Energy Efficiency in the Private Rented Sector: A Local Authority Perspective

The private rented sector is the fastest growing housing sector in England.  This is exemplified in Oxford, where 28% of housing stock is private rented, including many Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO).  When wages and house prices are taken into account, Oxford is the ‘least affordable place to live in England’ so there is high demand for rented homes. 

Statistics show that the private rented sector is generally poorer than other tenures, including with energy efficiency.  At the WSBF's recent parliamentary Roundtable, Oxford presented that hard to treat homes (including many solid walls), a high level of ‘non professional landlords’ and the current regulatory framework were some of the key reasons for this.

As a Council, we are strong in our Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) enforcement, and leading the way as early adopters of HMO licensing.  We are keen to build on this, supported ideally by clear and uncompromising regulation with no gaps or get out clauses.  Key areas for this are the need to review and update HHSRS regulations and guidance, and the Energy Act 2015 requirements for properties to reach EPC Rating E by 2018 (voided) and 2020 (all). 

We would request the government to remove loopholes in the latter legislation that rely on the now non-existent Green Deal, and to continue seeking a maximum figure for landlords to pay towards this.  ‘Pay as you Save’ may be appropriate for some tenants but many will already be in fuel poverty or residing in Houses of Multiple Occupancy.  A system based on estimated rather than actual energy savings may result them paying higher energy bills as a result, conflicting with ECO 3 and the Government's approach to fuel poverty.

However, a requirement for landlords to pay some money to ensure their properties are decent is not an unreasonable request.  At a recent Oxford event, all landlords present said they felt basic measures of energy efficiency such as draught proofing, loft or cavity wall insulation were reasonable measures to install when the costs were revealed.  More expensive measures such as full gas central heating and solid wall insulation do need to be considered for inclusion more widely in government funding streams as no one deems these ‘reasonable’.

The Housing & Planning Act 2016  sections that enable us to ensure better property management by landlords through banning rogue landlords and enabling funding to come into local authorities are welcomed by Oxford City Council.  Ways that we feel this is particularly supportive are:

  • Councils being allowed to utilise funds from non-compliance to improvement notices which enables us to fund and therefore improve regulatory work
  • Banning orders enabling us to remove rogue landlords who are dragging the sector down
  • Enabling a fairer deal for tenants via rent repayment awards

We request our HMO landlords to provide EPCs but many struggle to get reasonably costed versions.  Commercial EPC assessors need to be trained and guided on provision of EPCs for this sector to support the work required.  It is vital this poorly performing sector of private rented properties is subject to the same support and regulation as single occupancy.

As a City Council, we enforce but also support our landlords by providing funding, advice and support. We urge other local authorities to follow our lead, and government agencies to provide us with the statutory tools to remove the rogue landlords and support the good ones, driving up the quality of the private rented sector.  We were very grateful to be invited to the recent parliamentary roundtable, and would be very happy to continue to engage with policy makers, share good practice, and lead on future pilot projects.

Following the publication of Warmer & Greener: A guide to the future of domestic energy efficiency policythe WSBF have organised a series of roundtable events exploring specific issues examined within the report. Debbie Haynes contributed to the most recent one of these events entitled 'Decent Homes in the Private Rented Sector'. This event was sponsored by British Gas.