Home heating policies are impacting voting intentions in key rural constituencies

A new survey has revealed how the government’s green heating policies are impacting voting intentions across key rural Conservative constituencies from cabinet minister seats to key marginals ahead of the next election.

Nearly three in four (72%) voters, currently on oil heating, said the government’s proposals to stop them installing a replacement boiler after 2026 and instead switch to a heat pump will influence how they cast their ballot in a general election.

Voters demand choice

The survey, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of OFTEC in July of this year, also revealed 65% of voters are against the government’s plans to limit the choice of low carbon heating systems they can install, whilst 63% of oil homes want the option of switching to a renewable liquid fuel.

Over 1,000 voters on oil heating were surveyed across 15 seats including those of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Richmond), Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay (Cambridgeshire North East) and former Secretary of State for BEIS Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset).

Constituencies of key red wall marginal seats the Conservatives won in 2019 were also included in the research, such as Blyth Valley where Ian Levy MP has a majority of just 712.

In its Heat and Buildings Strategy the government proposed an end to the installation of new fossil fuel oil boilers from 2026 with most homes expected to install a heat pump. However, homes on mains gas can continue to replace their system like-for-like for nine more years until 2035. The plans are part of the UK’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Air source heat pumps cost around £12,900 but homes on oil heating are typically older which means they often require significant modification and energy efficiency upgrades for the technology to work effectively. According to BEIS’ Heat Pump Checker, the total cost for these types of properties to transition to a heat pump can exceed £20,000.

Government grants of £5,000 are available through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to help with the cost of a heat pump but the current funding is expected to only cover a small number of the estimated 1.7 million UK homes on oil heating.

Alternative solutions for oil homes include renewable liquid fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). Nearly 150 properties have switched as part of a demonstration by trade associations OFTEC and UKIFDA.

The fossil-free, sustainably sourced fuel reduces emissions by 88% following a conversion typically costing less than £500. Research has also shown there is more than enough supply to meet demand across the heating, aviation and transport sectors.

Technology neutrality is essential

Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, the trade association for liquid fuel heating which conducted the survey, commented: “These findings should be a real wake up call for the Conservatives. Households are increasingly concerned about the cost of the government’s green policies and voters have said they will make their feelings known at the next election.

“Whilst we fully support the need to transition oil homes to greener heating, in the current cost of living crisis we need solutions which are affordable and realistic. Heat pumps are an ideal choice for some homes and we’re training technicians to install the technology. But we must be pragmatic about where best to deploy them and recognise that for many oil homes the costs are simply unaffordable.

“That’s why the government must adopt a technology neutral approach which focuses on delivering the right heating solution for the right home to give consumers a choice in how they go green. Our successful demonstration project shows renewable liquid fuels such as HVO provide an ideal alternative and must be a part of the mix. Our industry is ready and to rollout at scale if the government can provide the necessary policy support.”