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The Warm Arm of the Law: Tackling fuel poverty in the private rented sector

The ACE Research team, working in partnership with CAG Consultants, have published the Warm Arm of the Law, an Ebico Trust funded research project looking at the extent to which the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) are being proactively implemented and enforced by local authorities across England and Wales.

The PRS has grown by over 40% in the last ten years and now comprises 20.5% of the housing market in England, compared to just 10% in 1999 [1], with Wales seeing a similar increase [2]. Figures for urban areas are higher. It is widely accepted that this tenure will continue to expand.

Fuel poverty continues to be a major problem and is particularly acute in the PRS, with an estimated 21.3% of PRS households thought to be in fuel poverty in England [3], and 36% in Wales [4]. Compared with other tenures, the PRS in England has the largest proportion of energy inefficient F and G rated properties; 45.7% of PRS households living in such properties are in fuel poverty [5].

Research highlights that cold related illness from privately rented properties costs the NHS over £35 million per year [6], while best practice approaches have shown that by improving housing standards, savings to the NHS and to wider society can be delivered.

Increasing the energy efficiency of PRS properties is key to reducing fuel poverty and limiting the impact of cold related illnesses on the NHS. However, achieving this in the PRS has been historically challenging; there is little incentive for landlords to invest in the energy efficiency of their properties given that it is their tenants who will benefit from reduced energy bills. It has long been recognised that minimum standards are key to achieving improvements in this sector.

Kelly Greer, ACE Research Director noted that: “There is great potential for both HHSRS and MEES to be effectively implemented and doing so will not only improve the lives of tenants living in some of the worst properties in the country, it will also offer significant economic and wider societal benefits to the UK, including reducing the burden on the NHS, improved productivity and a reduction in carbon emissions”.

The research project has identified a number of recommendations around improving the implementation and enforcement of HHSRS and MEES, for government (national, regional and local), landlords and their representatives, tenant advice services and the energy efficiency sector. Priority recommendations included:

  • National government needs to ensure that local government is adequately resourced to proactively implement both MEES and HHSRS and could offer guidance and advice on how these services can be implemented as cost effectively as possible.
  • Local government needs to develop a joined-up approach to implementing HHSRS and MEES. National government could assist by issuing guidance and examples of how best to do this.
  • National government should work with the energy efficiency sector to build the evidence base around the potential benefits to landlords of having highly efficient properties, including reduced rent arrears, reduced void periods and increased rental and asset value.
  • National Government should continue to restate the long-term trajectory of the MEES regulations to help landlords understand their long-term requirements and to support the delivery of whole house retrofit approaches, thus minimising disruption for tenants and avoiding multiple interventions by landlords.

The outputs from the research project  include a policy report and a toolkit. The policy report, aimed at policy makers, industry and wider stakeholders, highlights the opportunities to increase energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty in the PRS, detailing current practice, where there are barriers and what is needed to overcome these, while the toolkit provides practical advice for local authorities on how to ensure they are realising the full potential of the energy efficiency legislation already in place.

The project involved desk research, interviews with stakeholders and local authority practitioners and the development of a series of case studies. A steering group made up of the Association of Local Energy Officers (ALEO), the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Future Climate, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) oversaw the project.

 

ACE and CAG Consultant are very grateful to Ebico Trust for their support for this project.

 

 

[1] English Housing Survey 2016-17, Headline Report: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2016-to-2017-headline-report

[2] Shelter Cymru, Fit to Rent: https://sheltercymru.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Fit-to-rent-Todays-Private-Rented-Sector-in-Wales.pdf

[3] Fuel poverty figures for 2015, published by BEIS June 2017, Low income/high cost definition: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/623108/Fuel_Poverty_Statistics_Report_2017.pdf

[4] Living in Wales Survey, 2008: http://gov.wales/docs/statistics/2009/091130livingwales2008en.pdf

[5] English Housing Survey 2015-16, Private Rented Sector Report: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627686/Private_rented_sector_report_2015-16.pdf

[6] BRE, 2011 : www.cieh.org/media/1380/the-health-costs-of-cold-dwellings.pdf. Please note that this study is based on BRE’s HHSRS cost calculator, which has since been updated. BRE also undertook additional analysis using their Category 1 calculator, which put the cost of ill health to the NHS between £37 million and £674 million depending on actual SAP ratings and occupancy levels.

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