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Leeds City Council / Continually improving efficiency in a large housing stock

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Local authorities are often faced with huge challenges when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of their housing stock. Many buildings are old and poorly insulated with ageing heating systems. Leeds City Council is no exception. The second largest local authority in the country, much of its housing stock, public and private, was built before 1920.

The Council’s response was the responsibility of a dedicated Fuelsavers team. Drawing on expertise from across the council, the team’s remit was to tackle fuel poverty and energy efficiency with an especial focus on housing. Funded by grants and the council’s own resources, the team set targets for all organisations managing council stock as well as best practise guides for private-sector landlords. The team carried out surveys, arranged grants and ran an advice line.

Within 6 years, over 46,000 installations of insulation carried out

CO2 savings of 88,000 tonnes/year

Responsible for a population of over 715,000


Leeds has an industrial heritage, focused on clothing and textiles, but many of these businesses have now left and the commercial sector has been growing strongly. There are many high income jobs in banking and insurance, call centres and the service industry and also large employers. Unemployment is low, but there is a growing gap between rich and poor. Education is also important to Leeds, with 33,000 students in the universities and colleges.

In the 1980s Leeds had 300,000 homes, of which 100,000 were council owned, but the government ‘right to buy’ programme has resulted in 40,000 council homes being transferred to private ownership since then. There has also been significant construction of new homes, including flats built by the universities for their students to live in. The number of rented houses has increased from 4,500 in 2002 to 42,000 in 2008, which presents a challenge to tackling energy efficiency as landlords are not always keen to make improvements. Of particular concern are the 2,500 registered Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and a further 2,000 suspected unregistered. Many of the houses in Leeds were built before 1920 and have solid walls, making them more difficult to insulate.

Although Leeds has 322,000 homes, the Fuelsavers team is responsible for the energy efficiency of 660,000 homes because it covers Bradford and Hull as well.

Leeds council energy efficiency advice centre

Sustainable energy policy

During the time Fuelsavers has been in operation at Leeds the council policy has shifted significantly. In the 1980s the council started to see that cold and damp properties were not just the responsibility of the residents, but of the council too. They also found that money spent upgrading the energy efficiency of their housing stock resulted in savings on maintenance in future years.

With the government ‘right to buy’ programme shifting property out of council control, a new approach was needed to energy efficiency. The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (HECA) provided a legal framework which allowed Fuelsavers to survey homes and gather data on energy efficiency. Fuelsavers developed the ‘Warm Homes Cool Planet’ strategy in response to HECA, outlining energy efficiency measures to be adopted by the Authority in refurbishing its own housing stock, as well as measures to be encouraged and supported in the housing stock as a whole in order to produce a 30% energy efficiency improvement.

Sustainable energy within council buildings

Within Leeds City Council’s offices and other buildings, several measures have been taken to reduce energy consumption. 120 Energy Guardians have been appointed – these are employees from all departments who have been trained in energy efficiency and are now responsible for monitoring energy use within their buildings. They are authorised to report problems with energy use which are not being addressed. The council uses the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme throughout, and all their suppliers are required to use materials from sustainable sources. Investment is also used as a tool to reduce energy use; the council has an ‘Invest to Save’ programme, where funds are available to replace old heating systems with new efficient versions, as the savings will repay the capital.

The benefits of these measures include reduced bills, lower CO2 emissions and raised awareness of the importance of energy use within the council’s staff.

Mr Aitkin sitting in his front garden, he has had central heating fitted in his home. After becoming very ill during the winter his doctor put him in touch with Leeds council’s ‘Health through warmth scheme’

Sustainable energy in council and private housing

The most significant aspect of the energy efficiency work in Leeds is in housing, both councilowned and private. The starting point for this work is the database on household energy use that the Fuelsavers team has built up over the years through HECA surveys, which they believe is one of the most comprehensive and accurate among all the local authorities in England. The accuracy of the database has been particularly helped by the acquisition of data from utility companies on historical energy consumption. HECA requires a 30% saving in household energy use by 2011; Leeds had achieved over 21% by 2007, and expects to hit the target on time.

Most of Leeds’ council owned homes are operated by Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs), which are not-for-profit housing companies. In Leeds all of the ALMOs have been given targets to raise the SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Rating of Dwellings) ratings of their housing stock. Fuelsavers gives the ALMOs quarterly feedback on their progress, and arranges grants for improvements to be made. Over the past four years Fuelsavers have been responsible for over 37,000 installations of cavity wall or loft insulation, and over 20,000 installations of efficient gas boilers through their work with ALMOs. Blocks of flats, which are hard to treat, have been tackled by installing external insulating cladding and replacing old heating systems with gas-fired CHP (Combined Heat and Power) units.

One of the main strategies Fuelsavers uses to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency is the Community Warmth Initiative, which is targeted at the five poorest wards in Leeds. Five surveyors are used to do door-to-door visits to ensure that all homes are covered and that any language problems are overcome. Each household is surveyed in a single visit for energy efficiency, fire safety and security, and the residents are offered benefits checks to see if they are not claiming any that they are entitled to. The initiative can also provide extra assistance where required, such as helping elderly residents clear their loft space in preparation for having insulation installed. 32,000 homes will be visited between November 2007 and September 2008. The response rate so far has been 55%, but due to many homes being hard to treat, the referral rate for installations has only been 7%. The Community Warmth Initiative has been supplemented by the distribution of over 151,000 low energy light bulbs to priority and low income houses.

Leeds has several areas where there is no gas supply, and no intention by the suppliers to extend the gas network, leaving people reliant on electric heating. As these areas are also less affluent, the use of electric heating had pushed a number of households into fuel poverty. To tackle this problem, Fuelsavers arranged for an independent supplier to install a gas supply network in these areas, offering all households the option to connect to it. Council owned homes had the supply installed up to the wall, even if they chose not to connect, and efficient boilers were installed under the Authority’s Heat Lease scheme. 1,500 homes were brought within reach of the gas supply, and 85% chose to connect to it.

A Corgi registered plumber drilling into a wall during the installation of a boiler at a house in Leeds

For people whose health is being affected by lack of heating and damp conditions, Fuelsavers runs the Health Through Warmth scheme. This targets areas with high use of health services for heating and efficiency measures; over 400 households have been helped so far with the installation of insulation and efficient boilers. As a result residents have seen their bills reduced and are now better able to heat their homes, leading to improved health and reduced strain on hospital resources. To ensure that the people who need help are reached, Fuelsavers has trained 2,700 health visitors and other medical staff, and 400 new people are trained each year.

In the private rented sector Fuelsavers has issued a best practice guide for landlords which is now being enforced. The guide requires a minimum SAP 55 level, and landlords that do not comply are removed from the approved list maintained by Unipol, a student lettings organisation that protects tenants’ rights and advertises properties.

As a result of Fuelsavers’ work in council and private housing in Leeds, installations have resulted in an estimated CO2 saving of over 88,000 tonnes/year. In addition to this the EEAC work has led to an estimated cumulative saving of over 150,000 tonnes of CO2.

Sustainable energy in the community

Fuelsavers contacts 25,000 people every year on energy efficiency matters; 19,000 through postal surveys and 6,000 through its call centre. On average, each household in Leeds is contacted once every six years. The call centre is a key element of the Fuelsavers strategy; people across the city can call a freephone number to get advice on energy efficiency and find out about grants that they may qualify for. The Fuelsavers telephone team have been recruited from existing council call centre staff and trained to City and Guilds standard in Energy Awareness, so that they could give advice on energy efficiency. When demand is low they can also take other calls, so giving Fuelsavers a flexible workforce. All other staff in the call centre are aware of the presence of the Fuelsavers team, and when appropriate will ask callers about energy efficiency, and transfer them to the Fuelsavers team for further advice if they are interested.

Fuelsavers has worked to increase the effectiveness of its community outreach by involving other organisations, such as tenants groups and welfare charities. For the Health Through Warmth scheme it trains staff from public, private and voluntary organisations that are already working in the community with the target groups. For instance, 2,700 health authority staff and 1,700 care assistants have been trained. In a similar way the Low Energy Lighting Scheme used locally based groups to distribute low energy light bulbs to residents most in need of them.

Fuelsavers has also involved the local community in its role as the local EEAC, by providing displays and presentations at community events, such as a number of Older Peoples Celebration events in South East Leeds and talks on energy efficient building methods for students at the Leeds College of Building.

Management and partnerships

The work of Fuelsavers is overseen by a board, which includes members from several council departments, the benefits team, Citizens Advice Bureau, Care & Repair, Eaga, the local ALMOs, Npower, and the local Primary Care Trust.

Fuelsavers maintains partnerships with a range of public bodies, including Bradford and Hull City Councils and the Energy Saving Trust through its work as an advice centre. It also co-operates with neighbouring advice centres in South Yorkshire and Kirklees. Npower is a key partner for the Health Through Warmth scheme and EEC funding for the Community Warmth Initiative, while Powergen provides low energy light bulbs and ‘Powerdown’ devices, which are used to switch off peripherals when a computer is turned off.

Finance and payment

Many of the schemes Fuelsavers has run in Leeds have been funded by EEC, Warm Front and the Heatlease, and in future will be funded through the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT). Npower have been the main providers of EEC funding in Leeds. Clients of the Health Through Warmth scheme are asked to contribute to the cost of measures taken, but if they are unable to then charitable or council funds are used. Fuelsavers work that comes under their role as an advice centre is funded by the Energy Saving Trust, so that services such as home energy checks can be provided free of charge.

Upgrades to council buildings under the Invest to Save programme are funded through government grants, matched with money from the council’s capital fund.

Customer services officer at Leeds council energy efficiency advice centre

Potential for growth and replication

Within the council’s non-housing assets, there are plans to roll out advanced metering to allow the energy use in buildings to be monitored and managed more efficiently. This will enable regular feedback on energy use to building managers. When street lighting is due to be replaced, new designs based on LEDs will be used, delivering improvements in efficiency and durability, and also the option for programming the time and brightness of lighting. The Invest to Save programme will continue and it is hoped that the new Energy Guardians scheme will deliver benefits in improved efficiency and raised awareness. Fuelsavers has also commissioned a consultant to look at the feasibility of setting up Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to bulk buy energy, resell it to domestic and business customers and invest the profits in the customers themselves.

Fuelsavers disseminates knowledge and experience through the local HECA forum, which is currently chaired by one of its staff, and also through several working groups of the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes, the Regional Energy Forum, and several other regional groups.

Leeds City Council and Fuelsavers have been working on domestic energy efficiency for many years, and their achievements may look daunting to a local authority that has only recently started making progress in this area. However, the legislation, partnerships and funding that Fuelsavers has used are available to any council, and it has demonstrated what is possible by working persistently to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency.

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