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Rishi Sunak faces revolt over scrapped boiler tax aimed at heat pump uptake

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The government’s energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, is facing a revolt from her climate minister, Graham Stuart, and senior officials over her decision to abandon plans for a “boiler tax” intended to promote the adoption of heat pumps.

Stuart, the minister of state for climate, is reportedly contemplating resignation after Coutinho bowed to industry pressure and reversed course on the scheme. He has expressed concerns that scrapping the initiative could undermine Britain’s net zero goals and embolden boiler manufacturers to perpetuate carbon emissions from home heating systems.

The abandoned policy, part of the government’s “clean heat strategy,” aimed to phase out gas boilers and achieve 600,000 eco-friendly heat pump installations annually by 2028. Under the scheme, boiler manufacturers faced fines if they failed to match or substitute 4% of their sales with heat pumps.

Despite not yet being in effect, manufacturers had already begun raising prices on gas boilers to offset potential fines, leading to industry outcry labeling it a “boiler tax.”

Coutinho’s decision to backtrack on the 4% target and fines has sparked backlash from colleagues, including Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a foreign office minister, who warned that the reversal could jeopardize the UK’s emission reduction targets and global leadership on climate change.

Stuart echoed Trevelyan’s concerns, highlighting the necessity of the policy in aligning industry incentives with environmental objectives and avoiding legal repercussions. Permanent Secretary Jeremy Pocklington at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero also reportedly voiced significant reservations about the decision.

The move reflects broader concerns within the government about the impact of net-zero targets on various sectors. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously postponed the ban on petrol and diesel cars and dropped plans to ban new gas boilers amid similar concerns.

Critics within the department view Coutinho’s decision as capitulation to boiler manufacturers’ interests at the expense of environmental progress. They argue that the scrapped policy provided a sensible framework for increasing heat pump market share while safeguarding households.

A source close to Coutinho confirmed the likelihood of the scheme being delayed or shelved entirely, citing concerns about undermining confidence in heat pumps and imposing additional costs on consumers.

Amidst the internal discord, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero maintains that no final decision has been made, reaffirming the government’s commitment to installing 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028.

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