Energy and Climate Change Committee - Fuel Poverty in the private rented and off-grid sectorsWritten evidence submitted by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)

1. Executive Summary

1.1 The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) speaks for over 10,000 members across the UK. Many work in local authorities including local authority housing officers.

1.2 The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), introduced by the Housing Act 2004, provides a robust and effectives means of tackling Category 1 Hazards to human health created by poor housing conditions, including excess cold.

1.3 The CIEH approves of public policies which address fuel poverty in terms of downward pressure on fuel costs and additional support for those on low incomes. However, addressing the conditions of properties, particularly in respect of energy efficiency measures is an equally important component of a coherent strategy for tackling fuel poverty.

1.4 Local authority housing officers should be given full political backing (nationally as well as locally) to tackle excess cold hazards, especially in respect of the homes of tenants in the private rented sector. There are a number of carrots, sticks and tools recommended by the CIEH to make public policy more effective in tackling fuel poverty.

2. The Health Impacts of Fuel Poverty

2.1 The CIEH approaches the issue of fuel poverty from a concern about the health hazards affecting those affected. The health effects of excess cold hazards include cardiovascular and respiratory disease, especially in older people.1 The increased cost of heating homes can cause stress and anxiety to the occupiers, especially if they are in fuel poverty.

2.2 Approximately 2 million homes in England have a Category 1 hazard for excess cold under the HHSRS (see English Housing Survey, Headline report 2009–10, page 41).2 The CIEH has worked with the Building Research Establishment to develop a “cost calculator” to assess the impact on the NHS of not dealing with Category 1 hazards.3

2.3 According to the CIEH’s toolkit “Good housing leads to good health 2008”4 the cost to the NHS of dealing with cold-related illnesses and conditions was then approximately £1 billion per year. The HHSRS cost calculator shows that excess cold and falls hazards are the most cost effective hazards to deal with in terms of savings to the NHS.

2.4 In research commissioned by Friends of the Earth, the CIEH and BRE provided an estimate that the costs to the NHS in England of treating patients who are tenants in the private sector, living in properties with an energy rating of F or G, is currently £145 million a year.5

2.5 For households in, or at risk of, fuel poverty, energy costs are too high. In helping to tackle this problem, Governments need to work to keep those costs down, help the poorest households by supplementing their incomes and help reduce consumption (and therefore total cost) of fuel by targeting the properties they live in for energy efficiency measures.

3. Environmental Health and the Private Rented Sector

3.1 The private rented sector includes some of the country’s worst housing stock and is home to many of society’s most hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups and where some of the most deprived communities live. Approximately 1 million homes in this sector contain serious hazards under the HHSRS, the majority being excess cold.

3.2 Local authority housing officers have powers under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 to tackle the hazard of excess cold in privately rented homes. The CIEH urges local authorities to address this and other health hazards (for example from falls) in the private rented sector strategically, rather than limiting their activity merely to responding to complaints.

3.3 Environmental Health Practitioners (working for local authorities and also for private landlords) work with landlord forums to impress on them the problems associated with excess cold, warning that unless landlords improve energy efficiency in properties, they could lose money as well as face enforcement action under the HHSRS.

4. The Barriers to Tackling Fuel Poverty in the Private Rented Sector

4.1 Usually local authority housing officers only resort to enforcement action under the HHSRS in the event that informal resolution has failed. However, Government-imposed cuts in local authority spending have severely restricted their ability to be proactive in protecting the most vulnerable tenants.

4.2 The restriction on enforcement action created by budget cuts has been compounded by the Government’s decision to cut funding for private sector housing renewal. This funding has in the past enabled local authority housing officers to “bring to the table” the prospect of grants and loans to assist in achieving voluntary action to remove hazards to health. The budget was first introduced in 1949 to support the renovation and conversion of tenanted property. In 1983–84 the expenditure was £1.1 billion with most of the money going to support the 90% repair grant programme. In 2010 the budget was £317 million. In 2011, it is NIL.

4.3 A further barrier is the Government’s reluctance to intervene as was demonstrated during the passage of the Energy Act 2011. The Government first opposed the campaign by over 40 organisations, the CIEH included, led by Friends of the Earth and the Association for the Conservation of Energy, for a minimum energy efficiency standard for private rented properties. When the campaign was strongly supported by legislators in Parliament, the Government put back the start date for this legislative requirement from 2016 to 2018.

5. The Energy Act 2011

5.1 The Energy Act does not affect the HHSRS and generally, the enforcement powers of local authority housing officers under the HHSRS are adequate. The CIEH has provided the Department of Communities and Local Government with suggestions where some minor technical changes would be helpful.

5.2 The CIEH supported the Rugg report’s recommendation6 for landlord registration and at the last General Election called on the next Government to act to ensure all dwellings in the private rented sector meet the decent homes standard and that effective action should be taken against rogue landlords. The Energy Act has not taken any steps in this direction.

5.3 Energy Performance Certificates are not required for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and unfortunately the Energy Act did not address this omission. It gives the unfortunate signal to landlords and their tenants that energy efficiency is not a priority in HMOs, which represent an important stock of more affordable housing for many hard-to-reach groups.

5.4 The CIEH has some evidence of the seriousness of the issue of “retaliatory evictions”, namely landlords suddenly terminating tenancies in situation where the tenants have made complaints, including complaints to local authorities of health hazards in their homes. The CIEH fears that tenants who request Green Deal measures from their landlord will similarly be at risk of retaliatory evictions. The Government was asked to include a provision in the Energy Bill to protect tenants from such evictions, but the Government declined to do so. The CIEH has provided the Department of Communities and Local Government with a dossier of cases and a copy accompanies this submission.

6. Fuel Poverty in Rural Areas

6.1 The South West Public Health Observatory report “Fighting Winter Cold in the South West” (2008) underlines7 the strong link between excess winter deaths/fuel poverty and rural areas, where many smaller authorities are located.

6.2 Rural housing is often harder to treat and the population often suffers from higher food, transport and fuel costs.

7. Proposals for Improvement

7.1 The CIEH supports the introduction of the Green Deal and wishes it to be an attractive and effective offer in the private rented sector, where there are large numbers of properties requiring higher Decent Homes and energy efficiency standards. A number of carrots and sticks ought to be applied to ensure this outcome is achieved.

7.2 Carrots should include: access to the ECO for energy efficiency measures where tenants are in fuel poverty; focus the Landlords Energy Saving Allowance on these works and make claims easier; reduce VAT to 5% for a wider range of energy efficiency works; re-introduce the private housing sector renewal budget.

7.3 Sticks should include: adequate resources for local authorities to enforce the HHSRS; protection from eviction of tenants who complain to local authorities of excess cold or who ask their landlords for Green Deal works; reinstate 2016 as the start date for a minimum energy efficiency standard for private rented properties.

7.4 In addition to these carrots and sticks, additional tools required by local authority housing officers include: political support (national and local) for effective enforcement of the HHSRS; the requirement of Energy Performance Certificates for HMOs; flexible application of registration requirements for landlords; closer working with landlords’ representative organisations on the further development of accreditation schemes for landlords.

8. About the CIEH

8.1 As a Chartered professional body, we set standards and accredit courses and qualifications for the education of our professional members and other environmental health practitioners.

8.2 As a knowledge centre, we provide information, evidence and policy advice to local and national government, environmental and public health practitioners, industry and other stakeholders. We publish books and magazines; run educational events and commission research.

8.3 As an awarding body, we provide qualifications, events, and trainer and candidate support materials on topics relevant to health, wellbeing and safety to develop workplace skills and best practice in volunteers, employees, business managers and business owners.

8.4 As a campaigning organisation, we work to push environmental health further up the public agenda and to promote improvements in environmental and public health policy.

8.5 We are a registered charity with over 10,500 members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

December 2011

1 For more details see the HHSRS Operating Guidance page 60 http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/hhsrsoperatingguidance
and the Review of Health and Safety Risk Drivers pages 24-31 http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/reviewhealthsafety.pdf

2 http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/statistics/pdf/1937212.pdf

3 http://www.cieh.org/policy/good_housing_good_health.html?terms=cost+calculator

4 http://www.cieh.org/policy/Good_Housing_Leads_to_Good_Health.html?terms=good+housing+leads+health (p39).

5 http://www.cieh.org/policy/the-health-costs-of-cold-dwellings.html?terms=The+health+costs+of+cold+dwellings

6 http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/chp/publications/PDF/prsreviewweb.pdf

7 http://www.swpho.nhs.uk/resource/item.aspx?RID=48852

Prepared 4th July 2012