370x300 ECOAlmost one year on from the changes to the Energy Companies Obligation being announced, housing providers are struggling to make new retrofit schemes stack-up.

A record 6 ‘gold’ awards were achieved by members of the 65-strong SHIFT benchmarking network, for which the 2013-14 results were announced. The scheme enables social landlords to accredit and benchmark their environmental performance across a range of measures, including retrofit. But the progress that many have made is threatened as members report a combination of much reduced support from ECO funding and uncertainty and confusion over other sources such as the Green Deal means that many of the improvements that could make the biggest difference are now effectively off-limits.

External wall insulation could save nearly £200 off bills for the average home, but with the changes announced in the Autumn Statement last year, the funding for these type of measures has been cut by an estimated £680 million.

SHIFT member Nottingham City Homes is undertaking work to retrofit three draughty tower blocks in Sneinton, as well as an ‘area-based’ scheme (enabling both social and privately-owned homes to be treated) of more than 2000 1950s pre-fabs in Clifton. But uncertainty surrounding funding and changes to ECO, with the housing provider having to stump up an extra £2m to get the work done, mean that improvements such as these will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in future.

Steve Hale, Director of Property Services, who heads up the programme of works, said: “We have 6,000 solid wall homes left and are committed to insulating them all – and not many in the sector can say that. Our approach is ‘tenure-blind’, in partnership with the city council.  This is the efficient way to do it, and creates a huge impact in the area – a win-win. But a lot of the funding that complements our investment and makes it go further is now geared to private residents only, which means the neighbourhood approach no longer works. Combined with the reductions in ECO, this means that some of our tenants in most need will either have to wait longer or even miss out altogether on these much-needed improvements.”

Andrew Eagles, managing director of Sustainable Homes said: “It’s brilliant that so many of SHIFT members are making strides to improve their stock and these awards are a chance to celebrate achievement. It’s important to remember that when we talk about ‘environmental performance’, it’s not some abstract ‘nice-to-have’ badge. For residents, investing in this stuff means lower bills and higher quality of life. For landlords, it can mean reduced rent arrears. But the aspiration and investment of many in the sector needs to be matched by government stepping up to the plate. At the moment, this simply isn’t happening.”