Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] - Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 6th September 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench 3:30 pm, 6th September 2022

My Lords, it may be helpful to the Committee to continue the theme of energy efficiency, rather than going through the amendments numerically, so I will do so. I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, I have Amendment 21 in this group, and I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Foster of Bath, who have added their names to it.

At Second Reading of the Bill in July, there was similar support from across the House—on all Benches—for action on energy efficiency in the social housing stock. The Minister himself described action as a “must”, but I am afraid he stopped there in describing how that action would actually be implemented. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, social housing tenants are among the most vulnerable in the current energy crisis. The Government’s own most recent data shows that 72% of new lead tenants were not in employment; 20% of new lettings were reserved to those who were statutorily homeless. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit shows that houses in EPC band D, which are 35% of social housing, will pay £600 more a year under the cap as it is at the moment than those in band C, and forecasts from Cornwall Insight suggest that that could be doubled next year.

The money that we are led to believe will be spent in subsidising—paying for—those bills is money that literally goes up in smoke. The money spent on home insulation and energy efficiency is money that does not have to be spent year after year when we have an energy price crisis. This was recognised by the Government in the clean growth strategy in 2017, when they committed to consultation on minimum energy performance standards in social housing, but we have seen no plan—not even a consultation on a plan or a plan on a consultation. Hence the need to take action in the Bill to put the requirement in primary legislation and get moving with doing this.

As the noble Baroness said, this amendment is more detailed than hers. We have framed it as a duty on the Government to publish a strategy. I hope that others will agree that this is the most appropriate approach. It should not be a duty on social housing providers to improve properties without any government support, nor a duty on government to go into properties that they do not own and forcibly improve them without landlord and tenant consent. A duty for a strategy will require input from social housing providers, tenants and community groups and the specialist and general firms who carry out the work.

The amendment is relatively simple. Proposed new subsection (1) gives the social housing regulator the power to set standards in relation to energy demand—a slightly different approach from that in Amendment 1 —and requires the regulator to have regard to the Government’s strategy on this topic when it does so. Proposed new subsection (2), which is the meat of it, requires the Government to set out an energy reduction strategy, with four key points.

The first is the rollout of low-carbon heat, so that it accounts for 100% of installations by 2035. The low-carbon heat could equally well come from heat pumps or local heat networks. This is simply putting a commitment that the Government have already made, but are not making a lot of progress with, on a statutory footing.

The second is an EPC rating of C for all social housing properties by 2028. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that year; the Government have suggested 2030, but it is important that we make progress now.

The third point is to have interim targets for the first two points. We have all seen the dangers of putting very high-level commitments out in principle while not seeing any plan for their implementation and no milestone so that we can tell how far we are going. Interim targets would give transparency for tracking the government target for energy-efficiency improvements made each year and would maintain momentum.

The fourth point is a plan to support social housing providers in engaging with one another, the social housing regulator, and a single source of government advice. This is really important. One of the things that people are flailing around for is the best way to do things in the current crisis. It is tremendously important that the Government, who have referred to providing a source of advice, do so urgently, so that we do not all reinvent wheels all over the place. Proposed new subsection (3) requires the Government to consult the Climate Change Committee, which has significant expertise in this area, when producing their strategy—another belt and braces to ensure that we are making progress.

Ideally, we would be tackling energy efficiency across all fields. There is a huge gain to be made there. The noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Whitty, and I will be tabling amendments to the Energy Bill for a broader government strategy. However, we can and should make progress now with this particularly vulnerable group of people. As I said, 2017 was the first time that this was mooted by the Government. The adage is that the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The best time to have begun this strategy was five years ago, but the second-best time to plant a tree is today. I hope that the Minister will respond by doing this now.