/ Home & Energy

Keeping it local – a better approach to energy efficiency


With millions of homes leaking cash every winter, we’re calling on the next Government to radically re-think its energy efficiency strategy. What would convince you to make your home more energy efficient?

I try to be eco-friendly (I walk or get public transport everywhere, always buy the green option, and can’t remember the last time I picked up a plastic bag at the supermarket) and would be really keen to make my home as energy efficient as possible. As a long-term renter, though, there don’t seem to be any attractive options available to help me sort out my home.

Our latest report, A Local Approach to Energy Efficiency [PDF], looks at the widespread effect this has across the country. You may not know it, but UK homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe. And poor energy efficiency isn’t just bad for your wallet – it’s also bad for your health and the environment.

Energy efficient homes

Up to 5.4 million homes still don’t have their cavity walls filled, which can save you up to £140 a year on your energy bills. And then more than 7 million homes still need their lofts fully lagged. It’s also estimated that the NHS spends £1.36bn each year treating illnesses caused and exacerbated by cold homes.

Successive governments have failed to do enough to tackle the problem, and we’re calling for the next Government to crack on and give us an energy efficiency record to be proud of.

Action from the next Government

Having spent some time working for a local charity for older people on fuel poverty, I’ve seen how brilliant local agencies can be at getting help to those who need it the most.

We want the new Government to switch to a long-term local approach, where local authorities lead the roll-out of energy saving measures through local partnerships involving housing associations and even GPs. These partnerships will be better at ensuring that support gets to those who need it the most, at getting people interested in schemes and obtaining their trust. A street by street approach can also result in economies of scale, which is important when resource is scarce.

We’re also recommending better cost control to deliver value for money, more joined-up government working, and long-term planning to help bring down prices on bills. We also think there needs to be an overhaul of the Green Deal, after just 9,600 plans have been taken out since the scheme launched.

Have you ever had energy efficiency measures installed? If so, what convinced you to do it? If not, what could the next government do to help?


I think this is absolutely the right approach. Local authority leadership, a flexible approach, and a practical solution for each deficient property has to be the way forward. I would suggest we start with homes occupied by the elderly and those with the lowest EPC ratings then find a way of bringing them up to a reasonable and affordable standard of warmth and comfort using a menu of measures that suit the property and the residents. In this respect, the best should not be allowed to become the enemy of the good: a workable insulation project rather than one that ticks every box on a compliance sheet should be the aim. In my view it wouldn’t matter if the residents made very little financial contribution; just getting it done could take the pressure of the state in various ways and the investment is there for the life of the property.

Landlord could be made responsible for bringing their properties up to an enforceable minimum standard of insulation as a requirement to let a property. They will profit from any improvements in the future. Home owners should be educated in the financial advantages of better insulation and windows to see whether the improvements would be worthwhile; as they will profit from the improvements. Means should be provided for the loans needed at sensible interest rates. For those owners not in a position to fund essential improvements we need to identify the truly needy and give them assistance.

We need to be careful about cavity fill – some suggest this can lead to dampness although that has not been my experience (with chopped glass fibre).

From April 2016, landlords will not be able to refuse ‘reasonable’ requests from tenants, or local authorities acting on behalf of tenants, to improve their property.

From April 2018, the Government will make it unlawful to rent out a house or business premise which has less than an E energy efficiency rating. The Government says this will ensure that at least 682,000 properties will have to be improved.

At first glance this is well worthwhile, but what are the possible complications?

What happens to people in rented homes if major work such as internal insulation of solid brick walls is needed, or is it likely that sufficient improvement can be made with little upheaval?

What if the landlord cannot afford the improvements? I did once rent a flat and the landlord sometimes drove round in a Rolls Royce when collecting the rents from his numerous properties, but I doubt that all landlords are rich.

There will always be complications, but the principle for home insulation is good and we should not be put off by a minority of possible problem cases. What is not clear is how much increase in rent the landlord can expect. The tenant will no doubt still need to balance the energy savings they make against the possible cost increase, as would house owners. No doubt needy tenants will get assistance.

Here is an article on the subject: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/05/landlords-draughty-homes-ban

This article indicates that the UK has a high level of fuel poverty, though it is not stated whether the figures given represent those in rental properties or all housing. The sooner we sort out our crazy energy pricing the better, since many are paying more for energy than they should be.

The legislation applies only to England and Wales, yet parts of Scotland can be very cold.

I am not overly impressed by these new regulations – getting properties up to an E rating is no big deal! Whether landlords will be able to raise the rent is an interesting point. It might depend on the local rental market and the availability of other lets with better energy efficiency for the same rent. Where rental demand is high landlords have been getting away with letting sub-standard properties at excessive rents for years. This does at least put a floor under the energy efficiency standard and properties rated E should be at the bottom end of the rent scale, all other things being equal [which they never are of course]. The further away you get from metropolitan areas there is an increasing likelihood that the supply of lets will exceed demand; it does around where we live and rents have been static or declining for a long time except for brand new properties with high thermal efficiency. Some landlords are not doing very well at all financially and those with a number of low-rated properties might struggle to bring them up to the required minimum standard – they’re in a tight spot and will have to balance the cost of improving the property [and possibly increasing the income] against selling it at a capital loss.

I’m an Energy assessor and I can assure you an “E” rating is nothing to get excited about, well below average.. I would be setting the bar at a “D”. I would also explore legislation that makes it a requirement that a “D” rating is required to sell a property, although I know that could cause problems in selling “fixer upper” type places but there must be some way houses being marketed are categorised to allow for this.
Stamp duty rates and council tax rates could also be linked to EPC rating as further incentives to improve efficiency and in the long term save on energy bills.

To the extent that the EPC rating affects the value of property on sale [it’s debatable because location and accommodation count for so much] Stamp Duty Land Tax does reflect that factor above the starting level.

Setting Council Tax rates to incentivise energy efficiency while remaining revenue neutral across all the properties in the local authority area would mean a redistribution of the charge possibly penalising those who can least afford it.

Not necessarily John. If we had a decent efficiency subsidy or grant system rather than the “not fit for purpose Green deal” the only people penalised would be those too lazy to take advantage of what’s on offer. Besides I was thinking more in terms of a council tax band setting related to the EPC rating when a property changes hands. That would affect property prices, and rightly so too.
You are however correct in that currently the EPC rating has little if any relationship to any given house price, and I very much doubt if an EPC rating ever made or broke a sale. It might though have some bearing on offer prices and affect how easily a house sells. That is for those potential buyers who actually look at the EPC. Looking costs nothing and in this case just looking can be very helpful to buyers.

Since it is in many people’s financial interests to improve the energy efficiency of their homes – the savings more than repay the money spent – why is it thought a subsidy or grant (that is using yours and my money taken as taxes) is appropriate? If anything, what is needed is a loan system at a fair interest rate for those unable to raise the capital.

That is one way of looking at it. On the other hand, cutting down total energy use by the population is of benefit to everyone by cutting expenditure on increasing capacity of the industries. Grants and subsidies have a long history, so governments past and present seem to think they are a good idea. I was not impressed by the solar feed-in tariff, which at its original rate was quite lucrative and those without the benefit of solar panels were subsidising.

If someone cannot afford the capital for home improvement, is it wise to encourage them to take out a loan on the basis of long term savings? That could be a recipe for disaster.

I’m suggesting the criterion to be used would be a loan where the repayments are less than the annual saving. That makes financial sense, and will ensure that viable improvements are considered and made. One difficulty with grants and subsidies is the cost of administering them – often employing commercial companies to examine proposals and only using approved contractors to carry out the work. This is best left to the individual to decide and finance – many improvements can be made by diy for a lot of people .

That I do support, provided that homeowners don’t botch work, which could cause problems for themselves and subsequent owners of the property.

Which? talk, Which? do.

I believe I suggested roughly two years ago that Which? could empower its supporters by issuing thermal imaging cameras to trained groups who could identify properties with problems.

Which? certainly has the money, and there are plenty of tales on the Web where small towns and villages have rallied to the cause. So come on Which? how about some physical action on a problem.

BTW your link seems incorrect as it links to some petition rather than an actual report.

Like Malcolm I am wary of cavity insulation because of the number of cases where it has caused dampness problems.

I also agree that we should target support at those with the greatest need.

Unless you live on the coast with rain almost constantly lashing your outside walls you are extremely unlikely to get problems with ,modern cavity wall insulation.Most of the very few properties that do encounter problems had existing issues.
I’ve had no problems for example in my 1936 cavity walls which have “blue bricks” rather than a damp course, and although I don’t live on the coast I am in an exposed rural area.

I don’t need to be convinced to make my home more energy efficient, in the same way as I don’t need to be convinced that it is a good idea to buy eg organic, non-GM, animal/forest-friendly, fair trade products. I just need more money. However, I don’t think the Government can help me because I’m not among those who need help the most. This needs to be recognised, that there is a sizeable tranche of population that doesn’t do what it should or would, simply because it can’t afford it.

Sophie, one of my points was meant to be that if an energy saving measure saved more money on your energy bill than it cost to implement (over a period) with a loan at a sensible interest rate then it becomes affordable. Maybe the Govt or energy companies make such loans available – but not the green loans which seem to involve high interest and admin charges.

One thing that would help me, would be if the government stopped making me pay for green subsidies through my energy bills. I know my home needs a new boiler and double glazing but I’ll never be able to afford it if I’m paying for everyone else to get it.

One think about this report, well-written, is Which? standing aloof from the process and criticising its failings which to me and many were evident some years back.

” However, a doorstep approach needs to be done in the
right way, and involving the right organisations. Where
door knocking was carried out in CERT and CESP, the
endorsement and support of the local authority added to
the effectiveness of the engagement.83 Research by
Sheffield City Council found that, due to residents’ fear of
‘rogue traders’, the scheme needed to be branded by the
council, because “the Council is always there, people know
who to call if there’s a problem”. The scheme also used
council officers, rather than contractors, to conduct the
energy assessments. And sample ID badges were included
in resident communications prior to the visit to help
address the problem of fake IDs.84″

For my money [around £140 a year] Which? should have been runing its own pilots, training sessions etc and taking the strain out of the process for those not versed in building technology.

Given it does nothing and then writes about the failures in take-up, in the scheme structure etc. I am quite annoyed. It has the money it is a charity and could address the need and pass on to other groups all the best practices learned.

Different areas may require different techniques but I am convinced that properly constructed courses to take into account Gender and practical abilities could enthuse local groups..

Sally says:
3 April 2016

I was very very cold this winter in my rented house but landlady didn’t do anything to help me! what I should do?