Next government ‘must address loophole in new energy efficiency regulations’

The new laws which will effectively ban landlords from letting energy-inefficient homes contain a 'loophole' that means tens of thousands of people living in poorly-insulated homes will be left in the cold.

Under the regulations, enacted earlier this month, landlords in England and Wales will be legally required to upgrade their leakiest properties to an energy efficiency rating of at least Band E by April 2018, which the Government says could save tenants up to £880 a year on their heating bills.

But Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – defined as homes that are rented out by at least three people who are not from ‘one’ household (i.e. they have individual tenancy agreements with the landlord).
Accurate figures for the number of ‘F’ and ‘G’ HMOs do not exist but there are estimated to be around one million in total across England, often in poor condition.

Considerable difference

Andrew Eagles, managing director of not-for-profit consultancy and research body Sustainable Homes, said: “Whilst these standards are undoubtedly a great step forward, the exclusion of HMOs from the regulations is a big disappointment.

“With home ownership increasingly out of reach, many more people are faced with living in rented accommodation for longer, and that invariably means flatshares – many of which will not be covered. We really must show more ambition to banish homes that cost a fortune to run and needlessly add to carbon emissions.”

Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, has raised the issue in Parliament. “It’s good news that these regulations have finally been laid,” said Whitehead. “They will make a considerable difference to the welfare of tenants who are privately renting their homes. However, we have to acknowledge that these regulations will not cover many people. The failure to bring HMOs within the scope of this legislation will leave a substantial amount of the private rented sector unprotected against leaky, cold properties.

“I’ve recently been trying to amend the primary legislation to cover HMOs with a Private Members’ Bill but it’s a problem that will need urgently addressing by the next government.”

Sticking to its guns 

Under the new rules, financial support for landlords will be made available through the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation, while tenants will have the right to request efficiency improvements which the landlord cannot unreasonably refuse, as soon as April 2016. 

After the recent announcement, acting chief executive of the UKGBC John Alker praised the government for sticking with its efficiency-upgrade policy despite the mixed success of the Green Deal

“This could be the single most significant piece of legislation to affect our existing building stock in a generation, affecting a huge swathe of rented properties. Government deserves huge credit for sticking to its guns,” said Alker.

“Some will undoubtedly cry ‘red tape’, but good landlords and forward-thinking property companies have nothing to fear. This could provide the impetus needed to upgrade our worst-performing, most energy-hungry rented properties and help to kick-start a multi-million pound market in energy efficiency products and services in the UK.”

In related news last week, the Government has announced proposals which could see Display Energy Certificates (DECs) for 54,000 public buildings in England and Wales abolished. 

In a consultation document, the Department for Communities and Local Government suggested ‘removing the legal requirement’ for DECs, which show the energy performance of public buildings such as town halls, swimming pools and schools in the form of an alphabetic scale which runs from A to G.

Sustainability Live 2015 

Energy-efficient buildings will be a key theme at Sustainability Live 2015 in April, with a number of keynote sessions and panel discussions focusing on the opportunities for improving building performance and energy efficiency, retrofit strategies and the future energy management of buildings. 

Find out more and register to attend Sustainability Live 2015 here. 

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie