Stonewater funds new research to set out a clear path to retrofitting the UK’s homes

Patrick Chauvin, Chief Officer Safety, Assets & Sustainability at Stonewater, responds to new research by IPPR, which was supported by Stonewater.

A warm, well-insulated home is something that many of us take for granted. Certainly, it’s something that we all agree should be something that everyone has the opportunity to have.

But for many – including those in the social housing sector – this has not been possible, and it’s a situation that has only been made worse through the cost-of-living and energy price crises. Even with the government’s energy price guarantee, there are an estimated 6.7 million households in fuel poverty and, with the current level of support set to be reduced in April, this figure will only go up unless we do something.

This winter has seen a real recognition of the challenges faced by the poorest in society – and many of them have been tied to their housing situation. The issue of damp and mould was put into stark context by the tragedy in Rochdale, and the energy crisis made everyone think about when they turn their heating on, if at all. A good quality, well-insulated home is something people need in order to live their lives to the full.

There is an acknowledgement of the challenge from government, including with the announcement of its Energy Efficiency Taskforce, and additional investment coming in a few years’ time. But the consensus is that this does not go far enough.

Today sees the launch of a new briefing by leading think tank IPPR, which has been supported by Stonewater and which builds on the previous report that IPPR and Stonewater collaborated on in 2020. GreenGo: Unlocking an energy efficiency and clean heat revolution sets out what the new government taskforce needs to consider and take forward to overcome this significant challenge.

The report calls for:

  • Funding: Continue and uplift existing schemes (such as the energy company obligation and local authority delivery schemes), and introduce full grants for fuel poor homes and grants up to £7,500 for non-fuel poor homes for upgrading homes with insulation, good-quality ventilation and low-carbon heating
  • Awareness raising: Provide a massive nationwide awareness raising scheme, including information about access to funding, a properly resourced energy advice service, and make it easier for households to find out more about what upgrades their homes need
  • Skills: Work with unions, businesses, and workers to develop high-quality jobs and provide £160 million in training funding per year to 2030 for both existing workers and new labour market entrants
  • Standards: Require homes for rent to be at least EPC C by 2028 and homes for sale by 2030, as well as phase out oil-boilers by 2028 and gas boilers by 2035
  • Be more locally-targeted: Increasing local authority resources to carry out ‘heat zoning’ to determine the most appropriate heat technologies for different areas, to identify and prioritise where improvements need to be made, to audit stock and monitor retrofitting activity.

Stonewater has been leading the way in the housing association sector on this issue for a number of years. To date we have retrofitted almost 3,000 homes and plan to complete 500 a year in 2023 and 2024, and we have rolled out fuel poverty and energy awareness training to our frontline colleagues, allowing us to take a more proactive approach to identifying customers in fuel poverty and providing support.

We have also developed an online energy hub with key information for customers, including animated energy advice videos and the latest information on Government support with energy bills. To support this work we have also run Facebook Live events covering different topics such and energy bills and the cost of living crisis.

Alongside this, through our new partnership with Greenoak Housing Association, we will launch a new national Centre of Excellence for zero carbon development and retrofit, which will pioneer exemplar projects, standards and processes to achieve genuine sustainability. We can and will do more, but we’re going to need support from government to do so.

Stonewater previously supported IPPR’s report, All hands to the pump, which was one of the first to look at how to decarbonise and retrofit the social housing sector – and broader housing supply in the UK – and this new briefing sets out a clear path that government and the housing sector need to get behind. In line with recommendations from All Hands to the Pump, Stonewater has adopted more ambitious targets for existing homes beyond EPC Band C. We have developed a long term plan to achieve EPC Band B, alongside the removal of fossil fuel heating in our homes by 2040. Following the launch of the report, Stonewater has also worked closely with policy makers to push for greater support for retrofit as well as leading discussions focussed on scaling-up area-based retrofit.

We know that the social housing sector now acknowledges the scale of the challenge – and we welcome last week’s call by Energy UK, the Local Government Association, the Federation of Master Builders and the National Housing Federation for the government to prioritise energy efficiency as a core solution to the cost of living crisis. With the launch of the Energy Efficiency Taskforce, now is the time for the government to ramp up its support for the sector and help us to ensure that winters like the one we just had remains the exception and does not become the norm.

We look forward to people reading the report, and to raising its findings and recommendations with government, businesses and the housing sector in the coming months. And we would love to hear your thoughts on it, so do please get in touch.

Read the new report

realising retrofit report image 2

Read the new report and find out more about work in this area.