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Minor Consequential Improvements

Volume 555: debated on Thursday 13 December 2012

Earlier this year, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation paper on reforms to building regulations in England. The proposals contained a strong deregulatory element, which seeks to deliver real and significant savings to business, while ensuring our buildings remain safe and sustainable.

My Department will shortly publish details of some of the deregulatory reforms stemming from that consultation. However, I wanted to inform hon. Members of the Government’s conclusion on one aspect that attracted significant public and media attention.

The consultation sought views on whether to require “consequential improvements” to the energy efficiency of a dwelling when other defined building work was undertaken, such as (a) extensions or increases in habitable space (i.e. loft and integral garage conversions) and (b) the replacement of a boiler or a percentage of the home’s windows. Such proposals were coined as a “conservatory tax”, although it should be noted that most conservatories would not have been affected by such proposals.

Ministers have carefully considered the responses to the consultation. We have also taken into account quantitative research work by the Energy Saving Trust of householders and qualitative analysis by AECOM of building professionals, which I have today placed in the Library of the House.

The Energy Saving Trust research found that consequential improvements, even with green deal finance in place, would put off 38% of households from going ahead with building work on their property that they were otherwise planning (“Energy Saving Trust, Exploratory Research into Building Regulations in relation to the Green Deal”, page 37).[Official Report, 7 March 2013, Vol. 126, c. 12MC.]

The AECOM focus groups found that the majority of the installers registered with Gas Safe Register or members of competent person schemes were very negative towards the idea of being responsible for informing homeowners of the consequential improvement requirements. They observed that given the current economic climate, increased costs would make it harder to win work—homeowners may be deterred from getting the work done or delay commissioning the work. There was concern that by leaving the responsibility to inform homeowners to the installer, it could increase dishonesty in the market. It would potentially present rogue traders with an opportunity either to not inform homeowners of the requirements (to keep costs down), or to inflate the requirements and “rip people off” (AECOM, “Changes to Part L of the Building Regulations: Proposals for consequential improvements in existing homes: Report of Focus Groups”, page 5). There were also concerns about non-compliance, with homeowners facing prosecution and £5,000 fines, leading to widespread problems with enforcement (page 44).

All these concerns point to the danger that introducing consequential improvements would, in fact, discourage people from undertaking home improvements.

Having considered all the representations and evidence, including the public reaction, I can inform the House that we will not be going ahead with such regulatory proposals in any way at this point in time.

Notwithstanding, there is significant scope to promote take up of the voluntary green deal, which allows householders—if they choose—to improve the energy efficiency of their home without any upfront cost. We intend to work with the industry and local authorities to help increase awareness of the green deal amongst householders.

More broadly, it is my Department’s stated policy (as outlined in my statement of 6 September 2012, Official Report, column 29WS) to make it easier for householders to undertake small-scale home improvements and conservatories.

The cancellation of the council tax revaluation (as outlined in my statement of 11 October 2010, Official Report, column 1WS) has also avoided the imposition of higher council taxes on home improvements. As explained in the answer of 30 April 2012, Official Report, column 1105W, we have also discontinued the revaluation database and ceased the intrusive collection of data on the scenic views, gardens and patios of families’ homes.