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While recent government announcements have created uncertainty, it is clear that the social housing sector remains laser-focused on improving the sustainability of its homes. The ambitious plans that we are working in partnership to deliver across the country will deliver significant benefits to the climate, as well as to tenants grappling with the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Since our industry-leading retrofit Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) went live in mid-2021, we’ve worked with landlords to deliver over £120 million worth of installations, and more than £100 million worth of contracts have been procured in the most recent round of funding.

We’ve worked to deliver some of the most successful schemes in the country through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and Home Upgrade Grant. While these funding streams have brought challenges, we should not lose sight of the huge opportunity that they provide to fundamentally transform our housing stock for the better.

Here are three observations from our extensive work on retrofit with landlords from across the country and what we have learnt so far:

Fabric first

While there is continued growth in the installation of air source heat pumps into new build properties, fabric first remains the focus for retrofit projects as landlords strive to ensure that their homes reach at least Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C.

The electrification of heating remains the long-term goal, but installing proven energy efficiency measures is required before this aim can be achieved and will deliver a range of other benefits to the occupant. Improvements such as new doors and windows, loft insulation, cavity-wall and external-wall insulation reduce energy consumption, increase thermal comfort and crucially, also deliver lower energy bills.

Buoyant and uncertain market

The market remains extremely buoyant, and we are seeing huge variations in price and availability. The challenges that landlords have raised with us remain the same as they have been over the past few years: tight delivery windows, price fluctuation, supply chain issues and every stage of the process taking longer than originally expected. Key issues impacting the response to tenders are geographical spread, size of contract, and how busy the market is. We are finding that capacity in the market is getting better as other sectors slow down but many contractors are reluctant to reduce the high margins that have been available.

Faced with such a challenging market and complex funding landscape, many landlords are finding that adopting a business-as-usual approach is not delivering the outcomes that they hoped for. Fortunately, through our knowledge of the market, contractor relationships and crucially our scale, we have been able to step in and deliver some really positive outcomes at a reasonable cost.

Starting on the right foot

The most successful projects have a clarity of thought and joined-up thinking, with the right specification from day one. This includes careful and realistic planning of the timeframes of each stage in the process and ensuring that contractors are clear about what is required.

Once the right ingredients are delivered at the outset, effective and consistent communication is critical to ensure that what is delivered at the end of a project remains in line with the requirements set out at the start and that any changes are managed without significant disruption to timescales or cost.

While it is true that the market is challenging and the routes to funding are complex, when these issues are appropriately managed, we have seen some outstanding outcomes, which will benefit landlords and tenants alike for many years to come.

Our take-home message is clear: these processes might be different from those that you have experience with, but you do not need to tackle these challenges alone. We are from and for housing, so understand the challenges social housing providers face and are here to support them, sharing best practice and information at every stage. With our dedication and expertise, we make a real difference to our communities, one project and individual at a time.

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