A fifth of private tenants suffer from fuel poverty. So why are energy efficiency standards so soft on landlords?

A pensioner keeps warm in North Wales, 2008. Image: Getty.

There is a trend in the UK for more and more people to rent their homes, many from private landlords. Too often, these are cold, energy inefficient homes: over 280,000 homes in cities across the UK that do not meet minimum energy efficient standards.

However, this is soon set to change due to legislation that kicked in at the start of this April. The minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) will require homes in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) to meet a minimum energy efficiency standard. This is good news for the hundreds of thousands of tenants, who have little or no choice but to live in cold homes. 

It’s not all plain sailing, however. The regulations are currently too focused on the interests of landlords, who are able to exempt their properties from the regulations where improvements would mean an up-front cost. Instead, the regulations should be based on minimising the number of households living in substandard conditions – and the contribution that this policy can make to meeting fuel poverty targets.

The government recently consulted on changing the MEES regulations, with any changes coming into force in April 2019, and introduced the concept of a ‘cost cap’: if the improvements required cost any less than that cap, landlords would be expected to fund improvements. The consultation recommended that such a cap should be set at £2,500.

Yet this will result in less than half of the 280,000 worst properties (those with EPC ratings of F or G) receiving some form of energy saving improvement. In comparison, a cost cap of £5,000 would result in 93 per cent of F and G rated properties being improved. Using the lower cap, alongside the ability for landlords to apply for exemptions, weakens the huge potential that these standards could deliver. 

Some cities are moving to deliver retrofit programmes to improve the energy performance of homes in the PRS, and support the expansion of the energy efficiency industry to maximise activity across all tenures. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) Little Bill Programme was the largest Green Deal Communities Programme in England. The scheme, which was targeted at owner-occupied and privately rented homes, worked with over 1,200 households: residents saved, on average, £350 per year on their energy bills.


A call to action

The size of the private rented sector has increased by over 40 per cent in the last ten years, with these properties now accounting for a fifth of housing stock in England. It is widely accepted that this tenure will continue to expand.

And the result? Households living in the PRS have the highest prevalence of fuel poverty: 21.3 per cent compared to 7.4 per cent in the owner occupier sector. This rises to a staggering 45.7 per cent when focusing on F and G rated PRS properties.

Research highlights that cold related illnesses from privately rented F and G properties costs the NHS £35m per year, an estimate I would say is on the conservative side. (This study is based on BRE’s HHSRS cost calculator, which has since been updated, the PRS sector has grown and the English Housing Survey’s (EHS) latest statistics have shown that there has been a reduction in some hazards.)

Inaction to improve the energy performance of privately rented homes will leave thousands of tenants paying higher energy bills for years to come. Average annual energy savings from the government’s preferred cost cap of £2,500 would save a tenant £95 per year. The £5,000 cost cap option could save tenants £188 each year on average.

Increasing the energy efficiency of privately rented properties is therefore key to supporting fuel poverty and carbon reduction targets.  However, achieving this in the private rented sector has historically been challenging. It has long been recognised that minimum standards are key to achieving improvements in this sector.

A step-change in the implementation and enforcement of regulations and energy efficiency delivery is needed. This will establish a clear route map for upgrades, giving landlords and industry the confidence to plan ahead and invest for the future.

Investing in the energy performance of PRS properties can boost economic growth, reduce carbon emissions and support action to eradicate fuel poverty. The rewards of stepping up activity in this area are too good to miss.

Kelly Greer is research director at the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE).

 
 
 
 

These maps of petition signatories show which bits of the country are most enthusiastic about scrapping Brexit

The Scottish bit. Image: UK Parliament.

As anyone in the UK who has been near an internet connection today will no doubt know, there’s a petition on Parliament’s website doing the rounds. It rejects Theresa May’s claim – inevitably, and tediously, repeated again last night – that Brexit is the will of the people, and calls on the government to end the current crisis by revoking Article 50. At time of writing it’s had 1,068,554 signatures, but by the time you read this it will definitely have had quite a lot more.

It is depressingly unlikely to do what it sets out to do, of course: the Prime Minister is not in listening mode, and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has already been seen snarking that as soon as it gets 17.4m votes, the same number that voted Leave in 2016, the government will be sure to give it due care and attention.

So let’s not worry about whether or not the petition will be successful and instead look at some maps.

This one shows the proportion of voters in each constituency who have so far signed the petition: darker colours means higher percentages. The darkest constituencies tend to be smaller, because they’re urban areas with a higher population density. (As with all the maps in this piece, they come via Unboxed, who work with the Parliament petitions team.)

And it’s clear the petition is most popular in, well, exactly the sort of constituencies that voted for Remain three years ago: Cambridge (5.1 per cent), Bristol West (5.6 per cent), Brighton Pavilion (5.7 per cent) and so on. Hilariously, Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North is also at 5.1 per cent, the highest in London, despite its MP clearly having remarkably little interest in revoking article 50.

By the same token, the sort of constituencies that aren’t signing this thing are – sit down, this may come as a shock – the sort of places that tended to vote Leave in 2016. Staying with the London area, the constituencies of the Essex fringe (Ilford South, Hornchurch & Upminster, Romford) are struggling to break 1 per cent, and some (Dagenham & Rainham) have yet to manage half that. You can see similar figures out west by Heathrow.

And you can see the same pattern in the rest of the country too: urban and university constituencies signing in droves, suburban and town ones not bothering. The only surprise here is that rural ones generally seem to be somewhere in between.

The blue bit means my mouse was hovering over that constituency when I did the screenshot, but I can’t be arsed to redo.

One odd exception to this pattern is the West Midlands, where even in the urban core nobody seems that bothered. No idea, frankly, but interesting, in its way:

Late last year another Brexit-based petition took off, this one in favour of No Deal. It’s still going, at time of writing, albeit only a third the size of the Revoke Article 50 one and growing much more slowly.

So how does that look on the map? Like this:

Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an inversion of the new one: No Deal is most popular in suburban and rural constituencies, while urban and university seats don’t much fancy it. You can see that most clearly by zooming in on London again:

Those outer east London constituencies in which people don’t want to revoke Article 50? They are, comparatively speaking, mad for No Deal Brexit.

The word “comparatively” is important here: far fewer people have signed the No Deal one, so even in those Brexit-y Essex fringe constituencies, the actual number of people signing it is pretty similar the number saying Revoke. But nonetheless, what these two maps suggest to me is that the new political geography revealed by the referendum is still largely with us.


In the 20 minutes it’s taken me to write this, the number of signatures on the Revoke Article 50 has risen to 1,088,822, by the way. Will of the people my arse.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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