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Baker Homes Blog

Stepping up to the plate: my challenge to social landlords

Posted by Andrew Eagles on 01-May-2015 08:00:00

It is often said that social landlords are caught between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, expected to display the enterprise and verve of the private sector to solve the housing crisis; on the other, shackled by regulation and fulfilling many functions previously taken care of by the state.

I say: down with regulation. Well, maybe not quite. But in my view, 2015 should be the year when the sector takes the lead in getting the nation’s homes up to scratch.

Social landlords are building more new homes, despite cuts to the grant challenging viability and business models. They are building the type of homes that are needed, where they are needed: refreshing the parts others can’t reach. As exemplified by the lead role of the Nat Fed in the ‘Homes for Britain’ campaign, they are playing a nationally important role in solving the housing crisis.

But this isn’t just a housing numbers crisis; it’s also a housing quality crisis. Put simply, far too much of our existing stock is in a poor state of repair. Fuel poverty is again rising, and the tougher-than-thou dance being played out between political parties on energy prices obscures the bigger issue: the chronic waste of energy caused by leaky homes. Oil prices are their lowest for a decade, but the long-term is clear: to take just one, between 2003 and 2013 retail gas prices rose in real terms by 248%. Yet fuel poverty should not be the sum total of our attention. We should all be concerned about waste: siphoning money to unproductive energy companies whist needlessly contributing to carbon emissions is hardly sound economics – still less a sensible environmental policy.

What has this got to do with social landlords? In spite of its regulatory shackles, and reduced government support, the sector is playing the numbers game, building more and picking up the slack caused by private developer recalcitrance. It can do the same for quality – and lead a retrofit revolution. Labour have put forward ambitious plans to re-make the way that energy efficiency improvements happen, with ‘area-based’ schemes given preference to the scatter-gun, single-measure approach associated with the current way of things. And it wants to put social landlords in the driving seat to deliver it. So what makes them the right people, and why should they be doing it at all?

First, scale counts. Upgrading a single home is much more expensive than a street’s worth, and housing associations have been doing this for years on their own stock. As well as many energy retrofit projects, social landlords have the experience of delivering Decent Homes.

Second, tenure is an artificial divide. Landlords such as Orbit and Nottingham City Homes, are experimenting with cross-tenure schemes which can realise these economies of scale. Social landlords, together with local authorities, are in a better position than anyone else: they are ‘of’ their community, and have experience of retrofit projects.

Third, it is in their interest. Landlords complain that they are all but excluded from the Green Deal, as-well as do other grants such as Affordable Warmth. ECO is much reduced. Many undertaking work now are doing so because it is the ‘right thing to do’, part of a programme of investment. Averages hide a multitude of sins, but by and large, homes in the sector are in better nick than others. Only by looking beyond tenure will barriers be removed and renewed investment follow, reflecting the true value of what social landlords do.

To be sure, there is an awful lot missing from Labour’s plans. The practical details of how to deliver large scale energy retrofit need working out. And there must be a realistic quid pro quo: if social landlords, in conjunction with local authorities, are to take on this major new role, it is right that they should expect something back. Increased funding, and flexibility to recoup some of investment that saves residents money are two that spring to mind.

Whatever the outcome of the election, all three main parties will be looking afresh at how energy efficiency improvements are delivered. If social landlords plough only their own furrow, they will miss the chance to shape policy. As it is doing with the housing crisis, the sector should step up to the plate and engage in a new conversation, one that speaks to a national imperative – and 2015 is the year to do it.

This article first appeared on 24 housing.


Baker Homes is holding two webinars focusing on understanding and reducing fuel poverty. Find out how to keep your staff up to date and how to implement our elearning courses. Join us for our free webinars on the Thursday 7th May and Thursday 14th May. Register here


SHIFT conference, health and housing, housing associations, over heating, condensation

Topics: Registered Social Landlords, Retrofit, Fuel Poverty, Regulations, New Build, Housing Crisis

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