Orbit’s head of sustainability explores how the housing sector can tackle fuel poverty across the UK’s homes, as he writes for Inside Housing.
Across England, there are 2.3 million households living in fuel poverty - 10.4% of all households. Only Estonia has a higher rate of fuel poverty in Europe.
A cold home places an unnecessary financial pressure on some of the most vulnerable households, not to mention the 25,000 winter deaths and £1.36bn financial burden on the NHS each year.
We are dealing with a genuine equality issue here and it is critical that the sector harnesses its resources, knowledge and deliverability to tackle fuel poverty.
Orbit recently held a roundtable policy discussion with key thought leaders from across energy, housing and public policy to explore a future investment and delivery model and how the housing sector can form partnerships to offer co-investment and high impact solutions in a strategic way.
One sector voice
In our discussions it was evident that delivery needs to be through the sector engaging in a single, simple and coordinated way that can be aligned to government policy and investment.
Key to this will be the creation of a sector fuel poverty network, a single strategy from which we can procure and deliver at scale, taking a coherent approach to drive consistency in approach and delivery. The sector has significant buying power linking to major property investment programmes, as well as skills, knowledge and experience that can drive innovation.
Using EPC data to identify and prioritise initially all homes that are band E to G rated, and then starting to address D-rated homes is the most practical way to deliver this. Understanding the value of stock and use of technology, such as smart meters, will help target the right homes and deliver the most appropriate measures. Combining this with our existing work with customers, programmed works and providing fuel poverty-related services, such as money advice, will present a holistic approach to deal with both the fabric of the house and people’s behaviours.
Single procurement model
We need to bring together housing associations that are already committed to long-term retrofit programmes of scale, and align public funding with a community delivery focus, creating a single procurement model. This would maximise buying power, build confidence in the supply chain and lead to consumer confidence.
Working in partnership with the supply chain will allow them to innovate and develop products and services which deliver on quality and performance and new methods of funding retrofit solutions.
Ambition to get all homes to Band C by 2030 will take a larger investment than the £640m per year announced in the Spending Review.
Focussing on the energy performance of the home and aligning asset management programmes to government policy and investment, sustainable tenancies and commercial viability would contribute some of the additional resource required.
Introducing a legal and ethical ‘pay as you save’ model where tenants contribute some of their net saving on energy post retrofit provides an income stream to supplement investment and create an environment where the home occupier is incentivised to change behaviour.
The government’s ambition to tackle fuel poverty clearly resonates with the housing sector, which is committed to improving both the fabric of the housing stock and services to help tenants better manage their money. We have an open door to inform and challenge the policy landscape. Now is the time for us to harness this synergy and work together to develop a model with tangible, realistic and practical outcomes that focus on the most vulnerable.