Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

Patrick Mooney focuses on the need for energy efficiency in our housing stock

The Government’s commitment to meeting its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 appears to be wearing a bit thin judging by the complete absence of spending commitments in the mini-budget on useful things like increasing insulation of the nation’s homes.

Instead the focus of the mini-budget was on trying to stimulate growth through a programme of tax cuts (aimed almost exclusively at the very wealthy) and funded by a massive increase in borrowing. So massive in fact that it spooked the financial markets, the pound bombed against the dollar and interest rates are climbing.

In the meantime we are in danger of falling behind the timetable of actions needed to hit the interim targets on carbon emissions and it is getting increasingly difficult to see how the new administration will recover the situation, or if that is something they are even interested in!

Lifting the ban on fracking for shale gas despite the lack of compelling evidence that it is safe to do so and encouraging more exploration for oil and gas in the North Sea, are not exactly consistent with our need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. And neither of these would contribute towards solving the current cost of energy crisis.


Currently about half of all residential properties are rated at EPC ‘D’ or below.

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney Editor of Housing Management and Maintenance magazine

Short term relief over long-term gains

While the support package to help domestic households with paying their energy bills this coming winter was very welcome, there are considerable misgivings about the funding of this through Government borrowing rather than a windfall tax on the huge oil and gas companies like BP and Shell.

Borrowing on this scale pushes up interest rates further and has to be repaid eventually – through general taxation on all of us, rather than on the energy companies.

This also reduces the money available for more progressive policies, such as increasing the energy efficiency of our homes, or funding the phased removal of domestic gas boilers and their replacement with heat pumps.

In addition, the energy support package does absolutely nothing to reduce our current or future use of energy. And Britain’s poorest households are still at risk of spending almost half of their disposable income on gas and electricity bills this winter according to the Progressive Economy Forum (PEF).

According to a report from the PEF, the poorest tenth of families could face bills amounting to 47% of their disposable income this winter (up from 23% in 2020), even after the support from Liz Truss’ energy price guarantee is taken into account.

PEF forecast that a household on average income will spend a third of their disposable income on energy bills, almost double the 17% they paid in 2020, while households in the top 10% will be paying only a fifth of their disposable income towards energy costs.

A plan for warmer homes

These bills would be significantly reduced if we all lived in well-insulated and draught free homes. But the Chancellor’s mini-budget was strangely silent on what new strategies or plans exist to tackle our cold and draughty homes.

The new PM and her cabinet cannot complain that they have been short of advice on what they should be doing.

One of the more thoughtful contributions came from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), who recommended a £200 billion plan (spread across 28 years until 2050) to retrofit nearly all 24 million homes in England with good insulation and a heat pump.

Investing £7billion every year would lower our energy bills, reduce energy demand and our dependence on imported fossil fuels, and very importantly cut our carbon emissions.

These may look like big sums but they are similar to the amount of borrowing needed to fund the various tax cuts announced in the Chancellor’s mini-budget, while actually achieving something constructive in the shape of better insulated homes and a sizeable reduction in energy consumption.

The IPPR say the programme would save each household an average of £430 on their annual fuel bills, while also creating 900,000 new jobs by 2030 and actively working on delivering a levelling up strategy (if that is still a Government priority).

Much of the investment would be targeted at England’s coastal communities and former industrial centres, which also happen to be home to much higher percentages of the country’s leaky, cold and damp homes.

Paying for improvements in our rental stock

One group who would particularly welcome an investment programme targeted in this way would be the country’s private sector landlords, and of course, their tenants.

Previously proposed changes to the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for England and Wales will require all rental properties to have an EPC rating of ‘C’ or above by 2025 for new tenancies and by 2028 for every existing tenancy. Not having a valid EPC rating of A to C for private rentals could mean landlords face penalties of up to £30,000.

Currently about half of all residential properties are rated at EPC ‘D’ or below.

But the Government hasn’t promised any funding to help deliver this, either in the shape of grants or low-interest loans.

Rising costs are piling the pressure on private landlords and investors, increasing concerns that some will be unable to hit the energy efficiency targets. The danger is that landlords and investors will be left with properties that cannot be let and may prove difficult to sell.

The main tool used by the construction sector to predict rises in the cost of materials is forecast to reach 17.5% by the end of 2022 with a high degree of volatility across all material categories. Private landlords also need to factor in the increase in labour costs for tradesmen to complete any upgrades to their properties.

Mike Feasey, Relationship Director at Secure Trust Bank says landlords and investors are in an increasingly difficult position. “We’re getting a lot of feedback from private landlords that high costs are proving a barrier when considering the benefits of upgrading their property’s energy efficiency credentials.”

No time for clock watching

Doing nothing is not an option, Feasey explained: “The clock is ticking, and costs can quickly rise through inaction. The cost of retrofitting existing buildings with green and sustainable measures will, in all likelihood, continue to rise and make it more difficult to recoup the cost of that investment throughout the remaining life of a property.”

Instead we need to see greater and more urgent investment in the roll out of energy efficiency measures across our homes. This would be the fastest way to permanently reduce energy demand, cut costs and slash emissions while also keeping people warm and safe.

Failing to act along these lines will see a growing proportion of the population being consigned to fuel poverty, despite the recently announced assistance programme

As Joshua Emden, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said: “The UK is in the middle of the worst energy bill crisis for at least 50 years. 

“The price cap freeze shields us from absolute catastrophe, but many households are already struggling with last April’s increases. It is vital that the Government takes steps to make us less vulnerable in future.”

Patrick Mooney is editor of Housing Management and Maintenance magazine