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EST/NHF social housing roundtable: policy priorities (2)

This is the second of two blogs on how we can make the social housing stock more energy efficient, based on a meeting organised by EST and the National Housing Federation.

Hearts and Minds

Social housing leaders have to meet the multiple needs of their tenants and also central government priorities in a world where public funding is still being cut. It’s important that we enable those leaders to show how energy efficiency can deliver against multiple priorities both for tenants and for the UK as a whole.

Some social housing organisations have already done this in pilot projects, showing that energy efficiency investment brings health benefits, linking to public and preventative health funding.

One way of understanding the benefits of energy efficiency is to look at “whole cost pressure models” which consider the total cost to tenants of rent and utility bills. Traditionally, rent has been seen as the big issue for tenants, but in recent years energy bills have made up a bigger and bigger proportion of many families’ costs. And if households can’t afford energy they are unlikely to pay their rent. We need data showing the case for investment in energy efficiency for different types of homes and households. It would look at the long-term affordability of rent and bills, and then show how energy upgrades might make more homes more affordable in the long term.

Beyond the financial data, we also need to show how real people in real homes have improved their lives as a result of warmer, cheaper-to-run homes.

While EPC standards are vital we should recognise the limits of SAP (the underlying calculation methodology). It does not tell us everything we need to know about the experience of living in cold, expensive-to-heat properties and may not be the only tool we need to identify the households that are likely to be suffering the most acute problems.

Area-based approaches

Tackling the energy efficiency challenge needs to happen across all types of homes. Social housing providers have many of the capabilities and resources required to lead work not just in their own tenure, but across different types of homes in the communities where they operate.

With scale, quality, and relevant experience, social housing providers could play a leading role in local retrofit programmes that also reach private sector homes. That will require a national energy efficiency programme that provides attractive offers to all tenures.

Not every provider feels that this sort of cross-tenure, area-based role is right for them. But work could be taken forward to develop the models of how a social housing-led area-based scheme can work in practice. 

There is a lot for the social housing sector do, and a commitment from many providers to protecting tenants from cold homes and the highest energy bills would be welcome. As the next government comes in, we’ll be taking forward a dialogue on how we can implement some of these ideas.

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