Government must maximise public interest in home improvements to green the UK housing stock, says RICS

A new RICS paper calls on Government to make a step-change in policies for decarbonising existing UK housing stock, as people spend more time at home due to the Coronavirus lockdown.

Retrofitting to decarbonise UK existing housing stock, examines the existing policy landscape across retrofitting and provides a blueprint for Government to take forward as part of their resilient recovery from Covid-19. The paper highlights how government incentives can promote positive consumer behaviour, and both entice and support more people to consider making their homes energy efficient.

The policy recommendations are encapsulated in a package of regulatory measures, industry standards, fiscal levels and market insight. Recommendations include:

  • A uniform VAT rate of 5% for home improvement and repair to houses to enhance energy efficiency, to be carried out by an accredited installer or contractor with a recognised quality mark.
  • A review of the impact of the Minimum Energy Efficient Standards at point of sale as part of the regulatory ambitions to bring all dwellings to an EPC rating of C by 2035.
  • Government to support industry in the growth and regulation of the PropTech sector, to fully exploit the value of property-based data in aiding greening homes.
  • Government must engage with industry to improve public awareness of standards and professional competency-based advice and training regarding energy efficiency retrofits and wider home improvement works, especially for heritage buildings which are more complex and present a skills gap in the market.
  • Government must create long term policy and regulatory energy efficiency roadmaps to bring confidence to the financial sector, encouraging mortgage lenders to invest and develop products to support these ambitions.

Dr Patrice Cairns, RICS Policy Manager, commented: “Retrofitting provides the UK with an opportunity to achieve both operational carbon and significant embodied carbon savings through re-use rather than re-build. Government ambitions are clear, but the policy route is uncertain.

“As the UK prepares to spend more time at home, for our work as well as leisure, the benefits of green home improvements will continue to gather momentum. Government must use this unique opportunity to review their existing policies, working with the expertise of industry, and implement a holistic approach to retrofitting.”

The built environment sector contributes significantly to national energy use and carbon emissions, and when new build housing –-which has been subject to increasing energy efficiency standards only accounts for 1-2% of total building stock each year, there is a need to accelerate the pace of decarbonising the UK’s existing housing stock, to meet net-zero ambitions.

Dr Cairns continues: “There is an urgent need to address improving the energy efficiency within the UK’s building stock and retrofitting provides this opportunity. To achieve significant carbon savings, the Government must bring forward a package of policy measures without delay. Government endorsing our call to reduce the VAT regime for home repairs, maintenance and improvement work would be a swift step in the right direction. This will not be straight forward and requires a significant step change to accelerate pace, but will result in a reduction in carbon emissions, be an economic stimulator, and can deliver positive social benefits through improving indoor health and wellbeing and skilled job creation.”