Actually, when you get to "housing", you find there is a story, but a different one altogether from the one the Express
has to offer. It tells you that, in September 2011 the Commission presented a "Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe".
Housing, it says, is pointed out as one of the sectors with a substantial environmental impact. Better construction and use of buildings in the EU would influence 42 percent of final energy consumption, 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 50 percent of all extracted materials.
Significant improvements in resource and energy use during the life-cycle – with improved sustainable materials, higher waste recycling and improved design - should contribute to the development of a resource efficient building stock, it then says, thus arguing that:
Coherence with this EU policy would require that the scope of the reduced VAT rates that can be applied by the Member States to housing would be restricted to those supplies that take this resource efficiency aspect into consideration.
On the other hand, says the Commission, "certain questions could be put forward as to the way to implement this VAT rate differentiation in practice and whether this will not result in adding a substantial level of complexity for taxable persons active in the housing sector".
And so we get to the question:
Q5 In your view, how can the reduced VAT rate for housing be best applied in order to take the resource efficiency element into account, and how should/can this be achieved with a minimum of increase in the administrative burden for businesses, in particular SME's, providing supplies of goods and services in the housing sector?
In other words, the EU is not in any way suggesting that VAT is slapped on new houses, per se. In some senses, it is worse than that. It is suggesting reduced rates (which includes the UK zero rates) to be confined only to "green" materials, such as insulation, which go into construction.
And why is this worse? Well, in Die Welt
recently, we saw a report which found that insulation can drive up heating costs. The reason for this is intriguing.
House walls, even in the winter, retain heat from the sun and in the late evening give it up to the interior spaces. In heavily insulated houses, because of the thick plastic mass on the outer walls, this is not possible. The interior thus never benefits from this free source of heat.
That in itself is a story, and there is much more to it, with compulsory insulation adding significantly to the costs of new houses – and now, it appears, to the running cost. But as far as the Express
report goes, this is actually a non-story. Adding VAT to new houses is not a realistic political proposition, and since Mr Cameron has a veto, it isn't going to happen.
You do wonder, therefore, what is the point of running these scare stories, especially when the real stories, which are far more important, go unrecorded.