Here’s what we need from the next Prime Minister to deliver decarbonisation in social housing

Lizzi Hearn, 05 August 2022

July was a big month politically, beginning with the resignation of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. In the weeks following, the Conservative leadership contest took place, and we are now left with the final two candidates: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Over the course of the summer, each will be travelling around the country to address potential voters and make their case for why they should be the new party leader. 

Both candidates have committed to reaching net zero by 2050 but are yet to provide further detail on these commitments. Conversations so far have focused around energy security and the rising cost of living. Sunak has committed to introducing new energy efficiency schemes for housing that largely focus on low-carbon heating and insulation both as steps towards meeting net zero and are also cost-effective ways to respond to the energy crisis. But what have the government committed so far to help towards decarbonising our homes and what do we need to see from the new Prime Minister?

The need to decarbonise our homes is becoming increasingly urgent and has the triple benefits of better quality homes that are warmer in winter and cooler in summer, cheaper bills and reduced emissions. The housing association sector can play an important role in meeting net zero as the quantity and variety of homes in the sector means it is able to deliver change at scale by building up demand and bringing down prices.

At the NHF, we want housing associations to be recognised as central to reaching net zero and to work in partnership with the government to achieve that goal. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund is a good example of joined up working between the housing associations and the government. £240m has been allocated to housing associations and local authorities as part of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund demonstrator pilot and the first wave of funds to decarbonise social homes. This is helping to cut energy bills for social housing residents as well as delivering warm homes and reducing carbon emissions. A further £800m was announced in the Heat and Buildings Strategy for the next wave of funding, which opens for bids in late August.

Our CEO Kate Henderson, and Director of Policy and Research Catherine Ryder visited some of the projects underway by housing associations as a result of the funding. They met some of the residents whose homes were retrofitted and spoke to their landlords about the decarbonisation process. It is clear that it is retrofit schemes like these that will help the whole sector deliver the huge programme of decarbonisation work needed over the coming years.

The new Prime Minister needs to continue the good work of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and we want to see long-term commitment to decarbonising our social homes. The next wave  of funding runs until 2025. This is a strong start but we need a commitment that goes beyond this. If housing associations were able to bid now for funding up to 2030, that would give them the confidence and certainty they need to plan and start largescale projects like decarbonising homes.

The housing association sector also needs strategic support from the government and investment in skills to be able to implement schemes like this. In the Heat and Buildings Strategy, published in October 2021, the government announced they would be publishing an action plan for net zero skills that sets out how they plan to deliver two million net zero jobs by 2030.  We’re still waiting for this. It is therefore imperative that the new Prime Minister delivers the action plan for net zero skills as a priority.

However, as well as benefiting from warmer, more affordable, healthier and smarter homes, housing association residents will also face the disruption of retrofit and the installation of new heating technologies. The new leader will need to look at how we can bring residents along with us and ensure they understand of the benefits that decarbonising their homes will bring for them. A Prime Minister who is passionately supportive of – and demonstrates commitment to – decarbonising homes will be most effective in building the consumer confidence required to drive up demand, unlock supply chains and grow capacity in order to deliver on the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.