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Housing

What happened to the government’s energy efficiency help for renters?

Ministers had proposed higher energy efficiency standards by 2025 to help renters. But there has been no update for two years

Plans to improve energy efficiency in the private renting sector appear to have been shelved by the government, with ministers accused of heaping “more misery” onto tenants dealing with sky-high bills.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a consultation in September 2020 on ‘Improving the Energy Performance of Privately Rented Homes in England and Wales’. 

It proposed a target that all new tenancies in the private rented sector should be in a property with an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of at least a ‘C’ by 2025. It also proposed for this to be extended to cover all tenancies in the sector by 2028. 

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But despite the consultation closing in January 2021, the government has yet to provide any public response two years on, leading many to suggest the plans have been abandoned.

When contacted by The Big Issue, BEIS did not acknowledge the target dates and said an announcement would be made “in due course”.

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Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, has accused the government of “allowing consultation responses to gather dust on shelves.”

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He said: “Every week of delay in implementing support for private rented tenants living in cold damp homes just adds more misery to the lives of people who are often suffering the worst excesses of the cost of living crisis.”

Anny Cullum, ACORN policy and research officer, calls for some “joined up thinking” from the government to shield private renters, who are amongst those hit hardest by extortionate rises to energy bills, and to tackle the growing threat of climate change. 

She said: “They need to bring forward measures to ensure that all rented homes hit an EPC rating of C or above as soon as possible, and need to urgently push ahead with a retrofitting programme to ensure that our homes are warm, green, cost-effective for tenants and are fit for the future.”

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director at Generation Rent, added: “If we’ve learned anything from the past year, it’s that the country would have been much more equipped to respond to the gas crisis if our homes were better insulated. Private renters have been waiting too long for better standards and cannot afford yet more years of cold, draughty homes.”

The National Residential Landlords Association has also labelled the proposals “dead in the water”, saying the lack of progress has led to uncertainty in the sector.

Energy prices have skyrocketed over the past year. The price of gas is up by 141 per cent since winter 2021/22, while electricity is up by 65 per cent. From April, costs for households are expected to rise even further as the government’s price cap “freeze” rises from £2,500 to £3,000. Twelve months ago the price cap was £1,277.

Britain’s housing stock is also the oldest in Europe, and many houses do not have sufficient insulation installed to eliminate draughts and stop damp emerging. Almost 19 million homes have been identified as needing upgrading because they are cold and draughty.

An energy performance certificate (EPC) rating is based on the air-tightness of a building, the building materials, and the building services installed. A low EPC rating suggests poor energy efficiency and means that the bills are typically more expensive. 

The most energy efficient homes have an energy efficiency rating in band A and the least energy-efficient homes are in band G. 

According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the median energy efficiency rating in England and Wales is band D.

Since April 2020, privately rented homes in England and Wales have been required to meet the minimum standard of EPC band E before they can be let, unless a valid exemption applies. 

The government has form when it comes to abandoning energy efficiency schemes. In March 2022 it announced it was scrapping its 2020 Green Homes Grant scheme after insulating less than 10 per cent of its target number of homes. The scheme offered households grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to install insulation or low-carbon heating.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has put forward a list of energy-saving proposals to the government to help make homes more energy efficient. These include:

  • Committing to a £15,000 cost cap to help more fuel poor households to reach EPC C, while ensuring the best value policy option is taken forward. This will result in an additional 60,000 households reaching EPC C by 2028 across England and Wales compared to the £10,000 cost cap.
  • Creating a faster timescale for HMOs to achieve EPC C than other properties alongside a cost cap of £15,000, as landlords for these properties face fewer barriers to upgrading their properties.
  • Implementing a holistic landlord registration scheme in England, replicating what has already been achieved in Wales, and as the Committee on Fuel Poverty has recommended, to help aid compliance.

“We know that landlords may need support to make the improvements to their properties, but the proposals charities have put to government would allow this to happen while not costing the Treasury money in the long run,” said Francis.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We are investing over £6.6billion to help decarbonise homes and buildings, and to ensure all homes meet EPC band C by 2035.

“The Energy Company Obligation runs from 2022 to 2026 and will help hundreds of thousands of families with energy-saving measures such as insulation, with average energy bill savings of around £300 a year. Installations are now increasing, and we have announced a further £1bn extension of the scheme to start in spring 2023.” 

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