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Private tenants in cold out of fear of eviction

Monday 06 February 2017

Housing tenants in the private rented sector are choosing to live in cold homes out of fear of high heating bills and losing their tenancy, according to new research by Sheffield Hallam University and funded by the Eaga Charitable Trust, an independent grant-giving trust committed to combatting fuel poverty.

The private rented sector is the fastest growing tenure in England. It houses a higher proportion of poor and vulnerable households than any other tenure and contains a higher proportion of the least energy-efficient properties.

RESEARCH

The research, which focused on private rental sector tenants across two areas of England, Hackney and Rotherham, revealed that tenants face considerable barriers to seeking help with cold homes that are unaffordable to heat. Respondents in both locations experienced dangerously cold homes and rationed their heating in winter due to energy inefficient properties and fears over high heating bills.

The relationship between tenant and landlord was one characterised by fear on the part of tenants that any complaint may be countered by retaliatory action such as rent increases or eviction if they spoke out. Most tenants felt reluctant to make contact with their landlord and instead found ways to work around problems.

Keeping warm by routinely wearing coats inside the home, keeping blankets in living areas and spending extra time in bed or outside of the home were common practice, as was heating the home for very short periods in order to save money, rather than lobbying landlords for improvements.

Issues such as excess cold, condensation, and extensive damp and mould were widely highlighted, with respondents also highlighting increased suffering associated with chronic health conditions (i.e. respiratory diseases and arthritis) known to be exacerbated by cold homes and the emotional strain of insecure tenancies and living properties they wouldn't have chosen to live in.

Over half of participants used pre-payment methods to pay for their heating and therefore paid higher tariffs, but despite this, many valued pre-payment meters as a method of controlling spending on heating and electricity.

ENERGY ACT 2011

Under the Energy Act (2011), tenants are able to request consent from their landlords to carry out energy efficiency improvements to properties. The landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent. It is, however, the responsibility of the tenants to arrange funding. Although the majority of respondents were supportive of the Act in principle, the majority felt too afraid to approach their landlord about this.

Dr Aimee Ambrose, from Sheffield Hallam University led the project and said:

"The picture emerging from the accounts of respondents is one characterised by limited housing choice that leads to the acceptance of poor quality properties that would otherwise be unacceptable, to fear of challenging the landlord in case of retaliatory action, to enduring cold conditions and high bills, and to suffering the consequences for health and wellbeing.

Dr Naomi Brown, manager of Eaga Charitable Trust, said: "This is highly significant research which is hard-hitting in its depiction of the challenges that tenants in the private rented sector face. 

"The Eaga Charitable Trust is very pleased to have funded the research and hopes that it will influence positive changes to enable private tenants to live in warmer, healthier homes."

You can read the executive summary here or the full report here.

THE ENERGY COMPANY OBLIGATION
The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is a government energy efficiency scheme in Great Britain to help reduce carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty. There are essentially three elements to the scheme - Heating Cost Reduction Obligation, Carbon Saving Community Obligation, and Carbon Emissions Reduction Obligation. 

Tenants in the private rented sector can benefit from Home Heating Cost Reduction Obligation (HHCRO), also known as the Affordable Warmth Obligation if they have the homeowner's permission.

ARLA agents - make sure your landlords are prepared
Tenants on low incomes who are in receipt of certain benefits may approach their landlord to gain their permission so that Energy Suppliers can make energy-saving improvements such as boiler repair or replacement, or insulation to the property (HHCRO). All or part of the cost will be covered by one of the obligated energy suppliers. Even if the obligated supplier only agrees to cover part of the cost, it may be a good idea to agree to the work and pay the remainder of the cost. 

Tenants living in social housing may be able to benefit from Carbon Saving Community Obligation (CSCO) or Carbon Emissions Reduction Obligation (CERO), although CSCO will be brought to an end shortly (see below).

Energy company obligation: Help to Heat April 2017 to September 2018 sets out how the Government plans to run ECO through to September 2018 in light of responses received to the consultation which concluded in August 2016 and received 236 formal responses including ARLA's. The Government said that Affordable Warmth obligation will be increased as a proportion of the overall scheme (from around 36 to 70%) and that CSCO will be brought to an end with other specific measures to 'simplify and better target the use of funds'.  

Don't overlook basics measures for improving energy efficiency, including:

Double glazing
Double glazing is the ideal form of insulation, reducing heat loss from homes. Double-glazed windows are energy efficient as they create thermal insulation which keeps the cold outside and the warmth inside, meaning lower energy bills for your tenants. Double glazing has the added benefit of reducing noise from busy roads, building sites or noisy neighbours. Glass and Glazing Federation (GCF) member companies can be found at www.ggf.org.uk

Cavity Wall insulation
One of the most effective ways of creating a long-term solution to heat loss in your home is to invest in cavity wall insulation. It fills the space between your exterior and interior walls with insulating material in the form of mineral wool or polystyrene beads which is injected into the cavity via holes in the external wall. This work needs to be carried out by a professionals, who will undertake an assessment of your property to confirm that it is suitable for insulation. Look for registered installers at the National Insulation Association - www.nia-uk.org, or the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency - ciga.co.uk

Loft insulation
Warm air rises, so a lot of heat from your home could be lost thought the roof, if it is uninsulated.  Loft insulation is very affordable and often something which is easy to do yourself provided you have easy access to the loft and don't have problems with damp. Look for rolls of mineral wool insulation, available from most DIY stores, and make sure you always follow manufacturers' instructions and use adequate safety protection. You can find lots of great information on loft insulation at the Energy Saving Trust website - www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

Alternatively if you need to hire a professional, visit: www.nia-uk.org. 

TELL PROSPECTIVE TENANTS
If landlords have made improvements to energy efficiency at properties you manage, make sure you tell prospective tenants. If a tenant is trying to choose between two or three properties on their shortlist, it might be the deciding factor in choosing the right property for them. In the current market with so much of a tenant's earnings going towards rent, if they can save on energy costs, it can really help them enjoy a better quality of life.  

HELPING LANDLORDS HELP TENANTS
Being an ARLA agent, you probably already keep up to date with changing legislation, but it's a good idea to advise your landlords of changes too. By doing this you can help them plan for changes to energy regulations, such as those expected in April 2018. If they have a portfolio of properties, they can then schedule work with contractors to help spread the cost of improvements, and also minimise any void periods. The quicker they make any additional energy efficiency improvements the happier their tenants will be too, and happier tenants are more likely to stay in the property for longer.