.

  • Which scheme should I apply for?

    If you're in a low-income household, you can receive support through the Great British Insulation Scheme as well as the core ECO scheme – the energy supplier you apply to should let you know which is right for you. However, the ECO scheme enables you to get multiple energy-efficiency improvements made, whereas the Great British Insulation Scheme only allows you to have one done.

  • What is an EPC?

    An energy performance certificate (EPC) tells you how energy efficient your home is and gives it a rating from A (very efficient) to G (inefficient). It'll tell you how much it might cost a typical household to heat and light, and give an estimate of its carbon dioxide emissions.

    An EPC also gives you recommendations on how to improve your energy efficiency. You need an EPC when you buy, sell or rent a property. EPCs are valid for 10 years from the date of issue.

    You can check your home's EPC rating on the Government's energy performance certificate register (England and Wales) or the Scottish energy performance register (Scotland).

  • What happens if my home doesn't have an EPC?

    If your home doesn't have an EPC, you can still apply for home improvements funding through one of the participating energy providers, and they'll send a surveyor to estimate your home's EPC rating, as well as work out what energy improvements you should make.

  • I don't qualify for free insulation, how can I get it cheaply?

    If you don't qualify for the schemes above, contact your local council, as many have other funding available for energy-efficiency projects.

    Alternatively, the DIY route could work out cheaper for loft insulation, at about £150. For more help, Homebuilding magazine has a handy step-by-step guide to insulating your loft.

What free insulation can you get?

When you apply for the scheme, your energy supplier or local authority will determine whether you meet the criteria for the scheme. If you do, it will arrange to send out a professional to assess what measures might be most suitable for your home. These are main insulation improvements that could be offered to you.

Free loft and cavity wall insulation

While there are several different types of insulation available under the scheme, for the vast majority of homes, loft or cavity wall insulation will be the key measures available. According to the Government, these are "two of the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures to install to reduce energy bills".

  • Cavity wall insulation. Most homes built between 1920 and 1990 have a gap between internal and external walls. Filling the cavity with insulating material means cold air's kept out, and warm air stays in – but it's not suitable for all.
  • Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home's heat escapes through the roof, but you can limit this by laying mineral wool under the rafters.

The Energy Saving Trust reckons cavity wall insulation costs up to £1,800 to install (including building work), and can save between £180 and £690 a year on your energy bills, depending on your home. Loft insulation costs up to £890 and can save between £330 and £590 a year.

Cavity wall insulation ISN'T right for everyone

Most homes built between 1920 and 1990 have a gap between internal and external walls. By filling the cavity with insulating material, you can keep cold air out, and warm air stays in – but it's not suitable for all.

Installed properly, and in appropriate properties, cavity wall insulation can improve energy efficiency and cut home heating bills. Yet there have been numerous horror stories of damp and mould problems emerging after installation. If you're considering cavity wall insulation, it's vital to first check that it's suitable for your home.

  • What's the problem?

    A 2016 report by the Building Research Establishment looking at cavity wall insulation in Wales – where many problems have been reported – concluded there is evidence it's been poorly installed, or installed in unsuitable properties in some cases.

    Problems seem to be concentrated on the west side of the country, including in south-west England, west Wales, north-west England and north-west Scotland. These areas are known to be particularly unsuitable for cavity wall insulation because of severe exposure to 'wind-driven rain'.

  • How can I check if cavity wall insulation is right for my home?

    First check whether the area you're in is deemed high risk. The map below from the Building Research Establishment shows the areas that are most at risk of 'wind-driven rain' in blue and dark blue.

    According to the Energy Saving Trust, if you're in one of these problem areas, it's likely your home isn't suitable for cavity wall insulation.

    It's not just about location though – you should also check that your property itself is suitable. The Energy Saving Trust says it'll usually be suitable for cavity wall insulation if:

    • Its external walls are unfilled cavity walls.
    • The cavity is at least 50mm wide.
    • The masonry or brickwork of your property is in good condition.
    • It was built before 1990 (most newer homes will have insulation already).

    If you do want to go ahead with cavity wall insulation, make sure your installer is registered with the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA).

    Finally, if you're still unsure, get a second opinion from another installer. Don't proceed unless you're sure it's right for your home.

  • What can I do if I have problems with my insulation?

    If you do experience problems with your home after cavity wall insulation is installed, you should first complain to the company that originally carried out the installation.

    However, if it was a while ago you may find it no longer exists. If that's the case – or if it does exist but isn't able to give you a satisfactory resolution within two months – you can contact the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA).

    It will investigate your complaint free of charge – all cavity wall insulation fitted by registered installers is covered by a 25-year guarantee overseen by CIGA, so if it finds in your favour, it can help cover the cost of any repairs or any other needed work up to the value of £20,000.

    If CIGA fails to help, or you disagree with its decision (and some have reported problems), you can escalate your case to an independent arbitrator run by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).

    You've 12 months from the date CIGA issues its final decision to take it to the independent arbitrator. However, you'll need to pay £100 plus VAT to refer your case, and all decisions are final and legally binding.

    The Cavity Insulation Victims' Alliance (CIVALLI), a volunteer-led organisation set up by people who have had major problems with cavity wall insulation, may also be able to help. It provides plenty of information and guidance on what to do if you have had issues, and can help people fight their case.

  • Why has cavity wall insulation been installed inappropriately?

    Though there's been no official verdict on how and why some cavity wall insulation has been installed inappropriately, some have blamed Government energy efficiency targets and the money made available to installers by energy companies – who could be fined if they fail to meet those targets.

Other types of free insulation you could get

  • Solid wall insulation (external and internal)
  • Pitched roof insulation
  • Flat roof insulation
  • Underfloor insulation
  • Solid floor insulation
  • Park home insulation
  • Room-in-roof insulation

Availability will vary by supplier and is dependent on your energy company having contracts in place for these measures in all areas.

On a low income? You could get a new boiler

If you qualify under the 'low income' group, there are other energy-efficient measures you could get access to beyond free insulation. You'll be told what you could get when you have an assessment. These measures are only available under the ECO scheme and not the through the Great British Insulation Scheme, so make sure you're applying to the right scheme if you're looking for one of these measures:

  • Boilers. You could get your boiler repaired, upgraded or even replaced, but there's a limited number available each year – and it depends on your current boiler and its condition.

  • Heating controls. If you own your home, you may qualify for free heating controls, such as thermostatic radiator valves and thermostats.

  • Electric storage heaters. If you own your home, you could get your existing electric storage heaters replaced or repaired.

  • Other measures. Some homes may also be eligible for improved window glazing (from single to double, or upgrading existing double-glazing), draught proofing and better quality external doors.
  • What kind of boiler do you need to have to get a replacement, repair or upgrade?

    If you've an inefficient non-condensing boiler of any age, whether working or broken, you may be able to get it replaced with a new energy-efficient boiler. This is decided on a case-by-case basis through a free inspection. It's based on a number of factors, including the boiler's efficiency, age and condition.

    If you've an efficient (condensing) boiler which has broken down and is no longer under warranty, it could be eligible for repair or replacement. The older it is, the more likely it is to be replaced rather than repaired. But there's only a limited number available each year.

  • Will I have to pay anything towards a boiler replacement?

    Generally, any measures fitted will be free. If not, you may be expected to make a contribution – how much will depend on what's being installed and your circumstances.

    This will usually include fitting, though there may be an extra cost if an engineer needs to carry out any additional work, such as installing new or additional pipe work. You should be told about this beforehand.

  • Can you still get it if you rent or you're a council tenant?

    If you rent privately, you can get a boiler repair or replacement – though you'll need to speak to your landlord first to obtain their permission.

    If you live in a housing association property or you're a council tenant, you can get help through your local council.

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How do I apply for free insulation?

The quickest and easiest way to start the application process is to use the Government's online eligibility checker. You'll be asked who your energy supplier is, whether you're a homeowner, renter or landlord, your address and council tax band (you can use the online tool for this).

Then, if you are eligible, your energy supplier should contact you within 10 working days to discuss your application and ask for any additional information. It will then arrange for a home survey to be done. If you don't hear from your energy supplier after 10 working days, you'll need to contact them to follow up.

Alternatively, you can go direct to your supplier, though this isn't always simple, as some don't let you do it online. All energy suppliers with more than 150,000 customers are required to offer improvements under the Great British Insulation and ECO schemes. However, the number of measures they'll install depends on their market share, so smaller suppliers will generally have limited availability.

Here's how to apply through your energy supplier:

How to apply through your energy supplier

Energy supplier How to apply
British Gas Register online
E Call 0333 103 9575
E.on Next Register online
Ecotricity
Call 0345 555 7100
EDF Energy
Register online
Octopus Energy
Register online
Outfox the Market Apply through Gov.uk
Ovo
Register online
Scottish Power
Register online
So Energy
Apply through Gov.uk
Utility Warehouse

E.on Next will be managing installations on behalf of Utility Warehouse. On the Government portal, when selecting Utility Warehouse as your energy supplier, you'll receive a message that E.on Next will subsequently be in touch to complete your referral.

Utilita Energy Register online

I've applied, what happens next?

Once you've been approved as eligible, your energy firm will contact an installer on your behalf. The installer will then do a home survey to check which measures are appropriate. The installer has to be accredited by TrustMark.

When your home survey is completed, the installer will let you know which measures are needed to improve your home's EPC rating, and confirm when it can start the work. You'll need to agree to all measures it suggests in order to be eligible (if it suggests more than one).

Been rejected? You may still be able to get the measures through your local council

If you don't qualify under the criteria above, you may be able to apply through your local council, under what's known as ECO Flex. The ECO Flex scheme enables local councils to help reduce fuel poverty in their communities, by giving funding to those who are eligible in their local area.

To be eligible under ECO Flex will depend on the EPC rating of your home, and you must meet two qualifying criteria, which includes your age, health, low income, or the area you live. But not all local authorities may be taking part, so contact your local council to find out if it can help you.

  • Eligibility criteria for you to apply through your local authority

    To apply through your local council, you need to be living in a band D, E, F or G property and have a total gross household income of less than £31,000.

    Or you can be referred by the NHS as having a health condition, such as a cardiovascular condition, a respiratory disease, limited mobility or immunosuppression.

    Those living in a band E, F or G property may also be eligible through their local council if two of the following apply:

    • You're receiving a council tax rebate (excluding single person rebates and Band D properties).

    • You're receiving free school meals for low income.

    • You're referred by your energy supplier or Citizens Advice as you're struggling to pay your energy bills.

    • You're vulnerable to living in a cold home, as identified in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance.

    • You've been in debt to your energy supplier for more than 13 weeks and have a debt repayment plan, or you're repaying your energy debt through a third party.

    • You're on a prepayment meter and have either self-disconnected or received supplier 'friendly credit' within the last 13 weeks.

Other schemes that offer free insulation and similar energy-efficiency measures

There are other energy-efficiency initiatives available to some:

  • Home upgrade grant in England. If you're off the main gas grid, on low income and have an EPC rating from D to G, you might be eligible for a home upgrade grant. This could include energy-efficiency measures such as wall, loft and underfloor insulation, installation of heat pumps, solar panels, double glazing, low energy lighting and electric storage heaters.

    It's only available to certain postcodes in England, and you need to apply through your local council. Contact your local authority to see if you're eligible and find what's available in your area.

  • Wales Warm Homes Nest scheme. The Welsh Government set up the Warm Homes Nest scheme in 2011 to help reduce fuel poverty. The scheme offers free energy-efficiency home improvements to homeowners and renters who receive certain benefits. But you must also have evidence of suffering with a chronic respiratory, circulatory or mental health condition to be eligible. You could get a new boiler, radiators, heating controls and insulation.

  • Warmer Homes Scotland. Home Energy Scotland's Warmer Homes Scotland initiative offers free energy-efficiency installations to homeowners and renters who have lived in their property for at least 12 months and are on certain benefits. The improvements may include a new central heating boiler, radiators, heating controls and insulation.

The Great British Insulation and ECO schemes aren't available in Northern Ireland, but there are similar alternatives

While there's no insulation or ECO scheme for Northern Ireland, there are number of similar schemes aimed at helping those in need improve their home's energy efficiency, including:

  • Northern Ireland Boiler Replacement Scheme. The Northern Ireland Government will give you up to £1,000 towards the cost of replacing an old (15 years or more) heating system with a condensing oil, gas or wood-pellet boiler, provided your household income is less than £40,000 a year.

  • Northern Ireland Affordable Warmth Scheme. If your annual household income is less than £23,000, you could be eligible for improvements, from insulation to heating systems and controls, and even a full conversion from heating oil to gas central heating.

  • The Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP). This is generally only open to low-income households in Northern Ireland. It provides funding for energy-efficiency measures, such as boiler upgrades, new LED lights, smart heating controls and draught proofing.

You can find out more details in our Cheap Northern Ireland energy guide.

Other ways to cut your energy bill

Here are five energy-saving basics to keep your costs down:

  • While there are now some fixed tariffs that are cheaper than the Price Cap, it's not always clear-cut if these are worth considering – see our Should you fix? guide for full info.

    However, a great way to start saving money is by saving energy. Our Energy-saving tips and Energy mythbusters guides have loads of tricks and hacks to keep your bill down.

    If you're struggling to pay your bill, firms have an obligation to help you. See our What to do if you're struggling guide, which takes you through the best ways to get help and advice with energy bills and debt.

  • Smart thermostats can also help some save on their energy bills. These gadgets give you greater control over your home's heating, letting you adjust it on the move through a mobile app or online, and set more complicated heating schedules than your traditional thermostat.

    They can be pricey though, so see the Smart thermostats guide to check if they're right for you.

  • Fixed monthly direct debit payments – where you pay a fixed estimate each month – can be about 7% cheaper than paying by cash, cheque or card when you receive a bill.

    See Energy direct debits help for more info.

  • Every time you receive a bill, do a meter reading. Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate, these are often way out. If they're underbilling, you'll have a big whack to pay when they get an actual reading. If they're overbilling, then they've unfairly got your cash.

    If your direct debit is way off-kilter, call up and request for it to be changed. You have a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See our full Energy direct debits guide for more help.

    You can also check with your supplier to see if you can get a free smart meter, which sends automatic meter readings to your supplier – so no more estimated bills. For more, see our Smart meters guide.

  • A push from the Government means prepay energy is now the cheapest way to pay for your energy, compared with those that pay by direct debit or on receipt of a bill. However, the most competitive deals are typically offered to those who pay by Direct Debit.

    Often, firms won't let you switch meters because of credit score or income difficulties. For full info on how to ditch a prepayment meter for a credit meter, see the full Prepaid gas & electricity guide.

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