Orbit Group, the 37,000 home housing association group based in Coventry, is investing around £18 million to help 2,700 families escape fuel poverty by mid-2016, as part of its new Warmer Homes programme.
The residents currently live in homes with a poor Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E, F or G and almost all of them are known to be struggling with fuel costs. Orbit intends to bring all of its stock up to an EPC rating of C or better, with most completed by 2020.
Orbit’s investment will be supported with over £2 million from the government’s Eco-funding programme, one of the largest allocations of funding for any housing association.
The initial works will focus on fabric improvements, such as external wall insulation. In some locations where improvements are taking place, such as Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, private sector neighbours of Orbit properties are being offered and accepting the opportunity to have work done at the same time.
The programme of upgrades has already started. Orbit is working with contractor, Wates, and energy company, British Gas, in the Midlands, and Mitie and E.On in South East England and East Anglia, where the majority of the properties in this first phase of works are based.
John Barnham, Orbit’s head of sustainability, said “Fuel poverty affects the disposable income of people already on low incomes. It also reduces quality of life, with impacts on health, education and well-being. For some older people, the inability to heat their home adequately can be a killer. We see it as part of our obligation to the communities where we work to eliminate fuel poverty as far as possible. Over half of our homes are already at EPC rating C or above.
Maria Norman, an Orbit resident from Wellesbourne, said “Since having the external wall insulation works completed I’ve noticed that the house is much warmer and stays warm much longer; my boiler is not running as long and I’m expecting lower fuel bills.’’
John Barnham continued “The Homes for Britain campaign is calling for an end to the housing crisis within a generation. Tackling fuel poverty and bringing existing homes up to a good energy efficiency standard is part of Orbit’s contribution to meeting that goal, alongside our plans to build 12,000 new homes by 2020.”
In keeping with its drive to improve the sustainability of existing homes, and in the face of future uncertainty over government funding for energy efficiency measures, Orbit is considering developing its own ‘social housing Green Deal’ and is working with other housing associations to identify further income streams to support home energy improvements.
Last year, Orbit fitted photovoltaic cells to the roof of its corporate office in Coventry. The £60,000 investment will yield savings of £250,000 in lower bills and provide a financial return through the Feed-In Tariff scheme.