Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] - Committee

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 6th September 2022

My Lords, I begin, as I did at Second Reading, by reminding noble Lords that this Bill is part of the response to the Grenfell Tower fire. Yet again, I offer my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in that dreadful tragedy. I support all the amendments in this group, including Amendment 21, which carries my name alongside those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, both of whom have done excellent work in these areas over several years. I also support the amendments from my noble friends Lady Thornhill and Lady Pinnock, and of course I particularly support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose work on housing over many years has been inspirational.

Millions of families live in social housing. They are often the least well off and impacted the most by the current rocketing energy prices. We have something like 15 million homes, across all forms of tenure, that are below energy performance certificate band C; in other words, we have 15 million homes that are inadequately insulated, and many of them are in the social housing sector. As a Times article said a week ago:

“Our latest analysis, published today in partnership with economists at the CEBR, underlines the scale of the growing energy efficiency divide in Britain. From October, the two thirds of households living in homes rated below the government’s target EPC C rating, are set to pay £748 more per year for their energy than the third living in homes at or above the threshold.”

As the Minister knows, I have, through two Private Members’ Bills, one of them still awaiting a Committee stage—I hope she might help me out with that—and amendments to other pieces of legislation, frequently raised the need for the Government to place their own already agreed targets for improving energy efficiency into legislation to give the industry, so badly let down by previous schemes, the confidence it needs to invest in the technology, skills and equipment to achieve this. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others, I have tabled amendments to the Energy Bill to seek to achieve that.

However, for this Bill too we need to set a clear focus on these issues. Energy efficiency should indeed be a fundamental objective of this Bill and we need a strategy for energy demand reduction. After all, the alternatives—some palatable, others frankly less so—from renewables and further drilling in the North Sea to nuclear and fracking, cannot, perhaps with the exception of solar, deliver increased energy supplies for several years to come. The crisis is now, which is why I believe we should stop homes leaking heat with a crash programme of energy efficiency, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, will reduce fuel bills for years to come.

Unfortunately, the situation on home energy insulation is, frankly, dire. Just a week ago, on 30 August, the Independent pointed out:

“Home insulation installations have plunged by 50 per cent this year as the government wound down a failing grant scheme, new figures reveal, adding to the pain of rocketing energy bills. Ministers are accused of failing to take basic measures to help people cut their energy use”.

The article continues:

“Just 126,131 homes received help with work such as loft and cavity wall insulation through the Energy Company Obligation scheme in the first six months of 2022”— a 51% fall on the number of installations carried out in the same period last year, which itself followed a “shocking” decade of failure to act, as climate experts have claimed. As the article notes, Doug Parr, policy director at the campaign group Greenpeace, said:

“It’s frankly astonishing that this dip in insulation rates comes at exactly the time we should be ramping up this proven, long-term solution to the cost of living crisis.”

Mike Childs from Friends of the Earth said:

“This winter, millions of households will be paying sky-high bills for heat that will simply escape through roofs, walls and draughty windows and doors. The next prime minister must make energy efficiency a top priority”.

It is interesting to see that traditionally Conservative-supporting newspapers are particularly depressed by the current Government’s failure in this regard. On 28 August, the Sun, under the heading:

“The energy crisis alone should make it obvious that we cannot afford to waste a single kilowatt” said that

“it is shocking to find the number of homes being padded out to reduce heat loss has more than halved this year. And the number of insulation installations being carried out is at its lowest since 2018. Householders faced with astronomical heating costs need lagging for their homes, not a government lagging behind.”

Even the Telegraph, on 31 August, drew attention to the disproportionate energy cost rises for those living in poorly insulated homes compared with those in better-insulated ones.

I genuinely believe that the case for making energy efficiency a fundamental objective of this Bill and for establishing a proper strategy for demand reduction is overwhelming. I support the amendments that call for that, as I do the other amendments in the group.