Yesterday the Department for Energy and Climate Change finally laid down regulations arising from the 2013 Energy Act which seek to drive up energy efficiency in the private rented sector and bring down fuel poverty as a result.
The basis of the regulations is two-fold: from 2016, renters will be able to request energy efficiency improvements - which their landlord can't refuse without good reason; and from 2018, all private lets must conform to a minimum of an energy efficiency rating E. Landlords will have to make these improvements but are subject to a rule of ‘no upfront or net costs’ through the Green Deal.
To hear landlords scaremongering about the costs they face in the press this morning is therefore both frustrating and galling. As is clear, they simply won’t face these costs under the current mechanism. It shows a complete disregard for some of the most vulnerable tenants in the UK, who face freezing winters and are disproportionally affected by fuel poverty through living in the least insulated homes in the country. And ultimately, if they want to be seen as legitimate business owners, they can't shirk their responsibility to provide a decent service to their customers.
Which brings us on to where we need to go. Generation Rent has campaigned throughout this year, following in the steps of many longstanding groups focused on this issue, to ensure we have the most robust regulation possible. Yet from the current position, the government could do so much more.
The Green Deal funding mechanism should not be the basis for the improvements. Basing the funding on ‘no upfront costs’ for landlords will means many necessary improvements will not take place and too many properties in the private rented sector will continue to cause fuel poverty. More fundamentally, writing the Green Deal into the law is short-sighted when it may not even exist in 2018.
The current regulations also have blind spots in two other major areas. Rather than focus solely on raising to ‘E’ standard by 2018, we need regulations that go far beyond this and set ambitious targets for raising housing stock to ‘D’ and then ‘C’ in due course. The ‘E’ minimum only upgrades the very worst private rented sector stock.
Finally, the exemptions currently in place are to many, in particular HMOs, because they do not require an Energy Performance Certificate (see Future Climate’s report for more information on this area). We know that HMOs are often the only affordable housing option available to many lower-income renters and their omission will mean fuel poverty will continue to hit these tenants.
The world of energy efficiency can be confusing and technical but the plain facts speak for themselves – close to 20% of private renters continue to live in fuel poverty. To hear private landlords complain about the potential costs they will have to bear, when they are minimal and of no comparison to the real dilemma of choosing to ‘heat or eat’ is frankly exasperating.
The regulations don’t go far enough but they are a real step forward and will make a material difference to millions of people’s lives. Let’s hear no more about how this is actually a problem for landlords, and more about how we finally end fuel poverty forever.