In a controversial move by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for the private rented sector have been scrapped, leaving a trail of consequences that could impact nearly 2.8 million privately rented homes. This seismic shift in policy, which came into effect in September, is expected to profoundly impact renters, especially those residing in the most critical swing seats across England.
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a renowned think tank, has comprehensively analyzed the 50 most closely contested seats during the 2019 General Election. Their findings reveal that 32 pivotal swing seats are expected to house a disproportionate number of privately rented homes, failing to meet Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C standards.
So, what does this mean for renters in these battleground constituencies? Nearly 250,000 households may miss out on essential energy efficiency upgrades. As a result, they are now facing the grim reality of energy bills skyrocketing by an estimated £40 million annually, compared to what they would have paid if the MEES rules had remained intact.
Digging deeper into the numbers, renters in the 'Red Wall' constituencies are particularly vulnerable. A staggering gas bill increase of over £600 million between 2028 and 2050, translating to nearly £30 million per year, looms on the horizon, as per ECIU's analysis.
The stakes are high for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's constituency, Richmond, in North Yorkshire. Around 6,000 private renters currently reside in homes falling below EPC Band C. By 2050; they could collectively face an extra £25 million in gas bills, equivalent to approximately £1.1 million annually or over £4,000 per home over the said period.
To put this into context, the MEES rules were first implemented in April 2018, making it mandatory for new private tenancies to meet a minimum standard of EPC Band E. This requirement was expanded to cover all private tenancies by April 2020. However, it's worth noting that properties conforming to EPC Band E still suffer from significant energy inefficiencies.
Initially, the government had ambitious plans to strengthen these standards. The vision was for landlords to upgrade properties seeking new tenants to meet EPC Band C by 2025, with all rented properties complying by 2028. Unfortunately, these plans were abruptly abandoned by Sunak in September.
According to the ECIU, had these standards already been in place, private renters could have saved more than £400m - or £140 per home in gas bills this winter.
Jess Ralston, energy analyst at the ECIU, claimed the Prime Minister essentially picked the landlord over the renter with the MEES U-turn.
"Private renters include some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as those with a long-term illness or disability and low-income families," she said. "There's no two ways about it; they will be made colder and poorer by scrapping these standards. Insulating our leaky homes is one of the most sensible steps we can take, as it reduces bills and means we need to buy less expensive gas from abroad."
In addition to scrapping minimum private rented sector standards, the PM pitched the government's Energy Efficiency Taskforce, which had only launched in March this year.
"This sends completely the wrong message to the industry and to homeowners, who now don't know what the plan is," Ralston added. "There is now an opportunity for the Prime Minister to set forward new measures on energy efficiency that will fill the gap in bringing down bills, boost energy independence, and provide warmer, more affordable living for millions."
This unexpected shift in policy direction raises questions about the government's plans for energy efficiency and the need for a clear strategy moving forward. There is now an opportunity for the Prime Minister to introduce new measures that promote energy efficiency, reduce bills, enhance energy independence, and provide warmer, more affordable living conditions for millions.
A recent study by the Social Market Foundation revealed that 79 percent of landlords support stricter energy efficiency regulations. Private sector landlords are even more inclined to raise MEES requirements to a Band C rating, with just 11 percent of those surveyed opposing this idea.
This latest analysis coincides with the Association of Decentralised Energy report, which highlights that one in four councils in England are failing to enforce legal standards for energy efficiency in private rental housing. This situation leaves tens of thousands of tenants in homes that are cold, drafty, and legally non-compliant.
Steph Hacker, senior researcher at ACE Research, who carried out the report, said the findings indicate significant challenges in enforcing even existing MEES regulations and promoting energy efficiency.
"The lack of resources and low penalties have already badly hindered progress in some areas," she said. "It is crucial for the government to provide greater support and collaboration to address these barriers and drive meaningful change for renters - energy efficiency is a vital part of driving down bills, making sure that homes are warm and comfortable, and reducing emissions from our building stock to tackle climate change.
"Providing councils with the resources they need to enforce these standards is not only essential to prevent the worst cases of damp and mould, it will also mean greater energy security, lower bills, and greener housing."
These developments come at a time when governments and businesses are rallying for a greater focus on energy efficiency at the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai. The Mission Efficiency group has called on governments to commit to doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements in any final text agreed at COP28.
Furthermore, the Cool Coalition has launched the Global Cooling Pledge and Global Cooling Watch Report, emphasizing the urgent need to reduce energy demand in the rapidly expanding cooling sector. With more than 60 countries signing the Global Cooling Pledge, there is a growing consensus on the importance of investing in passive cooling measures, raising energy efficiency standards for cooling equipment, and phasing out climate-warming refrigerants.
Larissa Gross, E3G program lead for place-based transitions, said the Mission Efficiency Call to Action and the Cooling Pledge underscored the growing business backing for bolder energy efficiency policies.
"These developments - on the heels of the Global Renewables and Efficiency Pledge - should give all Parties confidence that the doubling goal can be delivered and that efficiency - the first and cheapest fuel - will pull its weight as a workhorse on the road to net zero," she said.