Rental Accommodation (Thermal Insulation Standards)

– in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 23rd February 2010.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party 3:42 pm, 23rd February 2010

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require providers of rental accommodation to ensure that the accommodation complies with certain minimum standards of thermal insulation;
and for connected purposes.

Mr. Speaker, it is- [Interruption.]

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party

I can only concur with your views, Mr. Speaker-Members want to hear this.

It is a rather sad fact that in this country of ours, some 400,000 private tenancies are currently occupied by people who are defined as being fuel-poor-those who spend more than a fifth of their income on the fuel necessary to heat their home. That is largely because those homes are very poorly insulated. It is, I believe, the incontestable view of all that the need to improve the thermal insulation of domestic properties of any kind of tenure is of paramount importance, for obvious environmental reasons such as those related to global warming but also for financial reasons for those who occupy them and for social welfare reasons. It is a matter of practical fact that excess cold puts people's health, and indeed their lives, in jeopardy. We know that more people die during the cold months of the year in this country than in comparable countries, or even in countries with much more extreme climates, because of relatively poor insulation.

The thermal comfort element of the decent homes standard now extends to private housing the same consideration that has historically applied to social housing, but there is a big gap between private housing and social housing, and to an extent between private housing and those in owner-occupation. The problem in the private rented sector is that the private tenant has no capacity whatever to make improvements through investment in insulation and so on, which would allow the thermal efficiency of their property to be improved. But nor, alas, do landlords necessarily have an incentive to improve, at least not in the current circumstances.

As we know, the Government have already made significant steps, which I very much welcome, to bring about a change in the private rented sector. For example, the introduction in October 2008 of energy performance certificates means that all properties will in future have something that tells us how thermally efficient they are regarding insulation. In addition, the Government introduced in 2006 the energy saving allowance, which gives landlords up to £1,500 per property to introduce insulation improvements. However, the problem with that scheme, frankly, is that landlords often do not know that it exists; and even when they do, the incentives are still too small to make a real difference.

I strongly welcome the fact that tenants can access the Warm Front scheme in England and the equivalent schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, that applies only to tenants who directly qualify for such assistance. I also welcome the fact that local authorities have power under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005 to class as a hazard the very worst-insulated properties and to take specific action. However, that happens only in the very worst properties and not, alas, those that are bad, but not so bad as to attract the attention of local authorities.

The "English House Condition Survey 2007" contains some startling statistics. In the jargon-which I am afraid is what this is-of the standard assessment procedure, the efficiency of property insulation is measured on an index from nought to 100, with 100 being excellent. The 2007 survey shows that the value of the housing stock in England increased from 42 in 1996, which was poor, to 50 in 2007, which is in the okay region of operation. That real improvement is because of Government publicity and the activities of social landlords and owner-occupiers.

Social landlords do the best in the survey-spectacularly. Their score on the index is 58, which is a good performance. Alas, for both owner-occupiers and private tenants, the score is still only 48, which is below what we regard as acceptable, and owner-occupiers still have a long way to go. However, there is a significant difference between owner-occupiers and private tenants, namely that the private rented sector, ironically, has a far higher proportion of very well insulated properties. Some 10 per cent. of private tenancies are in the very good category, whereas only 4 per cent. of owner-occupiers are. At the same time, although only 10 per cent. of owner-occupiers are in the worst categories, some 16 per cent. of private tenants are in conditions in which excess cold is threatening to their health. Some 400,000 people are in such private tenancies, of which 124,000 are described as vulnerable people-either the elderly or people who have sickness or disability problems that make them especially vulnerable to extreme cold.

The time has come when we need legislation to move things forward and to incentivise landlords, and sometimes to offer the stick as well as the carrot. The Bill therefore seeks to do a number of things. It seeks to introduce a minimum thermal efficiency standard, which will say at the beginning that the very worst properties should no longer be in the private rented sector. That standard should progressively move up through the thermal efficiency ratings, so that landlords know that they have an incentive-the stick-to ensure that their properties are improved.

The Bill also seeks to make it illegal to put a property on the private rented market if it can be improved at reasonable cost, even if it is already above the legal minimum as defined elsewhere in the Bill. That says to landlords that if cavity wall insulation, for example, which is relatively cheap in the scheme of things, can be used, it ought to be used. Landlords should be progressively forced to make such improvements. However, we also need the Government to look at incentivising landlords, as well as providing a stick. While it is not part of this Bill, I hope that we will see an extension of the existing scheme to give landlords an incentive to invest in the insulation of their properties by way of grants. We should also consider whether it is possible to reduce value added tax for energy-saving improvements to property.

Many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens live in homes that are badly heated. Most of those homes are not simply badly heated because people cannot afford to heat them-although that may well be a significant part of the equation-but because the insulation is grossly inadequate for the purposes of modern living. It is in that light that the Bill is timely, because it will draw the attention of private landlords, their tenants and other agencies to the need to bring those standards up for environmental reasons, for the financial benefit of tenants and, in the end, for reasons of social welfare and health. For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Tony Lloyd, John Austin, Miss Anne Begg, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Colin Challen, Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. David Drew, Mrs. Linda Riordan and Mr. Paul Truswell present the Bill.

Tony Lloyd accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 April and to be printed (Bill 71).

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