At the National Housing Federation Summit on 18th September, the Prime Minister announced £2bn of funding for housing associations to build tens of thousands of new affordable and social homes[i]. As part of the scheme, housing associations will be able to apply for funding stretching out to 2028/29. The aim is to provide long term certainty.
With the Government’s commitments to build more homes, ensure that they are affordable and meet the climate change targets, could this provide an opportunity for the social housing sector to lead the way towards more sustainable, affordable and future proofed housing today?
It could, but does this all sound a bit familiar? In 2006, the Code for Sustainable Homes was launched and came into practice in 2007 in England. The standard was introduced to reduce carbon emissions and promote higher standards above the building regulations. The code was voluntary, but housing projects receiving funding from the Homes and Community were required to meet the standard. It was also used as a condition for Government programmes and by local authorities wanting to set sustainability planning conditions.
The voluntary nature of the code meant that there was inconsistency in uptake and that those in social housing were more likely to benefit from higher energy performance. Whilst it is important that social housing is affordable and future proofed, I would argue that it is important that all homes, regardless of tenure should be meeting higher standards.
In 2011, the government confirmed that from 2016 all new homes would be zero carbon. A level playing field across all new dwellings, but social housing had a head start.
The head start afforded to social housing properties led to the average SAP rating in 2016 for social rented homes being 67, whereas in the private rented and owner-occupied sectors it was 60 and 61 respectively[ii]. Today it is people in private rented and people who own their own home but can’t afford to upgrade, who are suffering and most at risk of fuel poverty. As highlighted in the most recent Fuel Poverty Statistics, “social housing (both local authority and housing association) tends to have greater levels of insulation, resulting in lower energy costs, and therefore, limiting the depth of fuel poverty within these property types.”[iii] The rate of fuel poverty is highest in the private rented sector (19.4%) and tenants tend to be in deeper fuel poverty compared to other sectors. This demonstrates the importance of setting consistent policy across all tenures.
It is not just consistency across tenures that is needed, it is also important that policy itself is consistent. From 2006 to 2016 heat pumps were gaining traction as a low carbon solution for new build – a direct result of the Code for Sustainable Homes and the drive towards zero carbon homes. However, in 2014, the government scrapped the Code for Sustainable homes and subsequently in 2015 backtracked on the intent to proceed with the zero carbon homes policy. This led to the rapid improvements to efficiency in the UK’s housing stock, seen before 2015, stalling.
We are now in 2018 and the Prime Minister has announced an ambitious new programme to ensure all new homes are highly energy efficient and built with low-carbon heat by 2030. I welcome these commitments however, I am sure I am not alone in being disappointed that this is 10 years on from the date at which all new homes were meant to be zero carbon. It’s a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, we have taken a few back since 2011.
Coming back to my question at the start of this blog, does this new funding offer an opportunity for the social housing sector to take the lead towards future proofed, sustainable and affordable homes. The answer is yes, but they shouldn’t move forward alone. Social rented accommodation now has the best heating systems and energy efficiency of all homes, private sector homes need to catch up. We need to build more homes that are affordable for everyone. It is essential that all these homes, regardless of tenure, are fit for the future and installed with low carbon heat. Policy can and will be the driver for change and we look forward to the building regulations review, which is due shortly, to ensure that everyone buying a new home gets the same high standard.