Retrofit revisited: Social housing survey highlights sector is ready and willing to deliver

27th January 2014

A new survey carried out by Alliance Procurement, the National Energy Foundation and the University of Salford sought to identify changes in sector attitude over the last three years. It repeated many of the questions asked in the original ‘state of the nation’ survey carried out by the same team in 2010.

  • Deployment of sustainable retrofit not as fast as Registered Providers had hoped.
  • 25% of Registered Providers have a strategic plan in place and are delivering retrofit compared to only 13% in 2010.
  • Funding sources illustrate the sector is capable of offering good value for money when it comes to mixed funding models.
  • 84% of respondents indicated that retrofit skills are now internal, a huge growth from the findings in our 2010 survey.
  • Confidence has declined in less ‘mainstream’ heating and ventilation systems such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), combined heat and power (CHP), air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps.
  • Latest results show a general reduction in perceived effectiveness of resident engagement strategies.

The latest findings conclude that whilst progress is being made on the deployment of sustainable retrofit in the sector, it has not been as fast to date as Registered Providers (RPs) themselves were anticipating. This has perhaps partly been caused by an internal shift in attention towards Housing Benefit and welfare changes and a general underestimation of the scale and complexity of the challenge with regards to preparing stock data and establishing strategic direction.

However, it is also as a result of the sporadic changes in funding regimes, the incompatibility of Green Deal with the sector and mixed messages from central Government as to what levels of retrofit should be being targeted.

There are interesting findings in the 2013 dataset. For example, in terms of funding sources used to retrofit properties to date, 88% of respondents cite CESP and CERT and 77% cite that their own internal budgets have been used. This not only chimes with the CESP evaluation which shows CESP funding from energy companies commonly ranged from between 65% to 10% of scheme costs, but also illustrates that the sector is capable of offering good value for money when it comes to match funding based models.

It is the energy company obligations (CESP, CERT, ECO) that have driven the majority of investment to date and the December 2013 announcement that the CERO target within the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is to be extended is likely have a significant negative impact on total investment in the sector.

In terms of internal sector skills, there is an interesting shift in the development of in-house knowledge and capabilities reported between 2010 and 2013. In 2010, reliance on internal and external retrofit skills and knowledge was equally balanced (51% internal, 49% external). However, in 2013, 84% of respondents indicated that such skills are now internal, compared to 16% sourced externally. This clearly indicates that RPs have ‘grown’ in house skills in response to the growing retrofit agenda.

When it comes to technologies used, in both 2010 and 2013, the building fabric improvement measures were seen as most effective - with loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, windows and doors and solid wall insulation all ranking highly. Other ‘well-known’ technologies such as efficient gas boilers, draught stripping, photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal were also rated highly.

Confidence in less ‘mainstream’ heating and ventilation systems such as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), combined heat and power (CHP), air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps appears to have declined. This may reflect actual experience of RPs who’ve fitted them not being as positive as expected, or the effects second hand ‘knowledge’ from media reports.

Finally, the survey sought to identify and compare which resident engagement strategies had been adopted and how effective they were perceived to be. Whilst the effectiveness ranking of the various options in both surveys was similar, the newest results show a general reduction in perceived effectiveness. It is possible that the results indicate that achieving effective resident engagement is now recognised as more difficult than previously thought.