In light of a recent report putting the total cost of housing decarbonisation at £100m, Paul Richards, group director of Customer and Communities at Orbit, says the sector must work together if it is to prevent residents being hit by rising bills
A recent survey estimated that it will cost the affordable housing sector more than £100bn to decarbonise its total housing stock by 2050.
At Orbit, we stand resolutely behind our commitment to reach net-zero carbon by this date, but at a time when we’re being asked to build more affordable homes; review and remediate buildings in line with government fire safety standards; and improve the standard of our homes, neighbourhoods, and services, this all has to be achieved from a finite resource.
The government’s decarbonisation fund of £3.8bn sounds like a lot of money, but given that the estimated total bill of decarbonisation is £100bn, there’s a potential giant black hole opening up in the sector’s finances. It may well be that this doesn’t just impact housing providers – but it has the potential to impact our customers.
To date, greener fuels have been inherently more expensive; and although future strategies are based on lowering energy consumption levels (for example, through better insulated homes), if we’re not careful and timings don’t align, then some of this could easily spill through into increased energy bills.
We know from our own work on child poverty that energy costs are in the top three household costs, and that many of our poorest families face a daily choice between ‘eat’ or ‘heat’.
“Given that the estimated total bill of decarbonisation is £100bn, there’s a potential giant black hole opening up in the sector’s finances”
Get decarbonisation wrong and the fuel poverty crisis that is already a reality for many customers could be further accelerated.
As an example, stopping the fitment of gas boilers in new homes from 2025 is absolutely the right thing to do carbon wise, but have we fully understood the impact of this from a fuel poverty perspective on our most vulnerable customers? I suspect not.
So, if we are to achieve net-zero carbon, we need a proper conversation that links together housing providers, energy suppliers, technologists, and the government to come up with some innovative ways about how we can invest in a zero-carbon future, reduce energy consumption, but always to ensure this remains affordable for our customers.
There are no easy answers, but without significant and rapid joined-up thinking, we are in danger of sleep walking into a zero-carbon fuel poverty crisis.
Orbit owns and manages around 45,500 affordable and social rent homes largely throughout the Midlands and the east and south of England.
Image: Paul Richards, group director of Customer and Communities, Orbit
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