Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by National Energy Action (NEA) (DHB 06)


  National Energy Action (NEA) is a national charity that, for more than twenty years, has campaigned for policies to secure the eradication of fuel poverty. NEA develops and promotes energy efficiency services to remedy the heating and insulation inadequacies of dwellings occupied by low-income households. NEA works in partnership with central and local government; with fuel utilities, housing providers and health services; and with consumer groups and voluntary organisations.

  NEA's work includes:

    —  Research and analysis into the causes and the extent of fuel poverty and the development of policies to address the problem.

    —  Providing advice and guidance to local authorities, fuel suppliers and installers on best practice in delivering energy efficiency services to low-income households.

    —  Developing national qualifications and managing their implementation to improve standards of practical work and the quality of energy advice.

    —  Producing educational resources to teach young people about the importance of energy efficiency.

    —  Managing demonstration projects in urban and rural areas that show innovation in tackling fuel poverty and bring the wider benefits of energy efficiency to local communities.


  The comments below represent NEA's initial comments on issues around the draft Bill. More considered and detailed comment will be submitted at a later stage. NEA has always taken the view that the only rational, sustainable and permanent solution to fuel poverty is through improvement to the energy efficiency standards of the housing stock. Consequently our interest in the draft Bill centres on several provisions of the draft legislation, specifically those with the potential to impact on fuel poverty and affordable warmth. These are:

    —  The Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

    —  Proposals for licensing houses in multiple occupation.

    —  The energy efficiency element of the Home Information Pack.


  NEA welcomes the introduction of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) as a tool for identifying potential hazards and for making owners and landlords better aware of these. Recognition that excessive cold and dampness pose serious health hazards is welcome. NEA believes that the rating system can, and should, play a significant role in helping to meet the Government's objective of eradicating fuel poverty in England by 2016. The rating system will be particularly useful in tackling fuel poverty in the private rented sector. The sector has some of the worst general housing energy efficiency standards and the highest proportion of households in severe fuel poverty. It has also proven extremely difficult to encourage private sector landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.

  The HHSRS will set a standard for efficient heating systems, the necessary levels of insulation and adequate ventilation by ensuring that properties can attain temperatures which do not present a hazard to the health of the occupants. If the system is to be effective and assist the Government to achieve its fuel poverty targets, it should also be a stipulation that the necessary temperature should be capable of being reached and maintained affordably ie the occupants are required to spend no more than 10% of their income to achieve the necessary temperatures.

  The rating system also provides local authorities with potentially a more flexible approach to private sector housing renewal that the current rather inflexible Housing Fitness Standard. In addition to enforcement action on properties which pose a significant threat to the health of the occupants, the rating system will enable authorities to offer advice and other assistance in less serious cases.

  While supportive of the general approach taken in the rating system, NEA believes the following issues need further consideration:

    —  A methodology should be developed to assess the ability of the property to reach and maintain temperatures which will guarantee the health of the occupants at an affordable cost.

    —  An additional risk assessment based on excessive humidity (<50%) should be introduced since this will indicate the risk of house dust mites, pathogens and allergens.

    —  The effects of hazards on the occupant's psychological health should be assessed in all cases—this should be included within a broader concept of health to include well-being and comfort.

    —  A new system for enforcement in local authority stock must be introduced.

    —  Local authorities should be encouraged to implement the rating system in a proactive way.

    —  The heating requirements for a property should incorporate whole-house heating, World Health Organisation temperature regimes and also the ability of the householder to operate the system.

  NEA welcomes the particular emphasis on the real and potential hazard of cold homes and notes that the risk from excess cold is the second most frequent problem and, by some margin, the highest in the severe risk category. We also note that in the case study chosen to illustrate the hazard of excessive cold the property is deemed to be defective on the grounds of inadequate insulation (100mm loft insulation); that the heating system type (radiant bar heaters) is seriously defective; and the extent of the heating provision is classed as defective. It is further noted that the thermal insulation standard is deemed too low despite the fact that this level of provision is considered acceptable for compliance with the Thermal Comfort Criteria of the Decent Homes Standard for social housing for properties with gas and oil fired heating (albeit the standard is higher where a property is electrically heated).

  As indicated in the case study the HHSRS does, in this instance, provide for remedial work that would have been outside the remit of the Fitness Standard. The prescribed remedy of double glazing and efficient gas central heating would however, have significant cost implications for private sector landlords and it would have been useful to consider a range of alternative packages. This assumes that a landlord will be informed of the options that will ensure compliance with the HHSRS.

  Perhaps the most crucial factor in the effective operation of the system is the capacity for a local authority to identify health and safety hazards in dwellings and to enforce remedial works. The accompanying explanatory notes to the Bill suggest that there will be limited implications for public service manpower (sic); this appears to be either wishful thinking, or the wish to reassure local authorities that there will be few new financial burdens, or an implicit admission that rigorous enforcement is not a priority.

  If the purpose of introducing the HHSRS is that it "adapts and extends the powers available to LHAs to tackle poor housing conditions' then there must be acknowledgement that this will have implications for fiscal and personnel resources. There are instances of well-meaning legislation being diminished by lack of resources eg many local authorities have still not appointed a full time dedicated Home Energy Conservation Officer eight years after the Home Energy Conservation Act was passed.

  Effective implementation of the rating system is likely, at the very least, to have significant training implications for those charged with enforcement. The system will require some form of energy audit and the ability to advise property owners on the options for improvement. Neither of these skills are required to implement the current Housing Fitness Standard.

  The key issue in enforcement is the availability of funding to assist property owners to undertake the necessary improvements. Experience suggest that the most effective approach to private sector housing renewal is one involving "carrots", in the form of grants or other financial assistance and "sticks", regulations to require the improvements. While the rating system provides the stick, the absence of sufficient funding could seriously impair its implementation. Indeed, the absence of sufficient funding may act as a powerful disincentive to enforce the rating system for many local authorities.


  The Draft Bill takes forward one of the provisions of the unsuccessful Private Members Bill, the Home Energy Conservation Bill 2001, introduced by Dr Des Turner in that year. The Bill contained clauses that defined "houses in multiple occupation" (HMOs) and set out the principles of a registration scheme. These included:

    —  The property should not be overcrowded.

    —  The property should meet specific energy efficiency criteria.

    —  The property should meet a range of health and safety criteria covering fire hazards, gas and electricity safety and access to amenities

  The draft legislation assumes that the HHSRS will provide the main element of protection against cold hazard in HMOs and that the catch-all provisions of the rating system will obviate the need for specific energy efficiency criteria in legislation. NEA believes that consideration should also be given to the introduction of higher energy efficiency standards than those implied by the rating system. For example, higher minimum standards could be specified using the optimum elements of the Thermal Comfort Criteria of the Decent Homes Standard for social housing in England and the Welsh Housing Quality Standard for properties in Wales. Consequently the specification for energy efficiency in HMOs would feature:

    —  Controllable central heating.

    —  Loft insulation (as appropriate) to a minimum depth of 200mm.

    —  Cavity wall insulation (as appropriate).

  Additional and/or distinct measures will be required in hard to heat properties—those with solid walls, off the mains gas network etc. It is important that the social, economic and environmental implications of energy use be considered in relevant legislation and it would represent a serious omission if these factors were not to be built into the Draft Housing Bill.


  The same general comments about licensing in HMOs apply to other residential accommodation.


  The introduction of a Home Information Pack can be seen as an important tool in assessing progress across a range of Government objectives including domestic energy efficiency improvement, CO2 reduction and the eradication of fuel poverty as set out in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. In addition this element of the pack will contribute towards compliance with EU Directive 2002/91/EC and its requirement that energy performance certificates be available to prospective purchasers. The proposed content of the energy efficiency element of the home condition report—information on cost-effective improvements to reduce fuel costs, increase comfort and reduce overall energy consumption should represent a useful resource for new occupants of a property at the point where they will be most prepared to undertake improvement work. It should also prove an incentive to vendors who see energy efficiency and energy running costs as a possible factor in achieving a satisfactory and rapid sale. Finally the report will caution those prospective purchasers for whom energy costs represent a disproportionately high element of expenditure against persevering with purchase of a property with poor energy efficiency standards and, consequently, high energy costs.

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