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Energy (In)efficiency: What Tenants Expect and Endure in Private Rented Housing

Sheffield Hallam University
Date: 2016


A range of factors (e.g. rising house prices) are leading to a rapid growth in the number of households living in privately rented properties. Previous research has highlighted the disproportionate share of inferior-quality and older housing, as well as the concentration of low-income households, in this sector. As a result, energy efficiency levels are often poor. Nevertheless, studies have often neglected the views and experiences of tenants themselves, including the impact of living in substandard dwellings, their knowledge of energy efficiency and their ability to access improvements.  

Key research Question

The research aimed to gather evidence on private tenants’ understanding of, and their aspirations for, the energy efficiency of privately rented properties, how this aligned with landlords’ perceptions and whether tenants would be likely to use greater powers to demand improvements. By collecting these data, the authors sought to redress the existing evidence gap, build the voice of private rented sector (PRS) tenants on this agenda and contribute to a more equitable and informed approach. 

Summary of activity

Data were generated through a survey distributed to 1,800 low-income PRS households in Hackney and Rotherham via local authorities, which achieved a response rate of 7%, followed by a series of semi-structured interviews with 48 respondents in both locations. 


Respondents stated that because of the limited choice and high demand they could not afford to consider energy efficiency and thermal comfort when choosing a property. Many were not aware of Energy Performance Certificates. 

Many experienced uncomfortably cold, damp and mouldy housing and associated health issues. Energy costs were a significant challenge, leading to underheating, but heating systems were often old or inadequate. Over half of the respondents were on prepayment meters.  

Tenants would rather seek help with bills than home improvements and were generally reticent about contacting the landlord, partly out of anxiety about jeopardising relations with them. This fear, as well as cost factors, meant that tenants were unlikely to exercise their rights under the Energy Act 2016. 

PRS tenants appeared to be missing out on programmes tackling cold homes and energy bills (e.g. the Warm Home Discount, Energy Company Obligation and Affordable Warmth Grants) owing to low levels of awareness. 


An interactive stakeholder workshop with representatives of organisations engaged with PRS tenants occurred at the end of the research to consider how best to progress the findings. 

  • Further research should be undertaken to broaden the sample both geographically and into different demographic groups. 

  • The core messages of the study should be promoted to targets including letting agents, social work teams and health professionals. These messages should be aligned with the key programmes such as the smart meter rollout and also linked to important issues such as pressure on the NHS (e.g. excess winter deaths). 

  • Communications should focus on several key issues: 1) living in the PRS is often not a matter of choice, and the tenant–landlord relationship is currently not equitable – additional help and advocacy are required to assist tenants; 2) PRS tenants are not being reached by current energy efficiency schemes, and the Energy Act is unlikely to change this; and 3) policy changes around welfare reform and the growing inability to access social or owner-occupier housing are likely to militate against schemes designed to improve energy efficiency in the PRS. 

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