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Homes: Environmental Standards

Volume 816: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to provide guidance to homeowners and landlords to ensure that homes are improved to the highest possible environmental standards.

The Government’s ambition is for as many homes as possible to reach EPC band C by 2035. Our Simple Energy Advice service provides tailored advice and guidance for home owners and landlords on how to improve the energy performance of their homes and has received over 1.7 million users to date. We are also looking to improve the tailoring of recommendations on energy performance certificates to individual properties.

My Lords, it is a mammoth task to bring the many millions of homes in this country up to the standard suggested by the Minister. What are the Government going to do to ensure that we have enough trained workers, apprentices and others to do the work? Surely we need a massive training programme for the skilled workforce that is required to bring our homes up to standard.

I agree with the noble Lord: we need exactly that. We are working both through the Department for Education, with some of its training investments, and with many of the private sector providers which are also introducing new schemes, apprenticeships and training even as we speak. I went up to visit some of them only a few weeks ago, and the way industry is coming to the fore with these advancements is very impressive.

My Lords, we are going to need a massive step change if we are to achieve reductions in emissions. An important element of that will be providing financial incentives for people to adopt the new technologies and get their houses sorted out, such as the money people can make from selling surplus energy from their solar panels. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of other small, domestic, green energy production methods which might help us offset emissions from the built environment?

The right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to some of the export guarantee schemes that we already have. I also draw his attention to the boiler upgrade scheme, which we will be introducing from April next year. That is £450 million of straight, upfront grants for people to install heat pumps.

I remind my noble friend that I am president of National Energy Action. Does he agree that much can be achieved through building regulations to make houses more energy efficient and more resilient to flooding? Does he share my disappointment that the review for sustainable drainage systems will not be concluded till autumn next year? Will he use his good offices to ensure that the regulations are brought forward by the middle of next year at the very latest?

I thank my noble friend for her question. She is right that building regulations have an important role to play. From 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce at least 75% lower CO2 emissions compared to those built to current standards.

My Lords, will the Minister indicate when the Government will publish a long-term strategy for the sector, so that home owners and landlords seeking to meet new energy-efficient standards do not find in the years to come that they have to undertake further work to meet changed standards?

With regard to landlords, we consulted in the summer on raising energy performance standards of rented property to EPC C by 2028. I am happy to tell the noble Baroness that we will publish our response to that consultation shortly.

Does the Minister agree that, given the house price variability in the UK, landlords who operate in the lower-income market see this as an investment that will not be returned, as it is usually the tenant who pays the fuel bill? Does he agree that more incentives might be needed to meet targets in these areas? Can he reassure us that the—dare I say it—failed one-size-fits-all funding systems we have had previously will not be repeated and that local authorities will have more genuine autonomy to meet local needs and overcome their particular local barriers?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Local authorities are of course one of our key delivery partners through many of the schemes that we currently subsidise. We are spending billions of pounds on home upgrade grants, the local authority delivery scheme, the social housing decarbonisation fund and so on, and local authorities are our key partner in those projects.

Housing retrofitting is arguably one of the toughest infrastructure challenges the UK has ever seen. Concerted public sector intervention will be required to have any chance of achieving the legally binding and local net-zero targets. I was pleased to hear that the Minister visited Leeds last week to see schemes that are developing on the ground. However, we had to wait months for the Government’s heat and buildings strategy, and it was a massive letdown when it was published in October. Unfortunately, there was no replacement for the ill-fated Green Homes Grant for home owners. Can the Minister simply explain where the long-term retrofit plan is?

The heat and buildings strategy is our long-term retrofit plan. Within that, we announced a number of forthcoming consultations; previous questions have referred to the consultation on the private rented sector. The noble Baroness referenced the visit I made to Leeds last week to look at the local authority installed measures that are going so well. We continue to invest large sums of money in these projects.

The Government propose that private landlords will be required to pay up to £10,000 to ensure that the properties they rent out have an energy performance rating of C or better. Given that NRLA data suggests that the net annual rental income for landlords is under £4,400 a year, what financial support will be available for private landlords to make the energy improvements required of them?

There are a number of financial packages that private landlords letting to low-income tenants can take advantage of; I referred to some of the schemes earlier. Private sector landlords are entitled to take advantage of them, but the noble Lord is right and points to one of the dilemmas in the private rented sector, which is that the investment is made by landlords but the benefit is gained by tenants through lower fuel bills.

I hear the optimism and the claims, but, sadly, these are not carried through into government action and the Government know that full well. The Public Accounts Committee reported yesterday that the Government’s

“Green Homes Grant … Scheme … underperformed badly … and risks damaging … future efforts”

to deliver net zero. It also said that it is “not convinced” that BEIS has

“fully acknowledged the scale of its failures with this scheme.”

If you do not understand how or how badly you have failed, how will you ever deliver this green stuff that you clearly do not understand?

I am sorry the noble Baroness thinks we do not understand this “green stuff”—we have her advice to rely on, constantly, and she tells us all about it. To be serious, she is of course right that the National Audit Office acknowledged that the Green Homes Grant scheme did not deliver at the pace we would have expected. Nevertheless, we did deliver some 80,000 vouchers and spent some £300 million on precisely the kind of measures that I know the noble Baroness would support. We have certainly learned lessons from the Green Homes Grant and are taking those forward in future grant schemes, such as the boiler upgrade scheme to install more heat pumps, which I am sure the noble Baroness will also welcome.