VAT: Building Repairs and Maintenance - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 19 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Conservative 3:07, 19 April 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for applying the same rate of VAT to building repairs and maintenance as to the construction of new homes.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

The Government maintain a zero rate of VAT on new-build residential or qualifying buildings to incentivise the construction of new homes and increase the housing supply. The Government do not have plans to introduce a new VAT relief for building repairs and maintenance. Introducing a new relief for repairs and maintenance would have a significant fiscal cost, which would lead to associated spending, borrowing or tax decisions taken elsewhere.

Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Conservative

I am most grateful to my noble friend, but she will have to concede that new building emits 48 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in the UK each year—equal to the total emissions for the whole of Scotland, and that is before you get to the emissions coming out of the SNP headquarters as we speak. Conversely, if we are serious about addressing climate change, we should look at refitting and restoring existing housing stock. Now that we are outside the EU, I simply cannot understand why we cannot have one level of VAT, or even a 5% level, both for new housing and for refurbishing and restoring old stock.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My noble friend raises an important point. He is right that the renovation of existing properties can be an energy-efficient way to bring them back on to the market. There are special reduced rates of VAT for the renovation of properties that are converted either from commercial to residential use or from one residential use to another, if they are renovated after a period of two years without use. A temporary zero rate of VAT applies to installations of qualifying energy-saving materials, such as insulation, to address some of the points my noble friend raised.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Swire, has just reminded me that, the last time I intervened with the Minister, I asked her to get Treasury officials to intervene in Scotland to stop the improper expenditure—she said she would not. Will she rethink that in light of recent events?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, I would not want to interfere with an ongoing police investigation. My answer was not quite as the noble Lord termed it, but it may have reflected that his question goes slightly beyond the scope of this Question.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench

My Lords, this is not a devolved issue, and it therefore affects Northern Ireland as well. Does the Minister not agree that conservation of the countryside and the built environment is a very high priority? The effect of continued government policy along this line, especially in Northern Ireland, is that a lot of older houses—nice heritage houses—are ignored, and people simply build new houses beside them. When visitors come to Northern Ireland, they say, “What is this? It is bungalow blight”. There are new houses everywhere, and no wonder, because of successive government policies. Will the Minister please assure us that the Government will look at this anew?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Government keep all taxes under review, but there are no plans to change the VAT treatment of repair and maintenance. The noble Viscount made the important point that we need to ensure that the maintenance of heritage and other older buildings in particular is supported, and we do that through a number of ways other than VAT relief. For example, approximately £206 million of the £2 billion culture recovery fund supported heritage sites and organisations through the pandemic, and several other sources of funding from government arm’s-length bodies are available for historic buildings in need.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, does His Majesty’s Treasury not have a climate change policy? What goes on there? Does it really not understand that this does not just come down to the cost of living? It comes down to dealing with the impacts of climate change. This tiny measure from the noble Lord, Lord Swire, would actually help with that because it would reduce the amount of embodied carbon that gets trashed every year and we would have a more efficient housing system.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, it is not a tiny measure; it is a measure that has costs in the billions. There may be several different ways to achieve the point that the noble Baroness is making, which is more energy-efficient construction to create new dwellings. That is the point that I was making to the House.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group, which I helped to found 49 years ago and of which I have the honour to be president, has lobbied consistently on this. There is no single measure that would do more to help conserve our wonderful historic buildings, and our large historic houses in particular, than this move. Will my noble friend please receive a small deputation, which I hope will be accompanied by my noble friend Lord Swire, to talk about this, because the Government’s answers are totally unsatisfactory and frankly wrong?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

I will always be happy to meet my noble friend and a deputation that he brings with him. I am not sure whether I will be able to persuade him of the Government’s view on this matter, but we agree on the importance of support for heritage properties. In addition to the support I previously referenced, DCMS provided £285 million for heritage in 2021-22, including £162 million to Historic England. We also have our heritage high-streets programme running until March next year and have extended the listed places of worship scheme until March 2025.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, as most registered providers of social housing cannot reclaim VAT, they are reluctant to buy VAT-elected land and resort to an inefficient process known as “golden brick” to address the conflict between themselves and the developers. There are many such conflicts and unintended consequences across the construction industry. With such a broken system, is it not time for a full review? Will the Government at least consider allowing registered providers to claim back VAT on land built for social housing?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

On the noble Baroness’s specific point, if I may I will write to her with the details because I do not have them to hand at the moment.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that around one-third of the money allocated by the Government to fund installation of heat pumps and home insulation has so far gone unspent? That is £2.1 billion that could have been spent on making British homes cheaper to keep warm. Do the Government have a plan to spend this money? For example, could it help to fund VAT reductions on improvements to energy efficiency, encouraging more people to upgrade their homes?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we already have a reduced rate of VAT in place for energy-efficiency installations. She will also be aware that we are extending the available support through a new energy company obligation, the energy-efficient Great British insulation scheme. It is estimated that the scheme will make around 300,000 homes more energy efficient, primarily through the installation of insulation measures, reducing household bills by around £300 to £400 on average per year and, crucially, reducing emissions.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests, as set out in the register. Is not the noble Lord, Lord Swire, absolutely right on this point: we have underestimated the effects on the Government’s statutory net-zero targets of the demolition of existing buildings and not taken into account the embodied carbon that occurs? The noble Baroness referred to the exemption from VAT on energy-saving materials, but that does not go across the board at the moment. The announcement in the Budget of a consultation on further extension of it was welcome, but I wonder if she can tell me when the Government expect some results from that consultation.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

The noble Baroness is right that, to target our support on energy-efficiency measures, we have extended VAT relief in that area. I do not have dates for when the consultation will complete or when the results are expected, but I will write to her if I have any more information.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

Can the Minister please tell me which aspects of VAT in Northern Ireland are still governed, and going to be governed, by EU regulations since the Windsor Framework?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

Let me relate that to the topic at hand. The temporary zero rate of VAT that I have referred to, which applies to installations of qualifying energy-saving materials, will be expanded to Northern Ireland on 1 May this year.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, with rural churches closing at an alarming rate, there is a case to be made for VAT to be either reduced or abolished on repairs for local churches?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

As I referred to earlier, we have in place the listed places of worship scheme that provides support to places of worship, which runs until March 2025.