Buildings are a major source of CO2 emissions so making homes more energy efficient is crucial but many people struggle to afford the changes needed in their homes. Hastings Borough Council offers a range of services to low-income private sector residents to help make their homes cheaper and easier to heat and contributes to its target of being net zero by 2030.
This includes the East Sussex Warm Homes Check Service, which gives owner occupiers and people who rent privately free advice and support on making their home more energy efficient. Those on a low income qualify for a free home visits and upgrades. These include small works such as improving insulation, as well as bigger interventions such as insulation or new, more efficient boilers (subject to funding).
Between November 2018 and October 2021, 990 Warm Home Checks were carried out across East Sussex for owner occupiers and people in the private rented sector. These included energy saving advice and the installation of minor measures such as boiler servicing and repair, lagging (insulation for water tanks and pipes) and energy efficient lighting. In the same period, around 300 homes across the county had more significant upgrades including low carbon heating and wall insulation. It’s not possible to estimate carbon savings from this work as the primary goal is increasing warmth rather than cutting energy use.
In 2019, a detailed evaluation was undertaken of heating and insulation upgrades in 149 owner-occupied or privately rented homes in Hastings and Rother. These upgrades had been funded by the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, prioritising areas with the highest levels of fuel poverty
The evaluation found that these measures had substantial benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. The programme also had a positive impact on wider determinants of mental and physical health, including reductions in stress and isolation.
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Strong partnerships, especially with the health sector, have been key. Local authorities in East Sussex have been working together to cut energy use in the domestic sector since 2007, with a long-established county-wide fuel poverty partnership. This work has mainly been driven by the public health department of East Sussex County Council.
The department chairs the East Sussex Energy Partnership, and also funds the East Sussex Fuel Poverty Coordinator post and other costs faced by Hastings Borough Council. This partnership has been very successful in securing funding from energy suppliers, the NHS and other sources.
Work has been resourced via multiple funding streams:
Participating local authorities have to ensure these are households in private tenure either in fuel poverty or living on a low income, and who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of living in the cold.
Within Hastings Borough Council, there is one full-time officer working on addressing fuel poverty (across all tenures but with a substantial focus on the private sector), within the Housing Renewable team, with close links to East Sussex County Council’s public health team and relevant teams in other districts and boroughs. The Housing Renewal Manager and Climate Change and Sustainability Officer provide extra support.
For many councils resourcing is a key barrier to replicating this kind of work – especially the lack of long-term government funding.
For Hastings the lack of a national strategy to cut fuel poverty – including providing clarity on which owner occupiers were eligible for help – was a challenge at the start. Now there is a national Sustainable Warmth strategy for vulnerable households which covers owner occupiers and renters alike – the definitions are not perfect but it should help councils starting schemes for owner occupiers now.
Hastings councils found that the close partnership working between all the local authorities within East Sussex and bringing in health partners, was key to overcoming these barriers, including the council’s ability to secure funding from a wider range of sources.
The partners are continually raising awareness of fuel poverty through training for frontline staff and communications, as well as highlighting the numerous benefits of improving energy efficiency across all levels of local authorities, community and voluntary sector. As well as raising awareness of the help that’s on offer, and who is eligible for this, this is also intended to help ensure that frontline staff can advise householders on reducing their energy use.
Another factor in the success of the project is that a continuous service has been provided for many years, with a single point of contact. Many initiatives are stop-start in response to funding from central government. Other councils may want to consider how best they can offer continuity even within this challenging funding situation.
Councils should also add their voice to calls for more long term funding for local authorities to tackle fuel poverty, for example by signing up to a Blueprint for accelerating climate action at a local level, which has been published by Friends of the Earth, Ashden and other local governmental, environmental and research organisations.
Find more resources for councils on our Learning Out Loud pages.
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