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Overdraught: Lack of Action on Social Homes Fuelling Cost of Living and Climate Crises

New data shows that thousands of social homes don’t meet the Government’s energy targets, reveals Sascha Lavin

Churchill Gardens housing estate in the Pimlico area of Westminster, London. Photo: Nine Elms Regeneration/Alamy Stock Photo

OverdraughtLack of Action on Social Homes FuellingCost of living & Climate Crises

New data shows that thousands of social homes don’t meet the Government’s energy targets, reveals Sascha Lavin

Almost 100,000 social housing properties in England have failed to meet the Government’s minimum standards for energy efficiency, analysis by Byline Intelligence Team reveals. 

A Freedom of Information request sent to councils across England found that 22% of their housing stock was rated below energy efficiency standard E or had not been rated at all. 

Homes rated below E are ‘substandard’, according to Government regulations. Since 2017 it has been illegal for private landlords to rent homes without energy performance certificates (EPCs) or with F or G energy ratings, on a system that runs from A, the most efficient, to G, the least.

The findings come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson puts housing at the forefront of his Net Zero Strategy, published last month. The plan commits to ensuring “as many homes as possible” achieve an EPC rating of C by 2035.

Whilst improving energy efficiency is crucial to tackling the climate crisis – more than 21% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from homes – our new research highlights the scale of the task for the Government. Indeed, less than half of council-owned social housing currently has an EPC rating of C or above. 

Johnson’s 10 point plan on climate change has promised to make homes “greener, warmer and more energy efficient”, but analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team raises concerns that not enough has been done to boost the energy efficiency of social houses. 

The new data shows that one in every five social homes in 68 councils in England fails to meet the Government’s minimum standard for energy efficiency. 

New Forest district council and Essex’s Uttlesford district council had the worst record for providing energy-efficient social housing – 90% of their social housing was rated less than E or not rated at all. Between them, 7,179 properties failed to meet the Government’s targets. 

However, these findings are the tip of the iceberg. Our data only shows a snapshot of energy efficiency in social homes, because most of England’s social housing stock has been transferred to housing associations.

Almost half of the 158 councils that responded to our Freedom of Information request said they had transferred all their housing stock to housing associations. The transition from councils to housing associations as social landlords raises concerns over transparency, as housing associations are not required to give the public a ‘right of access’ to information under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act. 

But analysis by Byline Times of the G15 housing associations – London’s largest housing associations – paints a similar picture, suggesting that social housing tenants are living in some of England’s draughtiest homes. According to their annual reports, an estimated 6,000 social houses in London have failed to gain an energy efficiency rating of E or above.

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And the future doesn’t look much greener for social housing residents. Research by Inside Housing earlier this year found that less than 1.5% of homes built by housing associations in 2020/21 were Band A – the highest energy efficiency rating.

So far, £562 million has been allocated to councils to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock, out of the £9.2 billion promised in the Conservative’s 2019 Manifesto to make domestic and public buildings greener – equivalent to just 6% of the pledged funds.

Indeed, the Government has been facing growing criticism for its lack of substance on climate change. While Johnson emphasised the importance of climate reform in the run-up to the UK’s presidency of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, it has been pointed out that the Government still has not shelved plans for a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, nor a new oil field off the shore of Scotland.

“People across the UK are feeling the stresses of a gas price crisis as well as a climate crisis, and the Government acknowledges that our reliance on fossil fuels has left the UK vulnerable and exposed. People are right to feel angry and upset,” says Philip Evans, oil campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

Cost of Living Crisis

Meanwhile, draughty social homes mean that the very poorest in the UK are hit with the biggest bills.  

A family would save £350 on average on their annual energy bill if they lived in a Band C instead of a Band E rated property. 

Two dozen UK energy suppliers have collapsed in the last 12 weeks, with the energy regulator Ofgen warning of “significant rises” in energy prices – while many social housing tenants are living in less energy-efficient homes. 

Researchers at the University of York found that 2.5 million households are currently in fuel poverty – a situation where more than 10% of net income is spent on energy bills – with this figure set to increase to 3.5 million over the next year. 

This energy crisis, affecting much of Europe, is squeezing the household finances of many poorer families – further exacerbated by the Government’s decision to end the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift, instituted during the pandemic, and its newly-introduced health and social care levy.

“Britain is about to enter a tight cost of living squeeze over the next six months as high inflation and rising energy bills collide with the Government’s decision to cut benefits and raise taxes. Low-and-middle-income families will face the tightest squeeze,” says Karl Handscomb, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation.

Furthermore, the polling company Ipsos MORI recently found that climate change is the biggest concern for the British public, with the issue recording its highest-ever score. Some 40% of people mentioned climate change/pollution as one of the most important issues facing Britain today, while 27% mentioned the Coronavirus pandemic.

The cost of living and the climate crisis are interlinked – which may be a pivotal issue at the next general election.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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