Anthony lives in a 1970s bungalow owned by his local housing association in Greater Manchester. His home was part of an energy efficiency pilot scheme, where the housing association installed solar panels, triple glazed windows, new doors and cavity wall insulation. The retrofit works have brought his home up to Energy Performance Certificate B, which means, in energy performance terms, his 1970s bungalow is now pretty much good as new.
It’s clear from talking to Anthony – on a visit with his local Labour MP – that the work had made a real difference to him. Not just cost savings, but also the benefits to his health. He told us:
“The solar panels are great – some days the smart meter hardly moves and it’s keeping my payments down. The triple glazing is amazing; it’s so quiet now, where it was noisy before.
“Overall I feel like the heat stays in my house and I haven’t needed to have it on as much.
“This work has changed my life completely.”
You hear stories like Anthony’s whenever you visit residents who’ve benefitted from investment in the energy efficiency of their homes. And there’s an increasing number of them. In a quiet revolution, housing associations and councils across England have spent the last few years piloting ways to make homes cosier and greener. We’ve now got approaches that work in a range of circumstances; what we need is the support to roll these out to more homes.
That means a long-term plan for home energy efficiency. The reason retrofit has never reached scale before is the stop-start, feast and famine approach to funding that consecutive Governments have adopted.
The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which contributes to the cost of energy efficiency upgrades in council and housing association homes, is a good example. Last Autumn’s bidding round offered up to £800m of match-funding to councils and housing associations. The round this Autumn is worth just £80m. A welcome top-up, but not the long-term, predictable funding that councils and housing associations need.
Why do we need support from Government? Simply, because the cost of energy efficiency works is huge. The housing association sector alone is planning to invest £70bn by 2050 in the fabric, heating systems and components of their existing homes. But fully decarbonising all housing association homes – vital to deliver on net zero ambitions like Labour’s green power mission – will cost at least a further £36bn.
Government support helps us fill that gap. Every penny the Government invests in energy efficiency is a penny that doesn’t have to come out of budgets for much-needed new social housing.
And there’s consensus across our sector on what’s needed. We want to see the current Government bring forward the balance of their pledged £3.8bn for social housing decarbonisation as soon as possible. That would create the certainty our sector needs to continue their good work.
In the longer-term though, we need a much more ambitious plan to deliver energy efficiency improvements in social housing – and in other tenures, too. There’s broad consensus across those working on greening our housing that a commitment of at least £6bn per year is what’s required to roll-out energy efficiency improvements at the scale needed to tackle our cost of living, energy security and climate change crises.
That’s why – at Labour Housing Group’s retrofit fringe in Liverpool – we were pleased to hear Shadow Minister for Clean Power and Consumers, Jeff Smith MP, reiterate Labour’s commitment to delivering a £6bn per annum warm homes plan by the end of a Labour Government’s first term.
Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. Decent and affordable homes like Anthony’s must be available for everyone, but right now they’re not.
The lack of a long-term plan for housing has led to the housing crisis we are living through today. The issues we face around housing are systemic. If we don’t act to fix the housing crisis, things will get much worse for people living in England.
A sustained commitment to funding energy efficiency works at scale is a vital part of the long-term plan for housing that we need.
Social housing has a retrofit model, we know what works, but we need the support to roll out that model at scale. It can start in the social rented sector but moving quickly into the private rented sector, where standards are worst, and into the owner-occupied sector.
So we need support from all political parties to invest in energy efficiency. It’s the biggest single thing parties can do to make sure that more people benefit from works like those to Anthony’s home; improvements that – in his words – have changed his life.
Rhys is the Executive Director of Public Impact at the National Housing Federation
Tracy is the Chief Executive of the Northern Housing Consortium