Article for Progress Magazine by: Johnny Munro, GK Strategy

Following the general election and recent party conference, Theresa May’s government still looks like one of the weakest in living memory, and much of what she promised in her manifesto is still up in the air.

Her fragile position means it’s likely that only policies which have cross party support have much of a chance of surviving this Parliament. Despite this, some of May’s pledges, particularly around housing and protecting consumers, have actually managed to survive the wreckage of the General Election, the Queen’s Speech and the now infamous ‘P45 prank, signage collapsing, coughing speech’.

The Government is keen to press on with its Smart Meter Bill, helping to deliver the successful rollout of smart meters. The meters put consumers in control of their energy use, helping them understand their energy and bills, bringing an end to estimated billing; every household and business will be offered one by the end of 2020. An excellent step, so long as it coincides with a drive to install more energy efficient measures in UK homes.

Likewise, another policy area which survived the gutting of the Conservative Manifesto last month was the Housing White Paper – and importantly for NHIC, the pledge to update building standards. As we know, these standards are imperative to ensure our housing stock is built to a good quality, are safe, highly energy efficient, sustainable, accessible and secure.

The Government had pledged in the White Paper to keep these requirements under review; to ensure that they remained fit for purpose. After the horrors of the Grenfell Fire, it is clear now that the Government will have to act quickly in some way. Of course none of us can predict the outcome of that inquiry, but GK Strategy understands that DCLG were planning on launching a consultation this summer about Building Regulations and Standards anyway.

This will now surely have come into sharper focus, where it might previously have been just a sidenote. If this is the case, spare a thought for the new Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, coming from a comfortable, globetrotting role in the Foreign Office. He now inherits from Gavin Barwell, one of the most politically sensitive roles in government, partly due to the Grenfell tragedy and its repercussions, but more widely because of the simmering housing crisis in the UK. Add to this the Tenant Fees ban and the introduction of minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties next year – Sharma will quickly have to learn the ropes, and placate plenty of stakeholders.

But aside from building regulations, protecting consumers can also be interpreted in a different way. What of the future of the Each
Home Counts review?

The Government has signalled its continuing support for the review and we are moving ever closer to the launch of pilot schemes which will provide a robust examination of the proposed ‘Quality Mark’ for energy efficiency measures in practice, designed to be a ‘one size fits all’ trustmark, giving consumers confidence in whoever is installing measures in the home.

The scheme has huge potential to support both installers and consumers to drive and maintain best practice and most importantly, still enjoys government backing. The continuing rise in individuals living in the private rented sector is forcing policymakers to consider the rights of tenants in such properties.

The new minimum standards for energy efficiency will mandate that landlords in England improve the EPC rating of their properties by next April – and with the Scottish Government set to aim for even more ambitious targets to 2022, the sector – both installers and Landlords – will be under increasing pressure to continue improving homes far into this Parliament and the next.

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