Blog by Sue Adams, CEO of Care & Repair England

It is now more than a decade since, out of the blue back in 2010, all national funding to tackle poor housing disappeared overnight. Maybe there are glimmers of hope resulting from the realisation that unless something is done about the thermal performance of the existing housing stock, ambitions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the 2050 ‘Net Zero’ Target cannot be met.

There are 24 million homes in England, the majority of which will need to change their heating systems and improve insulation in order to comply with future changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Within this 24 million there are 4.1 homes classified as ‘non-decent’ i.e. they fail a basic minimum standard including whether a home provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort. The largest number of homes with the lowest energy efficiency ratings are owner occupied.

Cold, damp homes have a major impact on the health of occupants, particularly where people are older and/or living with long term health conditions, with significant resulting costs to the NHS. Half of non-decent homes (2 million) are lived in by older people and 78% of these householders are owner occupiers, often living on low incomes with no savings and in areas of low housing value.

It would seem like a win-win approach to target ‘Net Zero’ initiatives to improve the thermal performance of existing homes at those homes in disadvantaged areas occupied by people whose health is the worst affected by living in a cold, damp home.  

Sadly, there is a major stumbling block when it comes to addressing poor housing lived in by low income homeowners – who pays?

Whilst it may be reasonable to expect middle and upper income homeowners to contribute to making their homes more energy efficient, especially those who live in homes with high equity, what to do about those in low equity homes, maybe living in the ‘left behind’ areas, with very limited incomes/ no savings, often with significant health problems made worse by a cold home?

So far there’s no sign of targeted interventions specifically to reach these households, even though there is the greatest potential return on investment through improved health and reduced NHS costs.

There is a general consensus that to achieve large scale change in the domestic housing stock, commitment to sustained, substantial funding from national government to retrofit existing homes, and a cessation of small scale pilots and short term initiatives, are critical. There is no way of stimulating the engineering and building supply chains without a solid promise of investment and action for the longer term.

A region taking a leading role in developing plans for retrofit of the existing housing stock to achieve Net Zero is Greater Manchester. They have quantified the potential added benefits in terms of economic gains, skills development and job creation. With the devolved health budget in GM there is an added financial incentive to reduce health care costs through housing improvement. It is to be hoped that the GM vision and serious Net Zero planning will be rewarded so that they can become a retrofit pioneer leading the way  on targeted improvement of existing homes in ways that also achieve health gains in areas that have significant health inequalities and an ageing population.


[November 2021]