This year the UK faces a double temperature crisis. Over the summer, many areas of the UK experienced their highest ever temperatures, and many families, particularly the vulnerable, were struggling to keep cool. Now, with the seasons changing and in light of the persistently rising energy prices, EH housing professionals are preparing for a tough winter of calls from people who cannot keep their homes warm.
We know that cold has long-term effects on the health of the young, the old, and on other vulnerable sections of the population. There is a relationship between indoor temperature and death – the colder a dwelling is, the greater the risk to its occupant. Considering the excess winter death rate for 2019 (the last winter unaffected by Covid-19), of 28,300 excess winter deaths, approximately a third were thought to be directly linked to cold homes.
Rising energy prices
Cold is a killer, and this year will be no different from others; it may well be worse. With a huge sector of the UK affected by the cost-of-living crisis, the ever-rising price of gas and electricity will mean that many people across the UK will not be able to put their heating on as often as they usually would. Some will struggle to put it on at all. Food banks are reporting that some households can’t afford to use their cooking appliances, never mind their heating.
Fuel poverty in England is measured using the ‘Low Income Low Energy Efficiency’ (LILEE) indicator. Under this indicator, a household is considered to be fuel poor if living in a property with a Fuel Poverty Energy Efficiency Rating (FPEER)of Band D or below and, if spending the required amount to heat their home, they are left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
A look at that definition tells us that a much larger proportion of families are going to fall into that category this winter. In 2020, just over 13% of households in England (3.16 million households) were classed as fuel poor, and a new report by York University suggests that rising energy prices will lead to two-thirds of UK households being in fuel poverty by the new year.
The three key factors in fuel poverty are household income, cost of energy and energy efficiency of the home. We know that people living in fuel poverty are unable to adequately heat their homes. We also know that the highest level of fuel poverty is in the private rented sector, with around 25% of the PRS being in fuel poverty.
Tackling cold homes
This winter, more than ever, we need every tool at our disposal to tackle the cold homes crisis, and whilst HHSRS and ‘excess cold’ is an ideal way to deal with cold homes, MEES is making a notable contribution, not only to warming homes up but also in helping to tackle fuel poverty, as it tackles those properties with the lowest EPC bands which are highly likely to have an FPEER rating of Band D or below.
It is important to remember that removing/reducing excess cold hazards does not directly make homes more energy efficient. Improving properties for the hazard of excess cold means alleviating the threat to health from sub-optimal indoor temperatures. Action taken under HHSRS must not be in relation, directly, to alleviating fuel poverty or improving energy efficiency, though this may be the outcome. The tool that MEES gives us is slightly different, as it does lead to the installation of energy efficiency upgrades such as insulation, which will make the home warmer and lead to a reduction in energy use and therefore expenditure.
This year in the UK, the impact of climate change is becoming more and more obvious. Thinking back to the excessively hot summer we’ve had, the need to tackle climate change has never been more obvious in the UK, and MEES can help us to reduce carbon emissions.
It is estimated that £1 in every £3 spent on heating is currently wasted due to poorly insulated properties. Housing contributes to 14% of all UK carbon emissions. The Government has set targets around energy efficiency in a bid to improve this aspect of all homes. The drivers behind this are the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction in energy demand, which will lower household costs. It is a key policy area, particularly for the future.
Carbon reduction strategies/net zero
MEES can hold landlords to account for the business they run, in ensuring that they, like other small to medium enterprises (SMEs), are part of the drive to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is not solely a cost to them in improving their properties; it also gives them a greener business, bringing them in line with environmental policy direction and future-proofing their properties, to make them energy efficient, not just to a standard acceptable now (Band E) but to one set in the future, i.e. Band D and Band C.
Case Study of MEES enforcement:
Nottingham City Council
Enforcement of MEES can achieve brilliant results when imposed robustly. In just under a year of dedicated MEES enforcement, Nottingham City Council has engaged with 615 properties rated F and G, and served 76 compliance notices. In that short time, they have already seen 174 of those properties improved to an E band or above. Most of these improved properties now have more efficient heating and/or a higher standard of insulation, with the overall result of warmer homes that are cheaper to heat.
Not only are these improved homes more efficient, but the new EPCs for these properties project a combined total reduction of 600 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, a significant contribution to Nottingham’s carbon reduction strategies and the wider net-zero agenda. A spokesperson for the team said that engaging with landlords via MEES enforcement has helped them to connect with a whole new sector of landlords, many of whom are committed to a green agenda and are intent on achieving a C from the outset rather than following a staged approach to improvement.
How can RHE help?
We recognise that local authorities can struggle implementing and enforcing new legislation due to the lack of available staff to write procedures/policies and new documents, particularly legislation that involves financial penalties. Here at RHE, our housing experts can alleviate this burden. Our MEES packages can be tailored to your individual needs and can cover all the tools you may require, including enforcement procedures, fee policies and staff training. Contact our Housing Consulting Team to find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org
 See footnote 3.