Social housing ‘state of the nation’ retrofit survey highlights data is key to success

A report analysing the results from a new ‘state of the nation’ survey carried out by the National Energy Foundation, Capita and the University of Salford highlights the UK social housing sector’s views on opportunities, challenges and progress in energy-efficient retrofit.

Conducted in September 2016, as a follow-up to the 2010, 2013 and 2015 surveys, the respondents were responsible for the management of an estimated 2 million properties; around 50% of the total UK social housing stock.

The survey was conducted in light of the growing market challenges:

  • Need to cut social rents by 1% per annum until 2020.
  • Welfare Reform (Universal Credit, benefit cap changes, Pay to Stay, under occupancy).
  • Reduced local authority funding for supported living.
  • Right to Buy.
  • Uncertainty of a post-Brexit UK.
  • Pressure to increase new supply.

The survey results identify a series of insights and findings:

Social housing providers are willing and able to deliver

The social housing sector is clearly investing in retrofit, with £120 million having been injected in the last 12 months from the survey sample alone. In addition, as reliance on funding for retrofit continues to diminish and volatility in the sector increases, it is doing more of what it does very well – innovating in the field of energy efficiency to overcome the challenges.

The importance of good data to make a sound business case for retrofit

Better data underpins intelligent asset management, and a more holistic and integrated approach to strategic thinking facilitates:

  • A clearer business case for retrofit.
  • More robust investment strategies.
  • Better energy efficiency through the optimisation of work programmes and exploiting new technologies.

Technology adoption and performance monitoring and evaluation

The demands placed on social housing providers and their assets have evolved considerably in recent years, with providers needing to think far more strategically about how they monitor performance and invest/divest in their portfolios. The sector must ensure that the foundations and infrastructure are in place for analysing the ever-growing volume of data. This is an area where the National Energy Foundation can help. Its iAIM service enables social housing providers to better understand their assets’ performance, target investment and strategically improve their portfolios.

Other highlights

The survey results also showed that only 40% of social housing providers felt that retrofit is actively championed at board level, which is a disappointing decline from the previous survey result of 60%.

With energy prices and the general cost of living looking set to rise, it’s as important now as it’s ever been for social housing providers to provide residents with warm, affordable homes. This is reflected in the survey by the fact that the overwhelming driver for retrofit was reducing fuel poverty and improving affordability for tenants, with 85% of respondents citing this as their primary motivation. This finding is consistent with the previous survey result of 83%. Organisational commitment was given as the second reason with 55%. The two least quoted reasons were generating income from renewables (12% of responders) and resident demand (14%).

Shape of things to come

In an effort to gain insight into the future direction of the sector, the survey also asked respondents to identify whether they were “interested but not delivering”, “not interested”, or “already delivering” against a list of ten new technologies and approaches. The highest scoring areas for “interested but not delivering” were: “Collaborating with other registered providers and local authorities to deliver community wide retrofit” and “Working with the health sector to deliver retrofit” (each cited by 73% of responders). In both cases, a number of respondents identified that they were already delivering in these areas.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Principal Energy Specialist, Luke Smith, said:

“It’s very encouraging that the social housing sector is undertaking some excellent retrofit work, and is willing and able to deliver. In a positive response to uncertain times, it is clearly investing in retrofit, and innovating in the field of energy efficiency.

“It’s vitally important that the sector is capable of coping with, and interpreting, an ever-increasing amount of data. The better use of data is key – in order to provide the best asset management possible, and ultimately the best possible service for tenants. We are pleased that our iAIM service is available to help social housing providers tackle this issue, enabling them to: develop a better understanding of their data; strengthen their strategic thinking; enhance their asset management; and improve their ability to produce more robust business cases.”