Social landlords have been targeted by a number of government policies designed to improve housing conditions, tackle fuel poverty and increase energy efficiency. Their implementation is largely top-down, with residents encouraged to take up opportunities through awareness-raising, tenant engagement schemes and incentives to modify behaviour. Yet fuel poverty continues to rise, while at the same time budgets are shrinking. In addition, many properties have not maximised the potential benefits of energy efficiency measures, and a significant proportion of vulnerable households have not been engaged. There is scope to try new and innovative techniques to accelerate progress in both areas.
The role of community action in driving change from the bottom up has rarely featured in fuel poverty literature, and little attention has been paid to mechanisms that will empower individuals to collectively organise to deliver better results and ‘own’ the process themselves. Earlier, small-scale studies have suggested that this may be an effective approach, but more extensive testing could offer more robust evidence.
Key research Question
To examine the effectiveness of a web-based action pack providing guidance to social landlords on how to develop a community action programme aimed at reducing fuel poverty in their housing stock.
Summary of activity
Data were generated through a survey of smaller housing associations. An action pack was developed as a step-by-step guide for Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) on designing a bespoke project and engaging with residents through to developing partnerships and delivering the project. This guidance is also available as 36 individual factsheets. Following this, the action pack was piloted with six RSLs, and a survey of project contacts was conducted to determine its success, which also included a range of supplementary questions on the RSLs’ housing stock and residents.
Data from the surveys suggested that smaller RSLs were much less advanced than their larger counterparts in understanding the nature of fuel poverty and ways to address it, as well as having fewer resources to focus on the issue and at the same time possessing stock in worse condition. As a result, the authors conclude that more work is needed to promote awareness within smaller organisations before community action programmes are implemented. Important learning was achieved through the piloting of the toolkit. The majority of respondents confirmed that the pack was useful; however, those who downloaded it tended already to be working on fuel poverty and saw this as a useful addition that could be ‘cherry picked’ as needed.
Of the six RSLs piloting the pack, smaller organisations needed more support and achieved less. Lack of knowledge appeared to be the most significant barrier. However, even larger entities indicated that the full package was too complex to implement. The web-based resource was not sufficient on its own. The majority regarded physical training sessions and direct consultancy as essential support mechanisms.
To support smaller RSLs, a network should be established to share information on good practice. Funding bodies should actively support such an initiative.
The potential for larger RSLs to ‘mentor’ smaller peers should be explored, particularly where there are already existing links.
Bodies that provide advice and guidance on fuel poverty should dedicate resources to supporting smaller RSLs through regional events, improved communication and tailored projects.
A series of policy recommendations were made, including the need for government to designate a minimum energy efficiency standard for social housing and for all RSLs to report publicly on progress; that the criteria for accessing the Affordable Warmth element of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) should be widened to include those in social housing; and that opportunities should be explored for smaller RSLs to access funding and advice via the Green Deal programme.
Our Warm Community – A Report on Tackling Fuel Poverty through a Holistic Community Approach, Focusing on Small Social Housing Providers