Money on a domestic heating radiator, signifying the cost of heating. Sourced from iStock.

+ Fuel poverty adds to the risk of rising rent arrears, evictions and the knock-on financial exclusion issues this causes. So what can be done about it?

In the UK, fuel poverty in the social housing sector is a serious problem. But I also believe it is a global issue that needs a strategic approach based on the energy hierarchy. 

A UK government commissioned report, the Hills Fuel Poverty Review, found that fuel poverty – where a household has to spend more than 10% of its income on energy – is ‘not only a distinct, but also a serious, national problem’. It predicted that 8.5 million individuals in 2.9 million households would still be in fuel poverty by 2016. 

For Registered Providers of Social Housing (RPs), the combination of rising energy prices and the consequences of the Welfare Reform Act will mean their tenants find themselves in even more of a financial squeeze. It is something RPs take seriously; they often view the welfare of their tenants as their primary moral obligation. What’s more, fuel poverty adds to the risk of rising rent arrears, evictions and the knock-on financial exclusion issues this causes. Many RPs are starting to tackle this by writing financial inclusion strategies. 

So what more can RPs do about fuel poverty? This is an issue that needs a coordinated strategy that fits into existing management plans for assets, energy and carbon – as well as linking into a wider agenda with bodies like Local Enterprise Partnerships potentially leading on local energy strategy

A strategic approach across all an RP’s assets will unlock energy project and investment opportunities and economies of scale. That’s vital, because although some good work has already been done on saving energy in social housing, on a house-by-house or street-by-street level, opportunities can still be missed if certain strategic approaches are not considered.  

This has to be a fabric-first approach that follows the energy hierarchy. First, you reduce energy demand. Then you increase energy efficiency through measures such as new boilers, insulation and energy storage. Then you look at renewables and low carbon technologies such as solar photovoltaics (PV) or heat pumps. In order to optimise these key steps an integrated approach is needed. 

Having worked with RPs on strategic energy and carbon management commissions, it is often recognised that opportunities are being missed because other priorities exist.  So my message to RPs is: while you’re planning and delivering retrofit and improvement programmes, take a moment to ask why this has not been the trigger to make your homes more energy efficient at the same time? And if it has, could more have been done? 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it has shown us that although opportunities have been missed, many more are still out there and now is the time to seize them and avoid having to come back later at further cost. 

A stock of highly efficient houses with appropriate technology will be prized and valued by tenants. If done well, it will increase the value of assets and offers the chance to produce revenue streams through the generation of competitively priced, secure and clean energy that will improve the health and well being of our communities.