Defining net zero for social housing: discussion paper

28 July 2021

The National Housing Federation is running a project to support housing associations to decarbonise. This discussion paper has been developed as part of that project for two reasons:

  • To summarise some of the current policy analysis which is guiding our ongoing project.
  • To gather further input from our members on the topics it covers and ensure this feedback contributes to our ongoing project.

The paper discusses how to define ‘net zero’ for housing associations and outlines our role in the wider economy’s decarbonisation journey. We have drawn significantly upon the current statutory advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC). Throughout, this paper poses questions, which we would greatly appreciate your feedback on to inform our ongoing project and wider policy analysis. The NHF is set to launch the results of our current decarbonisation project in the autumn.

This discussion paper presents the following:

  • In line with our international obligations under the Paris Agreement, and the advice of the CCC, the government has legislated for the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with intermediary targets of a 68% reduction by 2030 and a 78% reduction by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels).
  • Housing associations will play a critical role in our collective journey to net zero as to reach that goal, the CCC is clear that there must be complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from housing.
  • The road to net zero outlined by the CCC is focused on retrofitting all housing first, with the vast majority of fabric energy efficiency improvements being completed by 2035 (and all social homes reaching EPC C by 2028).
  • It is widely understood that EPC ratings are a flawed measure of energy efficiency and can drive awkward behaviour in their current form. We support government’s intention to reform the methodology to address these issues. 
  • This approach – of achieving a minimum energy efficiency standard as soon as possible, and then installing clean heat – sets out the minimum changes housing associations would need to deliver for their existing homes.


At the end of the discussion paper we have set a series of questions for NHF members to answer, to help us with our decarbonisation work. Please contact Rory Hughes on the details below if you have any further questions.

Who to speak to

Rory Hughes, Policy Officer