London bears witness to too many avoidable deaths and too much serious illness every winter. Poor insulation and sky-high energy bills force some of the most vulnerable Londoners to choose between heating or eating. Unfortunately, those in the private rented sector are at particularly high risk.
As many as 335,000 households in the capital are unable to sufficiently heat their homes. According to the Mayor’s fuel poverty action plan for London, this may have been a contributory factor in up to 3,400 excess winter deaths in London during the winter of 2016/17.
In April, the government took the step of introducing minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) legislation. This prohibits private landlords from renting out properties with energy performance certificates that fall below Band E in England and Wales. There were discernible limitations to this belated effort to crack down on cold homes, including the government’s original proposal to exempt landlords from having to improve the energy efficient rating of their property if the costs involved are projected to exceed £2,500.
Earlier this month, after being placed under sustained pressure, the government made a slight concession by lifting this cap to £3,500, thereby legally obliging more landlords to make improvements to make the upgrades. Though this is a tentative step in the right direction, it will still leave too many households in the cold this winter.
I have added my voice to those campaigners calling for a higher cap of £5,000 to be put in place. There are a multitude of benefits that would come from this. Most importantly, a greater contribution from landlords would ensure that some of the most vulnerable Londoners are not left in dangerous and unhealthy homes any longer.
The higher cap would lead to lower energy bills for tenants as their homes are made more energy efficient. And despite initially having to make a larger investment, landlords would also benefit from seeing an increase in the value of their properties. A win-win situation.
In February, I passed a London Assembly motion on the issue and won the Mayor’s backing for a higher cap. This has now been recommended in his fuel poverty action plan.
There is still a clear case for the government to think again and adopt this measure, as evidence from their own assessments shows that the adoption of a £5,000 cap instead of the proposed lower one of £2,500 would lead to 120,000 more households in the whole of England and Wales benefiting from better insulation over the next two years.
City Hall is leading the way on taking significant action on fuel poverty, investing £2.5 million as part of the warmer homes scheme to enable landlords and homeowners to bid for funding to install heating and insulation measures. It is clear that if we are to comprehensively stamp out excess winter deaths, the government needs to start playing catch-up and ensure that energy efficiency upgrades are made obligatory across the board for the coldest homes.