THE government has been slammed for "failing to help" Colchester families living in cold homes after it snatched back nearly £300,000 worth of unclaimed energy grants from the city. 

Colchester Council was given a total of £689,823 from phase three of Downing Street's Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme last year. 

The scheme was launched with a view of improving the energy efficiency of low income and low energy performance homes.

From the windfall given to the council, however, only £392,337 was spent on improving the energy efficiency of 36 homes in the city. 

As a result of the underspend, £277,584 has now been "lost" after it had to be returned to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

Pam Cox, Colchester's Labour Party parliamentary candidate, has hit out at the government for asking for the money to be returned. 

Speaking at a Warm Homes event, she said: "The government is failing to help people on lower incomes living in cold houses.

“Despite the best efforts of the council, just 36 homes were upgraded in Colchester last year, and the council had to return £277,584.

“This is a terrible waste at a time when people are suffering from high energy costs and inflation.

"This is money that could have been spent helping people in Colchester but is now lost to us.”

Gazette: Waste - Pam Cox said the loss of money was a waste Waste - Pam Cox said the loss of money was a waste (Image: Newsquest)

Defending their decision to take back the cash, bosses at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, said it was the council's responsibility for using the funding, promoting the scheme and identifying eligible households in time.

A spokesman added: “We’ve provided councils with about £3 billion for energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households during this parliament.

“We also fund a Technical Assistance Facility which councils can readily use providing access to experts, training and guidance to support them in applying and delivering our grant schemes.”

Colchester Council bosses have now offered up an explanation for the underspend. 

A spokesman said: “We acknowledge the concerns raised by councillor Cox regarding the underspend of the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme Phase 3 (LAD3) funding.

“We are committed to ensuring as many residents as possible benefit from energy efficiency schemes and understand the frustration caused by the underspend.

“The primary reason for the underspend was the limited capacity of local energy surveyors and installers to complete the works within the grant timeframe.

“The project also faced challenges due to the compressed delivery schedule and overrun of previous LAD phases, delaying the start of LAD3 activities until September 2022.

"We would urge the government to review and simplify the energy efficiency grant schemes to ensure they are accessible and effective in reaching those who need it most.”

Residents who may be eligible for an energy efficiency grant are being encouraged to visit here or to contact the energy team for more assistance with the application process.