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A new energy efficiency standard for social housing in England

•  Quest to reach 2030 targets - and beyond - needs new thinking
•  Social housing providers invited to round table

In partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), we’re bringing together the social housing sector later this week for a round table on how their homes can meet a planned new government energy efficiency target.

Head of Policy David Weatherall explains more.

Energy Performance Certificate for the home with keys laying on top of the certificate

Taking on the refurbishment challenge

The government’s Clean Growth Strategy announced a new target to get all housing up to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C by 2030 – but while the social housing providers have made strides to improve efficiency, more needs to be done.

Weatherall explained: “The round table is about coming up with policy ideas. We’re really pleased that the government has announced a new energy efficiency target for the social sector.  On average social housing is the most energy efficient part of our housing stock.

“But there’s still plenty of very energy inefficient social homes out there. We need to be making them better to meet carbon targets. And protecting people living in social housing from high energy bills is important because a high of proportion of social tenants are on low incomes.

“Bringing these homes to EPC “C” will really make people’s lives better.  But the question is how will the new standard be implemented and how will the improvements be paid for?  We’re pleased to be partnering with BEIS to do the first detailed policy thinking around this issue.”

Discussions will be sparked with a presentation from Home Analytics data, showing the scale of the challenge: the numbers of sub-Band C properties, and where they are in the country.

Financial limitations – but options remain

Social housing providers’ budgets are currently constrained, as there are restrictions in place on how much they can increase their rents. However, they do have long-term asset management budgets to upgrade properties.

Weatherall said: “We’d be making a case that investment now can deliver savings down the line, as lower energy bills mean tenants are less likely to struggle to pay rent, and there are likely to be fewer empty properties if they’re more attractive to tenants. It pays back.”

Another funding approach is to work in partnership to access funding sources such as the Energy Company Obligation, or ECO – although this is only available for social housing providers for the properties with worst energy efficiency. Then there’s incentive schemes like Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which have led to the installation of solar PV panels and green heating systems. FiTs tariffs aren’t as as high as they were, but it’s still an option at scale.

A third alternative is tougher to achieve. He explains: “There is the option of what’s known as ‘warm rents’ -  where you charge the tenant of an energy efficient home slightly more, and because they’ve got lower energy bills they can afford it. But there are regulatory issues that need to be ironed out before that can be rolled out on a large scale.”

Representing all the sector

The social housing sector is a diverse one, from housing associations with hundreds of thousands of properties to small charitable organisations with just a few homes in their portfolio.

He said: “We’re looking to get as wide a mix of social housing providers as possible, and of different sizes. That’s important because one of the questions we’re discussing whether all providers should have to meet the same target at the same time – for some it’s likely to be harder than others.”

Going beyond ‘C’

Looking towards 2050, housing will need reach higher energy efficiency than Band C, so the event will also highlight approaches that can reach very high levels of energy efficiency right away. Energiesprong, for example, is a model specifically designed for social housing involving a large amount of insulation and solar panels, which brings older homes straight up to zero carbon standard.

Weatherall added: “Social housing providers own these homes for a long time, so I think there’s an interesting point to think about. When the new target is set, do you aim for 2030, or do you look beyond and bring homes up to zero carbon standard so they’re ready for 2050.”

The round table takes place this Thursday (15 March) in London. 

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.