Hitting the UK’s net zero carbon objective is an immense task, but one that we must strive for. We all have a responsibility, whether large or small, in helping to get there.
That’s especially true for the housing sector. Homes in the UK are responsible for more than a fifth of our country’s carbon emissions. Building more environmentally friendly new developments is important, but equally so is improving the efficiency of existing stock. This will involve retrofitting some 24 million homes – a huge undertaking – and will require government, investors, developers, property managers, the supply chain and residents to pull together.
With nearly 20 per cent of UK homes occupied by renters, the PRS needs to be at the forefront of this effort.
We are starting to see action across the wider sector. The new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero recently allocated significant funding to help local authorities, social housing providers and private households implement green improvements such as insulation and double glazing.
We also know proposals to raise the minimum EPC standard from E to C in the PRS are forthcoming. Lots of uncertainty remains over whether these changes will happen and, if so, how long landlords would be given to make the energy efficiency upgrades needed. We are also yet to find out what, if any, support would be available. This will be crucial, as will clarity on how any new legislation would be enforced.
Despite all this speculation over policy, the fact remains that there is a huge amount to do to decarbonise privately rented homes. And making the improvements needed to go greener – such as insulation, heating and energy usage management upgrades – takes time.
Translating policy into practical change and tangible benefits for landlords and tenants will be challenging. While many landlords are aware of proposed changes to EPC regulations, many do not know the detail. Others lack the confidence to invest in major energy efficiency upgrades, and want to provide environmentally friendly properties but feel uncertain about where to start.
Of course clarity on policy from government is welcome – and ideally sooner rather than later. But I think the PRS can absolutely be a driver of positive change itself. The sector has demonstrated just how agile and proactive it can be in recent years, and there is real opportunity to do just that when it comes to going greener.
Government, training providers and the wider lettings industry need to work together to ensure that knowledge and best practice can start shaping a positive shift towards net zero in the PRS.
Landlords who use agents rely on them for guidance and support with navigating new rules, and this will be true for any legislation that emerges on energy efficiency. As the CIH’s recent review of qualifications rightly pointed out, investing in the knowledge and skills of those in the PRS is crucial to its future resilience and success.
I think the role of agent training and development will be incredibly valuable over the coming years – particularly around energy efficiency. Landlords and tenants need agents to play an active role in helping them along the path to net zero, and that means learning and upskilling now.
Critically, we also need to incentivise improvement and not see sustainability requirements as a burden.
More and more renters are concerned with the environmental impact of their homes – and the costs of outdated heating systems and building fabrics. In fact, recent research has suggested that renters are willing to pay a 12 per cent premium for an energy-efficient home.
Landlords who prioritise energy efficiency will be in a better position to attract and retain tenants, while demonstrating a commitment to providing quality rented homes. Having the knowledge and insight needed to help landlords make steps towards greener properties will help agents stand out in the market too.
It is incumbent on all of us to create a greener PRS as part of the race to net zero, and decarbonising Britain’s housing stock cannot happen without the private rented sector.
While more clarity and support to implement changes is needed, there’s plenty we can do now to get ahead of policy. Landlords just need to be given the means to support their motive to do so, and agents can be the catalyst here.
By Isobel Thomson, safeagent’s chief executive.