October 9, 2014 Comment

Social landlords are best placed to help tenants stay warm this winter

garry-felgateby GARRY FELGATE

The findings of the National Energy Study are a disturbing wake-up call to us all as we start the heating season. However, they also contain a rare ray of hope that should shape our approach to tackling fuel poverty.


Conducted by Sustainable Homes for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the study surveyed 560 social homes from 14 housing associations around England, and found that 40% of respondents found it difficult to stay warm in winter. How can it be that nearly half of people living in homes managed by some of the most caring organisations, in a country with a clear commitment to tackling fuel poverty, are not able to keep themselves warm through winter?

The Government is currently consulting on its fuel poverty plans. One of the primary objectives is to set a new target to “ensure that as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable achieve a minimum energy efficiency standard of Band C, by 2030.” Putting aside for a moment the question of what ‘reasonably practicable’ might mean, and the lengthy 15 year time frame, this is a highly desirable outcome. But there is nothing revolutionary in these plans and we have to ask whether they are likely to make a meaningful difference.

We have already had years of government-led plans; support via energy companies in the form of ECO, CERT, CESP and others; SAP ratings; and Energy Performance certificates. More recently we have new funds for the Green Deal programme to manage the cost of energy saving measures. And yet people are still suffering through the winter months. The important question is: why?

The National Energy Study highlights some disturbing, though maybe not surprising, issues. Only 20% of people actually know what they are paying for their electricity; a third of people don’t know how to set their heating controls; and three out of four people find energy bills difficult to understand. In short, people are finding it hard to manage their heating, because they don’t understand it.

There is, however, another trend highlighted in this report that I believe gives the greatest hope for making real changes in a timescale that is acceptable. The most trusted partner for energy advice of a resident living in social housing is: the social landlord. Energy charities as well as friends and family come second to this. Government and energy companies, those who are at the forefront of implementing energy saving measures, are trusted by only a third of people.

What this study has shown is that the group that people are looking to for advice on how to best heat their homes, is the group that provides the homes themselves. What better opportunity for delivering effective energy saving measures. Social landlords are great agents of change, and their tenants trust them. Where they engage, they are successful.

It is now time for all social landlords to take the lead and help their tenants to manage their energy directly. Government can continue to consult on the right measures to address fuel poverty by 2030, while social landlords have the opportunity to make it possible to heat people’s homes this winter.

CityWest Homes, Westminster’s leading housing provider, has recently pledged to fit a Chop-Cloc with all new boilers installed across their estate of 21,000 homes.