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Social Housing Insulation Installations Falling Short

A recent article in ‘Inside Housing’ indicates that, though efficient insulation has been demanded, and expected, for many years in the private sector, some social landlords have not been as speedy at making their properties as energy efficient as they could be.

Green Deal, Community Energy Saving Programmes and Carbon Emission Energy Target were embraced enthusiastically by private sector landlords, but the size of social housing projects was such that now these schemes have ended, there are still significant numbers of social housing where insulation standards could be improved.

Whilst social housing has always set a standard by which the private sector is measured, the private sector has been beset by regulations, sometimes meaning that their standards, in some cases, are far higher than found in some of the older social sector properties. 

A case in point is the energy performance rating of properties. From April 2018, almost all private sector properties must have an energy performance rating of ‘e’ – failure to achieve this will mean that the property cannot be let. There are no such requirements in the social sector and it is questionable whether it would be possible to do current energy performance certificates for all social sector properties. 

Social sector tenants unhappy with the level of heating in their properties, or who feel that they are spending too much on gas or electric, may advise their landlords, but they do not have the resource of making a report to the local enforcement team as that would be a conflict of interest and no local authority would send a team out to be critical of their own accommodations. Private sector landlords are always at risk of the tenant who would rather speak to the local authority about issues, than to him.

The 4 years between 2010 and 2014 saw a huge programme to fit cavity wall insulation and solid wall insulation retrofits. In 2015, the Government seemed to feel that priority should be given to other projects, as their aim then was stated to be to insulate one million homes by 2020. Compare this to 600,000 cavity walls which were completed in 2012. The Climate Change Committee 2017 reported to parliament the energy efficiency targets and how they are being met – or not. 

The target was to insulate all practicable lofts by 2022; a noble aim, as most heat is lost through the loft. This would mean 545,000 lofts being insulated per year. In 2016, only 64,000 were insulated. By 2030, all practicable cavity walls to be insulated; that would mean 200,000 be insulated per year. 92,000 were insulated in 2016. 31,000 solid walls were insulated in 2016; the aim was to have 2,000,000 solid walls insulated by 2030 – 90,000 a year were needed to meet this target. These kinds of shortfall mean more people living in fuel poverty – and these are social tenants, for the most part.    

It is a cause of concern that some social landlords, in their desire to improve standards are setting themselves targets which could be unrealistic, but could lead to further even higher standards being expected of the private sector. Octavia Housing has 4,700 properties and they have a target to get all of them up to EPC level C by 2023 (2 levels higher than the current legislation requires). Neil Brosnan, Director of Asset Management for Octavia, indicated how difficult this would be, stating half of their stock was Victorian solid walls and currently were failing that standard – perhaps significantly so, knowing of the low levels found in this type of housing.

Private landlords strive to meet the ever-increasing requirements of legislation and tenant expectation. New requirements should not be introduced because some social landlords, having found themselves failing in the basic standards, introduce a standard which they may be able to achieve through grant funding and but which the private landlord would have to finance themselves.

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