Social housing residents must not pay the price of the energy crisis

Kate Henderson, 05 May 2022

The energy crisis and cost of living increases are causing severe financial difficulties for many housing association residents, and are also driving up costs for housing associations themselves.

Housing associations are doing all they can to help mitigate the impact of energy price rises on tenants and residents. But the price cap instigated by the government to protect consumers doesn’t help to lessen the cost for those on communal heat networks, which affects 153,000 housing association residents. Many of these residents will be people who are older, vulnerable and on very low incomes. We must protect these people from rising costs. 

We’ve been raising this issue with the government, which has a key role to play in helping tackle this challenge.

Raising the issue with BEIS

Last week I attended a meeting with Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng and BEIS Minister Lord Callanan on heat networks at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). I was joined at the meeting by colleagues from The UK District Energy Association, The Association for Decentralised Energy, Local Government Association, Heat Trust, and Citizens Advice.

It was a crucial opportunity to discuss the immediate impact of the energy crisis with the government – with a focus on residents on heat networks. Housing associations already run heat networks on extremely tight margins. In addition, some heat networks that serve residents are owned and run by external companies, so housing associations have no influence over them, leaving them in vulnerable financial positions.

What we are asking for

  • In the short term, we are calling on government to deliver specific targeted financial support for these residents. This needs to be clearly signposted and easy to access (for example via local authorities) to put them on the same level of protection as domestic energy customers. 
  • In the medium term, we are supporting the calls for greater regulation of heat networks through OFGEM. 
  • In the long term, heat networks hold the potential to help achieve net zero, and we want to make sure that they remain a viable energy source for housing associations. We also want to see accelerated government funding programmes to both improve the efficiency of existing heat networks and to insulate homes on them to bring down energy bills.

Protecting supported housing residents

The impact on tenants must be at the forefront of our minds. We know supported housing schemes, who are already facing huge financial pressures in recovering from the pandemic, are often reliant on heat networks. Tenants in supported housing schemes are also more likely to spend time at home; and are more likely to have underlying health conditions, exacerbated by cold and damp if a home isn’t properly heated. 

Myself and the team at the NHF will continue to press the government to take action and we will keep the welfare of tenants at the forefront of all our asks.