September 2021

Written by:

David Button

David Button

Senior Account Director

Can we ever solve the housing decarbonisation challenge?

The housing sector faces a number of competing challenges, and the building safety crisis is one that is currently taking up the bulk of the political and media bandwidth.

But perhaps the challenge with the longer-term, more widespread impact is that of decarbonising the UK’s existing housing stock – especially in the social housing sector. There are around 4 million social housing units across the country, but only 56 per cent of social housing stock currently meets EPC band C – which the Government has set a target to reach within this decade.

Retrofitting existing homes will be a key part of reaching net zero – but funding them is a major challenge, one that housing association CEOs are scratching their heads over, especially when they consider tackling the building safety crisis, delivering new homes, and improving services for customers as the Social Housing White Paper measures take effect.

It’s a challenge that the political world acknowledges too. Earlier this year, Cavendish Advocacy commissioned polling by Yonder. It showed that MPs believe that decarbonising existing housing stock and buildings will be the greatest challenge to the Government in achieving its ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution (31% of MPs and 42% of Conservative MPs).

And when you crunch the numbers, you can understand why they think this. The Government has pledged to provide £3.8 billion over the next decade through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) to tackle the retrofit challenge. However, analysis by Savills suggests that it costs around £25,000 to retrofit each social home, a total of approximately £4.3 billion every year for the next 25 years. The most recent wave of the SHDF, £160 million, will fund 6,400 homes using Savills’ figures, out of 2.24 million that do not currently hit EPC band C.

Ahead of COP26, the scale of the challenge is clear, and it’s welcome that the National Housing Federation has launched its sustainability strategy group. For the Government, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to define the future, and make homes truly green. At the moment we risk falling short – the Government also needs to get its act together. Much of the feedback provided by the sector on the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund pilots (including that housing associations should be able to apply directly rather than through local authorities) has not been taken onboard, and the amount of funding behind it needs to increase. Alongside this, the long-awaited Heat and Building Strategy needs to emerge to give the sector and the supply chain the confidence to invest.

For the sector, though, we need a concerted effort to talk about the challenge faced. Some housing associations have been fortunate to not be impacted by the building safety crisis and so have more resource to dedicate to this area. Our client, Stonewater, is a prime example of this. Over the past two years, Cavendish has been working with Stonewater to campaign for more action – including through the funding of IPPR’s All Hands to the Pump, the first major think tank piece that seeks to find a solution to this challenge.

Stonewater is rightly banging the drum on this issue because they know it’s fundamental. You can find out more about our work on this issue, which has recently been nominated at the 2021 PR Week Awards for public affairs campaign of the year, here.

CIH Housing 2021 has a number of events focussed on net zero and decarbonisation, which will hopefully put this vital issue in the spotlight. Our team, including experts on communicating the challenges of decarbonisation in housing, is looking forward to hearing what the sector has to say and how we can solve this challenge.


We’ve enjoyed speaking to so many people at CIH Housing 2021 conference this week, and want to keep the conversation going. Get in touch to find out about how we’re helping housing associations to shout about decarbonisation and net zero.