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Winter in Britain is expensive. Let’s tackle fuel poverty by greening our homes.

As more households struggle to meet energy costs in houses that are inadequately insulated and maintained, Neil Hewitt, Social and Cultural Manager at Triodos Bank, explores the steps that the bank are taking to address the growing problem with Warmer Homes and Greener Communities loans.

According to recent analysis by the BBC, this winter one in ten UK families will face heating bills that they cannot afford. That leaves an unbelievable 2.6 million households having to choose between being warm and paying for other essentials like food and clothing. Typically, the solution to poverty issues is to somehow boost income. But what if we could dramatically reduce the expense? When it comes to heating costs, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

Compared with our continental neighbours, the UK is much more likely to have badly insulated walls and windows, which is a huge waste of warmth and energy. This leakage contributes to cold feet, high fuel bills and – for some – extreme fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty

Fuel poverty occurs when residents are left below the poverty line after their fuel bills are paid, meaning they are unable to afford to keep adequately warm at a reasonable cost relative to their income. With over 10% of households in England in fuel poverty in 2014 and nearly 16% of UK homes being poorly insulated, it’s an increasing and urgent problem that is concentrated around housing associations and low-income brackets.

There are fundamental challenges to improvement: many houses don’t have cavity walls or other opportunities for insulation and the cost of installing a new, more efficient boiler, or replacing windows is prohibitively high.

Some short term solutions are in place: £49 fuel vouchers – funded by fines levied from big energy firms following poor customer handling – are available through the Trussell Trust at food banks around the city. These, however, are heavily restricted and do nothing to address the issues and shortcomings at the heart of the issue.

“The housing crisis has affected almost everyone in society, but none more than some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable”

Bevis Watts, Managing Director Triodos Bank UK

Warmer Homes and Greener Communities

More still needs to be done and in cities such as Bristol progressive steps are being made to change the UK’s reputation as the ‘cold man of Europe’ – and Triodos Bank are proud to be a part of it. We’re now offering an industry first £15million lending pot to help housing associations add energy efficiency and generation measures with the aim to take steps to help alleviate the issue fuel poverty, and make homes more sustainable.

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Housing associations face pressures to increase housing capacity which often comes at the expense of making energy saving measures in current properties and developing green spaces that are so vital for well-being. Even if housing providers show good financial track records, lenders have traditionally only been able to finance loans by taking security – often the housing stock that providers currently own.

Triodos Bank is looking to bridge this gap with Warmer Homes and Greener Communities loans to housing associations. Triodos Bank will take no direct security at the outset of the loan.

The finance can be used to help alleviate the threat of fuel poverty. The result is not only a household that is warmer and able to redirect earnings elsewhere, but also a community that is greener, with less energy wasted through windows and thin walls. Loans can also be used to support green spaces such as community gardens and children’s play areas, helping to cultivate a vital sense of community and healthy spaces.

Kevin McCloud, Broadcaster and Director of HAB Housing, a leader in sustainable, affordable, housing schemes, agreed with the importance of such a scheme. He recognised that the housing problem is not simply a numbers issue, it’s also about the environments we’re creating for communities in urban areas: “while tackling the housing crisis with increased numbers, we need to be building homes that are not only cost effective for the people who live there but that also offer wider environmental and aesthetic benefits, with amenity spaces that people are proud to live in.”

The answer is innovation and collaboration. While there has been some progress, governments have failed to fulfil their pledge to end fuel poverty by 2016, meaning there’s still lots to be done across the country.

A healthier community

Fortunately, there’s broad potential for the impact of the new initiative that stretches well beyond the temperature of a home. As Bevis Watts, Managing Director of Triodos Bank UK, explains:

“The housing crisis has affected almost everyone in society, but none more than some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable. Not only are there financial challenges in housing, such as in heating homes, but also many developments lack community spaces and areas of natural habitats, which are formally recognised as having a direct benefit in addressing low grade mental health issues.”

These Warmer Homes and Greener Communities loans mark the first step in transforming the home life of tenants and families in numerous ways: from the warmth of the building and money saved in energy, to the happiness and resilience of the community they live in.

Find out more about the Warmer Homes and Greener Communities loans

What do you think of "Winter in Britain is expensive. Let’s tackle fuel poverty by greening our homes."

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Laura Bampton BSc (HONS) MRICS 4 years ago

This is a great idea but we MUST ensure that they are properly specified and carried out. I am a Chartered Building surveyor and we are taking out more cavity wall insulation than installing as the most building stock is unsuitable. Much better to insulate externally or internally.

Alan 4 years ago

We should be pushing forward with getting old housing stock inserlated. Stop wasting money on nuclear power plants. Invest in isurlating housing and reducing electricity useage. We can then pull people out of poverty.