Insights and Opinions Tim Thomas 08/03/2021

Blog: Tackling fuel poverty in Wales

On the advent of the publication of the Welsh Government’s Tackling fuel poverty 2021 to 2035, NRLA Wales have expressed disappointment over the lost opportunity to focus on improving the least fuel efficient dwellings and provide greater support to landlords.

According to the Welsh Housing Conditions Survey 2017-18, all housing sectors have seen improvements to their energy efficiency with the Private Rented Sector witnessing some of the most significant improvements since 1981. 

The PRS is dominated by older dwellings, with 60% of private renters living in dwellings built prior to 1919 compared to only of 6% social renters and 35% of owner occupiers. Similarly, only 17% of private renters live in properties constructed since 1964 compared to 43% of social renters and 32% of owner occupiers.  The proportion of dwellings with single cavity walls and off-grid properties is also far higher in the PRS. 

What the strategy proposed

With little mention of the PRS throughout the strategy,  there were some positives that the Warm Homes Programme will continue to invest and deliver home energy efficiency improvements to support households in fuel poverty. We also welcome relaxation on the number of PRS properties that can receive funding from the previous cap of three properties per landlord. However, many grants are out of reach for landlords who must meet eligibility criteria depending on the tenant’s circumstances including if the tenant is on benefits or particularly vulnerable to the cold.

In the absence of anything even closely resembling the Green Homes Grant, which is only available to landlords in England, there are large parts of Wales that do not have any grant funding opportunities.  The NRLA’s calls have been clear from the start – the strategy should target the most fuel inefficient properties and that money needs to be ring fenced for the PRS.

Supporting local authorities

We also felt more could have been said on the Welsh Governments commitment to leverage more Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and ensure ECO Flex statements of intent are fit for purpose, aligning with the plan. The take up of ECO Flex money continues to be severely limited by Welsh local authorities lack resources and personal to monitor and evaluate funding.  We have continued to call for the Welsh Government to fund local authority posts to maximise the potential of ECO Flex money.

With the PRS having the most unique properties, where every dwelling has different energy efficiency requirements, local government is in a prime position to support and advise landlords on how to improve their stock.

We did welcome some aspects of the plan.  Tackling severe fuel poverty( people that spend more than 20% of their income on fuel)  should be a priority and there is a greater need to monitor people who at risk of slipping into fuel poverty. We also welcome greater emphasis on targeting the 18-24 age groups living alone who are heavily proportioned to be living in the PRS and overrepresented in fuel poverty statistics.

We are grateful to Members of the Senedd who raised some of our concerns during the Ministerial statement, particularly Mark Isherwood MS who raised our call for PRS ringfenced money to tackle fuel poverty and to support local authorities with Eco Flex monitoring and administration. 

We are equally grateful to Jenny Rathbone MS, who noted the extent of fuel poverty in the PRS, but that it is a landlord’s responsibility to ensure homes are fit for renting. However, whilst we agree the overall quality of homes lies with landlords, many landlords are not in a financial position to upgrade their properties and support must be given in order to ensure  landlords do not leave the sector, resulting in  less housing options for some of the most vulnerable in society.  A fair and supportive balance that aims to improve properties is the outcome we all are looking for.

 

Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas Welsh Policy Officer

Tim Thomas is the Welsh Policy Officer for the NRLA. With almost fifteen years’ experience in policy and research roles in local authorities and the third sector, Tim specialises in policy development in the Welsh Private Rented Sector. Tim also leads on the NRLA’s energy efficiency and welfare and benefits policy brief, including lobbying the government on improving the environment for landlords who let to tenants in receipt of Universal Credit.

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