11 April 2023

The UK’s commitment to delivering a zero carbon economy by 2050 relies on eliminating the carbon emissions of all of our homes over the next 30 years, and social housing providers have a key role to play in achieving this. The need to decarbonise our social homes has become even more apparent over the past few months, as the energy crisis has pushed up household energy bills to unprecedented levels. By decarbonising our social homes we will make these homes more affordable and more comfortable for our residents, while simultaneously contributing to the UK’s net zero target.

The social housing sector is well placed to lead the way when it comes to decarbonising our homes. The quantity and variety of homes within the sector means it is able to innovate and deliver change at scale. Housing associations are already making good progress, successfully reducing carbon emissions and improving insulation in homes. However, the sector still faces a number of challenges, from skills gaps and supply chain limitations, to homes that are technically hard to decarbonise and a lack of funding for this work.

The journey to decarbonisation will create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs for local communities and upskill many more workers as part of the transition to a low carbon economy. However, the New Economics Foundation estimate that we need an additional 429,000 retrofitters to deliver our housing decarbonisation objective by 2030 across all tenures. Furthermore, as we progress with this work, we are likely to identify skills gaps in our own organisations. A comprehensive national retrofit training strategy would enable us to scale up locally led initiatives and deliver joined-up action on retrofit skills development.

Our 2022 Hard to Decarbonise Social Homes report found that there are a number of factors that contribute to making a home hard to decarbonise. These range from technical characteristics of the property itself, to planning restrictions and grid constraints. However, the report also found that only 2%, a relatively small number, of social homes are technically hard to decarbonise at present. This means that despite some of the constraints identified, we can find solutions to decarbonising nearly all social homes.

While housing association homes, with 64.3% certified as EPC C or above, are already more energy efficient than homes of other tenure types, there is still some way to go on our journey to EPC C. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, alongside other government funding programmes, is enabling housing associations to undertake ambitious retrofit works. However, longer term funding of these programmes would unlock supply chains and give housing associations the confidence and certainty to plan, contract for and deliver the large-scale retrofit projects required to reach net zero by 2050.

Despite some of the challenges the housing association sector faces when decarbonising our existing homes and ensuring that new homes are built to high environmental standards, it is evident that the sector is committed to investing in sustainability, alongside quality, affordability and community. This is further emphasised by the Better Social Housing Review report, which makes a number of recommendations to housing associations to drive improvements in the quality of social housing. By working together, learning from good practice and investing in innovative approaches, housing associations are well placed to drive decarbonisation work, while simultaneously improving the quality of our homes.

Sustainable Homes 2023 will offer the opportunity for sector leaders and all of those with a responsibility for sustainability to come together in light of the report’s publication, to discuss the recommendations, share insight and delve into the challenges that tackling the climate crisis presents for our organisations. With a focus on innovative solutions and collaborative working, the conference will explore how we as a sector can overcome these barriers. With sessions ranging from resident engagement, to making the best use of data and exploring new energy efficiency solutions, you won’t want to miss out on Sustainable Homes 2023.

Natalie Turner

Policy Officer, National Housing Federation

Sustainable Homes 2023: The journey to decarbonisation