Energiesprong: how a Dutch solution could improve Britain’s energy inefficient housing

There’s little doubt that many of Britain’s homes need to improve their energy efficiency. A 2015 study by the Association for the Conservation of Energy found that the UK has among the highest rates of fuel poverty and one of the most energy inefficient housing stocks in Europe. In terms of energy efficiency, the UK housing’s walls came 7th out of the 11 countries analysed, while its roofs were ranked 8th, its floors 10th and its windows 11th.

Badly heated housing has significant impacts on health. In 2011, an analysis by Friends of the Earth highlighted the links between cold housing and poor mental and physical health:

“The main health conditions associated with cold housing are circulatory diseases, respiratory problems and mental ill-health. Other conditions influenced or exacerbated by cold housing include the common flu and cold, as well as arthritis and rheumatisms.”

However, people living in energy inefficient homes are often those least able to afford the necessary retrofits, such as insulation, new boilers and double glazing.

The rise and fall of the Green Deal

In 2013, the coalition government launched the Green Deal, a retrofitting programme that aimed to provide an affordable solution for low-income households struggling to keep their homes warm. However, it soon became clear that the Green Deal was too complicated for the energy efficiency sector to administer, and too hard for householders to understand. After three years of disappointing take-up, the scheme was scrapped in 2015.

With no replacement for the Green Deal on the horizon, agencies supporting fuel-poor households have been trying to fill the gap. The Trussell Trust, for example, has been opening “fuel banks” in towns and cities across the UK, providing vouchers for paying gas and electricity bills.  Important as they are, these initiatives cannot take the place of housing improvements.

An energy leap forward

The demise of the Green Deal left a gap in the UK’s retrofitting market. However, a recent initiative that shares some of the features of the Green Deal has shown early promise as a possible substitute.

The Energiesprong (“energy leap”) model has its origins in the Netherlands. Energiesprong is a network of organisations committed to urban and regional development. It brokered a deal between housing associations and builders to refurbish houses to net zero energy levels. This means the homes do not consume more energy for heating, hot water and electricity than they produce. Householders commit themselves not to use any more energy than an agreed amount. If they do, additional charges apply, but these are likely to be minimal thanks to the improvements in insulation.

So far, the Dutch scheme has proved successful; the first 800 retrofitted homes have performed better than expected, producing more energy than they consume. The tenants are very satisfied with the improvements and Dutch housing associations have committed to upgrade 111,000 homes under a wider roll-out.

Energiesprong in Britain

The Energiesprong concept is now being applied in the UK, where property developers are working with local authorities and social housing providers on prototypes.

Housing associations will finance the up-front costs of the work, including external wall insulation, roofing and renewables. These will be repaid by the energy cost savings resulting from the upgrade. Unlike the Green Deal, however, the Energiesprong concept is more straightforward and easier for consumers to understand, and refurbishments can be carried out within 10 days. In the UK, between 10 and 30 homes have been undergoing improvements in pilot projects during 2016, with a target of 5000 retrofitted homes by 2018.

The concept also has something to offer owner-occupiers; in addition to improving a property’s energy efficiency, Energiesprong also delivers a better-looking exterior. As Energiesprong UK director Arno Schmickler explained to Architects’ Journal:

“We are trying to position a high-quality, desirable product, to make your neighbours jealous – that really works.”

An off-the shelf retrofit?

The Energiesprong process in the UK must overcome significant challenges before it can achieve the levels of success seen in the Netherlands. Although it has secured European Commission funding, Energiesprong UK could achieve a much greater impact with government support. In addition, changes to planning guidance will be required to enable retrofitting without the need for explicit planning permission. The UK retrofitting sector must also make technical and cultural adaptations if it is to emulate the impact of their Dutch counterparts.

But if Energiesprong takes off in the UK, Arno Schmickler foresees the day when retrofitting could become as straightforward as choosing a new sofa:

“We want to position this where you could walk into, dare I say it, Ikea, and buy your Energiesprong solution while you’re kitting out your home with new furniture. ‘That’s how easy it should become.”



Read our other blog posts on energy efficiency in homes:

Hoarding and housing: person-centred approaches to a growing problem

Most people have possessions in their homes that they can’t bring themselves to throw out, from clothes and furniture to photographs, books and ornaments. But the growth of clutter around the house can sometimes escalate to become so severe that it causes significant risks to the health and wellbeing of residents and their neighbours.

For housing providers, problematic hoarding has become a serious and costly issue. In 2014, Inside Housing magazine reported an increase in the number of social housing landlords seeking injunctions to inspect homes where they suspected the resident of hoarding. But a housing management solicitor highlighted underlying difficulties with taking legal action against problematic hoarders.

“Even if the housing association wins and costs are awarded against the tenant, the chances of the tenant paying are slim. It’s a problem because it’s a huge expense.’

The nature of hoarding

A 2012 paper from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) provided an overview of hoarding, and observed:

“As a behaviour, it is quite common and most people who hoard possessions do not suffer from any psychiatric disorder. However, in some cases the problem may progress to become so severe that it causes significant distress and impairment.”

The CIEH paper noted that three components have been identified with problematic hoarding:

  • acquisition of and failure to discard possessions that appear to be of little use or value
  • living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed
  • significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding

The problems and risks for housing providers and their tenants

For housing providers, residents and neighbours, hoarding presents particular problems and risks, including:

  • overcrowding issues
  • health and safety hazards, including fire risks and falling /tripping
  • environmental health concerns, including infestation and vermin
  • properties falling into disrepair

Tackling the problem

Under mental health and environmental legislation, local authorities and health agencies can take action where hoarding constitutes a statutory nuisance or health and safety risk. Social landlords may also resort to legal action against tenants. But taking an enforcement-only approach raises tricky ethical questions, especially if a resident is mentally unwell. And, as the Inside Housing article reported, taking tenants to court can be ineffective and expensive. Housing organisations, therefore, are increasingly developing person-centred approaches to help compulsive hoarders understand and change their behaviour.

Orbit Housing: support and advice

For some years, the Orbit housing group has been collaborating with Coventry University and the Knowledge Transfer Partnership to tackle the growing problem of hoarding.

In 2013, Orbit launched a toolkit designed to support practitioners and organisations working with people who compulsively hoard. The toolkit was developed with input from mental health support organisations, environmental health bodies and service users. It addresses environmental and social isolation issues and includes advice on the assessment process, intervention tools, improvement measures, relapse prevention, and sign-posting.

In 2015, Orbit obtained funding for two specialist case workers, enabling the launch of a new hoarding support and advice service. In addition, Orbit has also developed a hoarding policy setting out the aims, principles and values to be adopted in the housing group’s approach to individuals with hoarding tendencies.

Derbyshire:  Vulnerable Adult at Risk Management

Because problematic hoarding can require responses from different agencies, including social housing providers, environmental health and fire and rescue services, a multi-agency approach is helpful in tackling the issue.

In Derbyshire, this kind of multi-agency policy has been established to develop a risk management plan for people who would not necessarily fall into the responsibility of adult social care direct service provision.

Vulnerable Adult at Risk Management (VARM) is managed by Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council, with support from the Fire and Rescue Service, police, social housing providers, environmental health and others. The policy aims to support vulnerable adults who are at risk of serious harm through self-neglect and risk-taking behaviour, and it has already been applied in cases of hoarding.

Last year, the Chief Fire Officers’ Association highlighted a case where the VARM policy helped a Derbyshire social housing provider to support an elderly man who was putting himself at risk due to hoarding behaviour.

“His care package was adjusted, to include assistance with household chores; he was visited and helped by health practitioners; his home was cleared allowing his central heating to be repaired. Fire risks were mitigated down to an acceptable level without the need to revisit and upset him.”

Similar approaches have been developed by Circle Housing Association in the London borough of Merton, and by Knightstone Housing in the West of England.

Positive outcomes

Hoarding is one of many resource-intensive problems facing social housing landlords. But, as these examples demonstrate, a collaborative, sensitive and supportive approach to problematic hoarding can achieve positive outcomes for housing organisations and their tenants.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read some of our other housing blogs:

Digital inclusion in practice: how Reading Room is helping social housing tenants go online

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In 2012, a Housing Technology report found that almost half of the UK’s adult population who do not use the internet live in social housing. The report’s contributors (including the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation and Peabody housing association) argued that digital inclusion gives tenants more choice and control and better access to lower-cost, better services.

For housing associations, the impact of developing a digital strategy to engage with their tenants can be substantial. The report estimated that social housing landlords could achieve annual savings of £340m in communications costs.

The benefits of digital inclusion for social housing landlords and their tenants is explored further in the latest “In focus” briefing from The Knowledge Exchange.

Social housing: the digital revolution

Increasingly, social housing providers and tenants are connecting online through media such as Facebook, Twitter and online chat services. Other housing associations are offering interactive features on their websites, enabling tenants to check their rent accounts or to book appointments.

But, as the Housing Technology report showed, significant numbers of people don’t have online access. For some, it’s a matter of poor broadband coverage, while others have concerns about access costs and data security.

Our briefing includes examples of how social tenants and their housing providers can benefit from greater digital inclusion, and highlights ways in which the barriers to going online may be overcome.

Reading Room and Catalyst:

Among the examples of best practice featured in the briefing is a case study of a collaboration between Reading Room – a digital consultancy which joined the Idox Group in 2015 – and Catalyst, one of the leading housing associations in London and the South East.

Reading Room has worked closely with Catalyst and its customers to create a strategic framework for the housing association’s digital development. Among the themes emerging from this framework are projects for:

  • Optimising Catalyst’s web platforms for mobile devices and making them more user friendly
  • Developing a plan to implement new online services
  • Training and developing internal teams with digital best practices, including content creation and customer service through social media
  • Engaging the business and creating a team of digital champions
  • Embarking on an innovation programme towards building smart homes

Once the work is complete, Catalyst customers will be able to report and track issues directly through a new web platform, while contractors can view available jobs and location data.

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Future plans

Further down the line, Reading Room and Catalyst are working on plans to use the Internet of Things to create smarter buildings with sensors that can detect changes before they become problems, notify the repair company and update the customer automatically.

The collaboration between Reading Room and Catalyst highlights the exciting potential of technology for improving communications between social housing providers and their tenants, and for encouraging more people to reap the benefits of going online.


Members of the Idox Information Service can obtain access to the full text of the In focus briefing on digital inclusion and social housing here

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team. 

Learning from “Alcatraz” – the regeneration of the Gorbals  

Alexander_Crescent,_Gorbals_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1323370 (1)

Image: C L T Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By James Carson

For decades, the Gorbals area of Glasgow was a byword for social problems. During the 1920s and 1930s, poverty and overcrowding spawned deprivation, poor health, gang culture and violence.

In the 1960s, the slums made way for new housing developments, including three tower blocks designed by the acclaimed architect of Coventry Cathedral, Sir Basil Spence.  However, almost as soon as the residents moved in, the houses began to suffer from condensation and persistent dampness. The architect may have intended his buildings to resemble “ships in full sail on washdays.” But, for the tenants, the multi-storey flats were prisons in the sky, located in a social wasteland devoid of public amenities. Before long, the development became known locally as “Alcatraz”. Few mourned their passing when the tower blocks were finally demolished in 1993.

An urban renaissance

Today, the Gorbals is once again being redeveloped, and this time the people living in the area have had a say in the area’s planning and design. With its focus on Crown Street, the New Gorbals is an attractive mix of housing, including apartments, maisonettes and terraced housing. In addition, residents can enjoy pedestrian environments and public spaces, with nearby commercial and community amenities, such as shops, a leisure centre and a modern public library.

The new development has won approval from residents, and affirmation from urban planning experts. Last month, a study by the Royal Town Planning Institute reported positive links between the regeneration of the Gorbals and economic success.

“It is clear that, from being historically regarded as one of the most deprived areas in Glasgow, the Gorbals now has consistently lower levels of income deprived population and employment deprived population than the wider Glasgow city region.”

Building on the foundations

Directly west of Crown Street, at Laurieston, further regeneration has been taking place. Last year, a £24m housing development of 201 homes was completed – Scotland’s largest ever single housing association grant-funded project. The homes are based on the traditional tenement, a longstanding feature of the Glasgow landscape.

The model fell out of favour in the post-war years, but the Laurieston development’s reinvention of the tenement is another success story in the regeneration of the Gorbals.  In November 2014, it was awarded ‘Best Social Housing Development’ at the Premier Guarantee Excellence Awards, which celebrate the best of the UK construction industry.

Future plans

Laurieston is one of eight priority Transformational Regeneration Areas (TRAs) in Glasgow. Established in 2009, the TRA Partnership between Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Housing Association and the Scottish Government, aims to provide new and sustainable mixed tenure communities through the provision of new housing, community facilities, green space and commercial units.

Around 600 homes for social rent are planned, along with a further 6500 affordable homes for sale or mid-market rent. Six of the eight areas are now active, and housing has been delivered in three TRAs.

Lessons from “Alcatraz”

Urban planners have often been blamed for the unsuccessful first redevelopment of the Gorbals, but, as the RTPI has observed, the planning profession can be proud of its role in righting those wrongs:

“… if improving places can be shown to lead to improved economic outcomes for individuals within those places, then there is an important role for town planners and other built environment specialists in using their professional skills to improve the economic life chances of individuals.”


 

The Idox Information Service can help you access further information on regeneration and planning. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered in this blog *

The Gorbals regeneration – delivering economic value through planning (RTPI working paper)

‘They seem to divide us’: social mix and inclusion in two traditional urbanist communities

Largest housing association grant-funded project in Scotland’s history unveiled

Another brick in the wall (Laurieston Transformational Regeneration Area)

Community empowerment in transformational regeneration and local housing management in Glasgow: meaning, relevance, challenges and policy recommendations (Briefing paper no 13)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Empty homes … Britain’s wasted resource

Boarded up homes in Kensington, Liverpool. Image by Mikey via Creative Commons.

Boarded up homes in Kensington, Liverpool. Image by Mikey via Creative Commons.

By Heather Cameron

Government statistics indicate that there are just over 635,000 empty properties in England, with a third lying empty for six months or more. In Scotland, there are around 23,000 ‘long-term’ empty homes (unoccupied for six months or more) that are liable for Council Tax.

With increasing house prices and a continuing rise in homelessness, the demand for affordable homes in the UK is unlikely to subside. And with new housebuilding unable to keep up with demand, bringing empty properties back into use would seem an obvious solution that could go some way to easing the housing crisis as well as addressing the blight caused to local communities by empty properties.

Unsightliness, loss of amenity, anti-social behaviour, pest infestations, the devaluing of neighbouring properties and a negative impact on people’s health have all been cited as potential outcomes of empty homes.

However, while the government claims to be committed to reducing the number of empty homes, recent welfare reforms appear to contradict such intentions.

A recent Inside Housing article on empty homes in County Durham, suggested that the bedroom tax has had a direct impact on the increasing number of vacant properties in the area, with many landlords seeing an increase in the number of voids following its introduction. Single people used to be housed in two-bedroom properties (which make up the majority of the empty properties in the area), but this is no longer an option as the bedroom tax cuts the housing benefit of people under-occupying by up to 25%.

This has also had a knock-on effect on the costs to social landlords due to maintaining vacant properties. Local housing association, Accent, estimates that its vacant homes are costing it £600,000 per year due to costs like council tax and security.

Tackling the issue

Despite recognition of the problem, powers to help bring empty homes back into use have seemingly been underused by English councils. Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) were only used 17 times in 2014, with councils preferring to use other powers such as council tax charging and compulsory purchase orders, despite EDMOs being specifically designed for the purpose.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that “the existing powers open to councils are complex and difficult to use. The government should simplify existing powers to support local authorities to bring empty properties back into use.”

In a report at the end of December 2014, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has similarly argued that local authorities should be offered an enhanced set of powers to address the problem of empty homes. It recommends two changes to the current rules:

  • The existing cap on the ’empty homes council tax premium’ should be removed, effectively allowing local authorities to determine their own banded premiums charged on long-term empty dwellings.
  • Local authorities should be allowed greater discretion to tax long-term empty dwellings appropriately, and to ensure that those holding on to an empty property contribute more to the economic costs of providing housing for those in need.

Indeed, councils have previously called for the compulsory purchase order system to be simplified to bring empty homes back into use so perhaps such changes would make a difference.

Good practice

There are recent examples of good practice in reinstating empty homes through various approaches, such as homesteading, refurbishing and leasing, and repairing and selling.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, for example, bid for funding from the Clusters of Empty Homes Fund so that it could renovate 124 long-term empty properties and bring them back into use.  The redeveloped properties were offered for £1 each to carefully selected buyers who had shown they would be actively engaged in the area’s regeneration.

According to the council’s Director of People, this initiative has resulted in the restoration of local pride and a new-found sense of community ownership that will drive lasting improvements.


Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

Playing ‘house’ (redevelopment of empty homes), IN MJ, 15 Jan 2015, p21

Tackling the housing crisis: alternatives to declining standards, displacement and dispossession (2014) Centre for Labour and Social Studies

Re-imagining regeneration: empty and difficult to let homes (2014) National Housing Federation

Landlords revise threat of universal credit after delays, IN Inside Housing, 5 Dec 2014, pp10-11

Broken market, broken dreams: let’s end the housing crisis within a generation (2014) National Housing Federation

Ideas for change: community-led self-help housing, IN New Start, No 526 Nov 2014, pp1-7

Filling the void (Helena Partnerships and the private rental market), IN Inside Housing, 24 Oct 2014, pp28-30

Cutting back on waste (bringing empty homes back into use), IN Property Journal, May/Jun 2014, pp44-45

Evaluation of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP): Midlands region (2014) University of Birmingham

Taming the information jungle

TonyphotoIn the latest of our series of posts looking at the work of housing associations, Tony McLaughlin explains how managing information supports activities across the Wheatley Group.

By Tony McLaughlin, Research and Policy Officer, the Wheatley Group

Comparing the volume of information we come across as a ‘jungle’ may seem a little hyperbolic, but for my colleagues and I in the Research and Development Team at the Wheatley Group, Scotland’s leading housing, care and community regeneration organisation, it can certainly seem that way.

Managing information on behalf of our colleagues in other parts of the business to ensure that they have the data and information they need at their fingertips is a core part of what we do. However, keeping on top of the information we are bombarded with can be a task in itself.

In keeping with the jungle analogy, the sources where we get information from can be quite different beasts. A quick survey of our team found that collectively we are on the mailing lists of over eighty organisations, including many specialists beyond our core business of housing, care and regeneration. These mailing lists are just the tip of the information iceberg. If you take into account social media, the number of information sources would be likely to multiply several times.

We are responsible for supporting activities across a large organisation which provides services to over 100,000 people, and employs more than 2,100 people across Central Scotland. With a team of seven people, and many competing demands on our time, we have to be smart about what we focus on. We appreciate services that cut down the amount of time we have to spend identifying useful resources. It’s important for us to provide information that is specific to the needs of our business and which supports excellence in everything that we do. We do this in a number of ways, two of which are given as examples below.

We produce an ‘Insight’ bulletin, which is aimed at leaders and is a short themed think-piece which informs strategy and service development. Recent editions have focused on diverse topics such as customer segmentation, value for money, working with communities and employment trends. We are planning editions on digital inclusion, care and support, challenging poverty, and innovative funding.

We also organise a series of seminars for staff at all levels of our organisation and for relevant people from our partner agencies. These are typically hosted at our purpose-built learning and conference centre, The Academy, which is located at our Glasgow headquarters. Our most recent seminars were arranged as part of the corporate partnership which the Wheatley Group has with the professional body for housing, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

The first of these was a visit by CIH Chief Executive, Grainia Long, to address our leadership team on the challenges faced by the housing sector in the coming years. The second was a presentation on our innovative ‘Frontline Futures’ research aimed at frontline staff, which examines the role of the frontline housing professional in light of new challenges facing social housing providers and customers.

These seminars are part of a coordinated approach to supporting staff CPD. Our membership of IDOX Information Service contributes to this, as it allows our colleagues who undertake academic study as part of their professional development to access a range of resources to help them achieve their qualifications.

To sum up, our team should not simply navigate through the information jungle for material that we find interesting – everything we do should have a purpose in promoting excellence within our organisation; the information that we disseminate should always help drive innovation and improvement.

I would be happy to discuss any ideas with other like-minded organisations. Please drop me an email at tony.mclaughlin@wheatley-group.com

For more information about what we do visit www.wheatley-group.com


 

The Wheatley Group are members of the Idox Information Service. For the past 40 years, the Information Service has been the first port of call for information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice.

Our previous blogs on housing associations include:

 

Universal Credit and housing benefit: facing up to the challenge of change

by James Carson

English money

How are housing associations and their tenants preparing for Universal Credit?  It’s one of the big questions at the heart of the coalition government’s reform of the benefits system. Until recently, the answer was unclear, but we’re now starting to get a better picture of the likely impact of benefits reform on social housing.

In 2010, the coalition government embarked on a major programme of changes to the welfare system. The staged roll-out is intended to simplify the system, replacing five different benefits with a single payment, known as Universal Credit. One of the major changes will see social tenants who previously had their housing benefit paid to their landlord receiving a single monthly payment.

Right from the start, there have been concerns that tenants will have difficulties managing direct payments, and that rising numbers will struggle to pay their rents. Initially, it was difficult to assess whether these concerns were valid, but last month the Department for Work and Pensions published a package of reports evaluating a series of demonstration projects testing the direct payment of housing benefit to tenants living in social housing.

Continue reading

A local crisis? Local authorities and the housing crisis

Miniature red and green houses against a white background.By Alex Addyman

England needs to provide between 200,000 and 250,000 homes each year to meet the current housing shortage. The role of local authorities in meeting this shortfall was recognised in the Autumn Statement and has been progressed through some recent policy initiatives. This blog considers some of these initiatives and questions whether local authorities have the capacity to deliver them. Continue reading

Housing associations – great places to work?

protect houseIn our second blog on housing associations we look at why they are consistently cited as great places to work and what the future might hold for them.

by Brelda Baum

Housing associations (HAs) are perceived to be great places to work according to The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2014 survey (not for profit results) which is dominated by HAs and social housing employers. This seems to demonstrate that, despite the availability of other more lucrative options, people still want to work in the housing sector, perhaps because HAs and social housing organisations are at the forefront of a very rapidly changing environment, often at the cutting edge of a lot of social issues, so that by working for them, people see themselves in a position to do some good and see evidence of it. Continue reading

Corporate social responsibility woven into everything we do at Riverside

Ronnie Clawson head shot

We’ll be looking at housing and particularly the work of housing associations over the next couple of weeks. In our first blog of three on the theme Ronnie Clawson from Riverside talks about Corporate Social Responsibility and how integral it is to Riverside’s business.

By Ronnie Clawson, Executive Director of Corporate Services, Riverside

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sits at the core of Riverside’s purpose as a housing charity and is integral to our business. It strengthens our reputation as a responsible, ethical organisation and provides an opportunity for deeper and more meaningful engagement with our employees. CSR also allows best practice to be shared through peer-groups, such as the Sustainable Homes Index for Tomorrow (SHIFT) and other like-minded organisations outside the social housing sector like Business in The Community, Seddons (construction and maintenance specialists), and Liverpool Echo Arena. Continue reading