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Help renters benefit from energy

Jul 07, 2023

Renters in poorly insulated homes are not seeking the help they might be entitled to because they could be evicted at any time, campaigners say.

People on some benefits can apply for energy-saving improvements from their gas or electricity supplier.

But five times as many homeowners have taken advantage of the scheme as private renters.

Campaign group Generation Rent say tenants should be better protected from rent rises and evictions.

They argue that the lack of security for renters is a major obstacle to take-up of energy grants because landlords are able to increase the rent, cancelling out any energy bill savings, or evict a tenant in order to sell the improved property.

The group said renters may also be reluctant to be demanding of their landlord, fearing they could be evicted.

But the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said measures limiting rent increases and preventing landlords from selling properties "would serve only to worsen the supply crisis renters now face" by encouraging them to leave the private rental sector.

Private renters are more likely than homeowners or social renters to live in poorly insulated homes.

One in four private renters live in fuel poverty - defined as someone living in a home with an energy efficiency rating below band C and whose disposable income after housing and energy costs puts them below the poverty line.

This is a higher rate than any other type of housing tenure.

The main scheme available to improve the energy efficiency of homes is the Energy Company Obligation, where people on certain benefits in Great Britain can apply to their energy supplier to fund insulation work or other upgrades.

However, since the scheme's introduction, 70% of those benefitting have been homeowners, while only 14% have been private renters, according to the latest government figures.

Renters must have the permission of their landlord for work to take place.

Sean Urquhart, 53, has been renting in Newcastle for the past year and has suffered from damp in both the flats he has lived in, leaving his clothes and possessions covered in mould.

He said the issue had made his asthma worse, forcing him to use a steroid inhaler, while his flat is very difficult to heat due to poor insulation.

"During the winter, my energy bills were massive," he told the BBC. "I'm on a low income so it's been very challenging."

Sean - who receives benefits because his health issues mean he struggles to work - said he did not know he may be eligible for energy efficiency schemes, and a lack of awareness is one reason for low take-up by renters.

He said many tenants may also fear eviction if they ask for improvements, especially given the huge demand for rented homes. He is currently struggling to find a new flat to rent himself, adding that as many as 30 people were viewing each property.

Under the Renters Reform Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, landlords in England would be banned from evicting tenants with no justification.

However, evictions would still be allowed when a landlord wants to sell the property or if they or a close family member want to move in.

Generation Rent is calling for the bill to be amended to give extra protections to tenants who take advantage of energy efficiency schemes to ensure they benefit from the subsequent energy bill savings.

It wants this group to be protected from eviction on the grounds of sale or moving back in for at least six years, as well as from any rent increase as a result of grant-funded improvements.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy chief executive of Generation Rent, said the measures would "make sure the financial benefit of the grant goes to the tenant", as well as "slash carbon emissions and jump-start improvements to renters' living standards".

The campaign group is also calling for the minimum energy efficiency standard for privately rented properties to be raised to band C as soon as possible.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) are graded between A - the most energy efficient - and G.

The government had proposed forcing landlords in England and Wales to meet the C rating by 2025 for new tenancies and by 2028 for existing ones.

However, last week Housing Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC ministers were "moving away from the strict deadline" as the government was asking "too much" of landlords.

The government has been contacted for comment.

Six out of 10 renters live in energy-inefficient homes

How can renters make their homes warmer and greener?

What help can I get with home insulation?