Friday 19 May 2017

Energy Efficiency Regulations - Private Rented Properties

England and Wales 

Is the legislation in England and Wales Collateral Damage of the Green Deal fiasco? 

 In 2015 UK Government introduced legislation creating a minimum energy efficiency standard for homes and commercial properties that are rented out - the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 

This legislation captures around 9% of private rented properties in England (see my earlier blog: How Energy Efficient is UK Housing Stock?) - the Impact Assessment reckoned this would be around 360,000 homes that will need to have an EPC raised from F or G level (based on 2012 housing stats).

These houses would have needed an energy efficiency upgrade upon being re-let after April 1 2018 and by April 1 2020 if the tenancy didn't change first.

The legislation also covered non-domestic buildings. The impact assessment reckoned that 18% of business properties have an EPC of F or G this adds around 200,000 buildings to the total requiring an energy refurbishment.

However, in a ham-fisted attempt at joined up legislation, the government linked the legislation to the Green Deal.

This hopeless scheme was going to "transform Britain's buildings" by offering funded energy upgrades. Householders and social landlords were going to queue up to insulate their homes because the cost of repaying the loan would be less than the money saved on future energy bills. (Who could have possibly predicted that this wouldn't be an easy sell?)

It was ignominiously withdrawn in July 2015 having written only 14,000 Green Deal financing schemes due to its bewilderingly bureaucratic design and the unappealing interest rates offered on the loans.  (Damning National Audit Office report here)

How has the withdrawal of the Green Deal impacted the regulations on privately rented homes?

Here's an extract from the Impact Assessment associated with the regulations for private rented properties:

From 1st April 2016, landlords of a domestic property may not unreasonably refuse requests from their tenants for consent to energy efficiency improvements, where financial support is available that ensures no upfront costs to landlords for the measures, such as the Green Deal, the ECO, tenant’s own funds, or national or local authority grants.  
 From 1st April 2018, all new lettings or tenancy renews of applicable private rented properties in the domestic and non-domestic sectors should be brought up to a minimum EPC rating of an ‘E’ if this can be achieved with no upfront costs. 

By adding the requirement that the only energy efficiency improvements that have to be made are those with no upfront costs, the whole thing is effectively defunct. With the Green Deal gone, and precious few local authority grants around the only way that a building is going to be improved is if the tenant pays for it!

The regulations need to be urgently amended to require the Landlord to upgrade the property - perhaps with a cost cap (see information on new Scottish regulations below).

Meanwhile in Scotland... 

This issue looked as if it had been kicked into the long grass in Scotland after the working group tasked with developing Regulation of Energy Efficiency for the Private Sector (REEPS) seemed to get bogged down and put on ice in 2015, (naturally Westminster was blamed for this).

The only regulations affecting private landlords was a rather lame requirement to get an energy assessment (with recommendations) done - but without having to  action any of the recommendations.

However, Scot Gov has sprung into action and designated energy efficiency as a National Infrastructure Priority and published a consultation on a Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP).

 Plans for energy efficiency requirements in the private rented sector have also been revealed in a consultation published in April 2017. The proposal is to legislate for privately rented houses covered by the so-called "repairing standard" which will need to meet a minimum energy efficiency rating on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

For new tenancies after 1 April 2019 the house will have to achieve an EPC rating of no worse than EPC band E. After 1 April 2022 (called the backstop date) all privately rented homes will have to achieve this minimum standard, irrespective of a tenancy change. 

Scottish goverment estimates that this change will affect 30,000 properties.

 Where the EPC shows a band of F or G, the owner will need to have a "minimum standards assessment" carried out and lodged on the EPC register before renting out the property. This new assessment is closely based on the EPC methodology, but will include recommendations of the lowest-cost technically appropriate measures to bringing the house up to the required energy standard.

 The owner will have to bring the property up to the standard required by the assessment within six months of the date of the assessment, but subject to a proposed cost cap of £5000.

The minimum standard ratchets up to EPC D, for new tenancies after 1 April 2022, with a backstop date of 1 April 2025.

The property owner will be responsible for getting the improvements required by the minimum standards assessment done. Local authorities will have the power to issue civil fines of up to £1,500 against any owner who does not comply with the standard.

The proposals for Scotland look very good.  If implemented, it would result in a clear process that can deliver low carbon buildings in this sector through the regular tightening of the requirements (beyond those mapped out to 2025).  The proposals seem to be a good mixture of ambition and realism.

By contrast, England and Wales is in disarray in this area and as in the regulation of so many other sectors (new homes, social housing), Scotland is showing the way.