Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

22/01/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Andrew R.T. Davies AC
Jenny Rathbone AC
Joyce Watson AC
Llyr Gruffydd AC
Mike Hedges AC
Neil Hamilton AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amy Hawkins Cyngor Abertawe
Swansea Council
Bethan Proctor Cartrefi Cymunedol Cymru
Community Housing Cymru
Gaynor Toft Cyngor Sir Ceredigion
Ceredigion County Council
Matthew Kennedy Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
Patrick Holcroft Cyngor Abertawe
Swansea Council
Shaun Couzens Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Caerffili
Caerphilly County Borough Council
Tim Thomas Cymdeithas Landlordiaid Preswyl
Residential Landlords Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Emily Williams Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome Members to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? Are there any interests that Members wish to declare? We have two Members who aren't currently present, but we're expecting them shortly—very shortly, in one case.

2. Tlodi Tanwydd - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
2. Fuel Poverty - evidence session 3

So, can I welcome our witnesses today? Shaun Couzens from Caerphilly County Borough Council, Gaynor Toft from Ceredigion County Council, Amy Hawkins and Patrick Holcroft from Swansea county council—the City and County of Swansea; I should know that. Croeso—welcome. Are you happy for us to move straight to questions? Yes. If I can start, we know that the Welsh Government has failed to meet its fuel poverty target, and we know that we've got a definition of fuel poverty. Is part of the problem that the definition of fuel poverty is wrong, in the sense that people who are poor may well not meet the fuel poverty definition because they don't spend 10 per cent of their income because they self-regulate by turning their heating off? Who wants to go first?

Hi. Yes, I'd say that that's certainly a situation that we're seeing—that people are self-regulating. It's also to do with just how much income people have. So, the definition of 10 per cent—it's a definition that's useful, but I think, looking at the Scotland and England definitions as well at the moment, it might be more about how much excess income people have after their outgoings as well. That might be more helpful.

Yes, I'd like to add that, as well as that, people tend to turn to alternative heating sources, which, again, is a problem. We are aware of people using paraffin heaters, gas bottle heaters, trying to save on heating costs. That does nothing for their health, and it does nothing for the internal conditions of the property either. So, that's another concern.

You don't need to press the button. It'll come on automatically.

Okay. Lovely. Diolch. I think that the other issue is that people don't actually identify themselves as being fuel poor. So, it's a case that they are struggling day to day, and they just carry on with it without thinking about what their eligibility is from an income perspective and whether they recognise that they are in fuel poverty. Furthermore, obviously, energy prices aren't something that we have control of. So, obviously, that does depend then, really, in terms of energy prices, as to whether people move in and move out of fuel poverty.

Okay. Also, as we know, poor people pay more for their energy because they have to buy pre-paid tokens, et cetera, and they can't take all of those great deals that those of us who have the opportunity to pay by direct debit are able to. But my next question is: will you talk about the prevalence of fuel poverty in the area, and local circumstances that may contribute to, or exacerbate, fuel poverty, especially if there's a problem of fuel poverty in some of the poorer rural areas? Because I know that the people from Swansea are going to answer it, and some of the rural areas around Swansea are exceptionally wealthy. Who wants to go first?

Shall I jump in, as a resident of a rural area? I think that one of the issues is, obviously, the off-gas issue, in terms of the fact that, for Ceredigion, for example, over 82 per of our properties are actually off-gas. So, obviously, they need to look at alternative sources of fuel, which are non-mains gas—so, solid fuel, oil, in particular. When there's a poverty issue, there are minimum quantities of oil that you're able to purchase, so that obviously exacerbates any poverty situation. 

In a rural area, the types of properties that you tend to get are older age stock as well. So, obviously, you have then got the hard-to-treat properties in terms of solid-walled and detached properties, which are very hard to heat and very expensive to heat as well. So, it's a combination of both income and also the nature of the housing stock that you have.  

I'd agree. In Caerphilly, we haven't got much of an issue with stock in rural areas and off-mains heating supplies; we have got a big problem with older stock, and a lot of non-traditional type housing as well. The social housing stock, for example, probably a third of that is non-traditional. So, it's obviously got poor thermal efficiency—very hard to treat—and that adds to the cost of any measures you're going to introduce. So, that's a particular problem in Caerphilly. 

09:35

It's the same in Swansea as well. We've got quite a few off-gas properties, and a lot of system-build properties, which again are difficult to treat in terms of the fabric, as well as alternative fuels.

Yes. Morning. I'm just interested in hearing from you about your role generally. Just give us an overview of the role that you play in tackling fuel poverty and the approach you take in your respective local authorities. I'm just interested to see whether there's a common approach, or whether you all do your own thing, really.

I deal more with the fabric of the building. So, I'll look for funding, that's part of my role. Also, in my situation, we've got a large portfolio of properties of our own, so I help with advising on renewables types of improvements we could do to bring up the standard assessment procedure rating. Also, we have a large database of all our properties. So, I'll know what the average SAP is. I'll know what properties we can bring up to a certain level and the ones that we can't. 

And all of this is in respect to your own properties as a council.

Yes. Obviously, our best information is on our own stock, because we've got—.

There's an education side as well, signposting to Nest and people like that—any initiatives we can pick up, really. There are lots of things that we try to do. And various other contracts—I've got a loft contract, for example, that I look after. I'm also trying to bring in this new ECO Flex. So, there are a number of things that we're doing on the fabric side.

Can I add from the people side of things? I'm from the tackling poverty service, and we co-ordinate a financial inclusion steering group, which is a partnership board of third sector organisations, RSLs, faith groups, other organisations, bringing them together particularly to look around financial inclusion. So, fuel poverty comes into that.

The things we've arranged are initiatives promotion, energy roadshows, letting people know about getting the best value. We've linked in with training around Nest, Power Up, Welsh Water—so, bringing in suppliers as well. And providing a lot of training for front-line staff, both within our own organisation and external organisations as well—so, that's around fuel debt advice, identifying vulnerable customers. So, we're working on that.

We're also looking at the data we hold, saying, 'How can we use the data that we have?', whether that's the single housing benefit extract data, or whether that's other information that we have, to target support to individuals and households, whether that's financial information or whether that's information about some of the providers' discounts and other initiatives, or just debt and benefit advice as well.

Very similar. Like Swansea, we operate in two areas, really: public sector housing and private sector housing. We're all aware of the Welsh housing quality standard and the work that's been done there to improve energy efficiency as well as housing conditions. We're nearing the end of that programme.

In the private sector, we offer a lot of support as well. You mentioned Nest; there's been the community energy saving programme, there was previously the home energy efficiency scheme process, which we promoted. We have a freephone number for residents to contact us and energy advisers.

We provide—. On the people side, we provide a lot of tenant support with regard to employment advice, energy advice, debt advice—anything, really, to help them manage the property. All our tenant support officers are accredited energy advisers as well, so that provides added support. But I think we're in a similar position to Swansea.

From a Ceredigion perspective, we don't hold our own stock—it's a stock-transfer authority—but we do work very closely with our local RSL partners. We have a Ceredigion Cymdogion Cynnes group, and that partnership has been very proactive in securing funding, such as Arbed, and Shaun mentioned about the CESP before that. So, we've been looking at how can we improve the fabric of the buildings, but also then, tying alongside that from an operational perspective, how can we work with the individuals, with the households, within those homes, to actually maximise their income and raise their awareness about energy efficiency to live in their home as warmly as they can, really, as well as looking at the fabric of the building.

So, as a local authority, I think we've got very much a strategic housing function, which every local authority has. So, in terms of identifying which areas are most likely to have a maximum impact from some of these initiatives, we've got very much an enabling role from an operational perspective. It's that trusted partner, in terms of if we've got an Arbed scheme or if we've got an ECO Flex scheme, and how can we work with the local communities, in conjunction with the contractors who are delivering the scheme in that trusted partner role, to get the scheme up and running.

09:40

Before you move on, Jenny wants to come on this. I'll come back to you.

I just wanted to pick this up. Gaynor, you mentioned earlier houses with solid walls that are off gas. These are fairly easy to identify, just visually. How much work do you do with people like Cardiff University, who have done a lot of work on how to retrofit different types of housing, including solid walls?

We have done quite a bit with them, and also with the BRE as well. That's one of the challenges that we've got, is to get suitable measures to look at tackling and improving energy efficiency for solid wall. So, the issue that we've got is actually fitting the funding with the type of properties that we've got, because they are so expensive to actually treat. And this is where we've had the challenges, having schemes not able to be delivered—it's because of that mismatch. Really, they are just so expensive to tackle in terms of external wall insulation, the only other alternative that we can then look at is to see whether there are any cheaper options in terms of trying to just improve energy efficiency on an incremental basis. But it's mostly work with the BRE that we have done.

The other thing I'm interested in is: how do you identify people who are fuel poor? I think Gaynor said earlier they don't identify themselves as fuel poor very often, and you mentioned some data that you have access to. How do you pinpoint where to prioritise and who to target?

Well, we'll use the Welsh index of multiple deprivation data; we'll use that. And data from when we go out and do a basic questionnaire. That's how we'll identify these people.

So, is that quite a systematic approach? Do you target areas regularly, or does it depend on capacity?

It depends on what funding is available at the time. When we were heavily involved with Arbed, we would use that data then to target areas.

So, what's the balance like in terms of you being proactive in seeking people who are fuel poor and people coming to you?

I would say it's more of us going out there, as opposed to them coming to us. There are individuals who keep on e-mailing and saying, 'Is there a grant for external wall insulation?', and things like that.

Do you have relations with health services, education and others who might feed into you and refer people to you?

That's something I was going to mention, actually. I think that's a bit of a failing at the moment. I think there's a lack of stakeholder engagement with the likes of social services, education and health, and I think that's probably across the board, even when the funding arrangements are already in place.

I think one of the issues is that there are so many different funding streams that look at tackling—either the Citizens Advice decarbonisation agenda or fuel poverty or both. There's that confusion then in relation to—is there a one-stop shop? Is there a single point of contact for referring into, getting energy advice, as well as looking at the fabric of the building? There are schemes that have operated elsewhere, and across the UK and beyond, where they have trialled some of these single points of contact, and then tying the health service and the GPs into it as well.

Yes, Northern Ireland, I think, was highlighted to us in a previous evidence session as somewhere where they have one phone number and you can ring and they do it—they take you through everything, you're not passed on to other people, or referred to this, that and the other. They do it all; it's one contact.

I think one of the challenges that we've had—. We've got the data that we've got, that we all gather as a standard. We've used free school meals as an indicator, as well as some of the WIMD. Some of the WIMD, we're finding, from a rural perspective, is not actually identifying the sub-county areas that we need to be identifying, where there are pockets of deprivation within a lower layer super output area. So, we've tried to look to see what other data we hold that could be an indicator, without doing the cold calling. What we won't do is actually do the door knocking, because that's not part of what we do.

09:45

Okay. And what about the private rented sector? Because you will know the standard of your own housing stock as a council, and you will work with RSLs to that effect as well. The private rented sector is a tougher nut to crack, I'd imagine, in terms of getting to those people and getting to the landlords, or whatever. So how do you approach that?

Previously, we did a house condition survey, for example, which highlighted certain areas and the percentages of private rented sector people. So, we've had a renewal area, which is finished now, but that's how we've helped a lot of people that way.

Well, it would be a percentage. We'd look at that.

Okay. But you wouldn't specifically target the private, you'd just do the whole area, or you'd work through that area.

There are landlord forums and things like that. Occasionally, we might look at it that way.

Not at the moment, no, if I'm honest.

It's something we do in Caerphilly. Obviously, there are newsletters, we have the freephone number for residents to ring in, we've got an active landlords forum that we regularly engage with, and that works really well. I think the problem in the private rented sector, which is different to the Arbed scheme, is you end up pepper-potting properties when that's not a good economic way of dealing with it. Like you say, the problem is identifying them. I don't think we're in a position where we can just rely on residents contacting us as a council. I think we need a proactive approach, and that's what we try to do, promoting and marketing what's available, and getting that information out there to residents. I think that's key.

We have the landlords forum—like the National Landlords Association, for example; I've gone out to their meetings and told them what's available and things like that, that type of thing.

For the private rented sector, obviously, you've got Rent Smart Wales now. So, it's a case of channelling our energies through Rent Smart Wales, and that's what we have been doing at a national level through the private sector housing expert panel. They have secured some Warm Homes funding to look at trying to target private landlords to do some energy measures under the Warm Homes scheme. So, there are things that are in place, and we should have that database of landlords that have registered now under Rent Smart Wales.

Yes. The evidence is saying that those who live in the private rented sector are more likely to be fuel poor, so it's a case of then marrying your fuel poverty with your energy performance certificate. There are now requirements under legislation for private landlords to achieve the EPC rating by April 2020. So, obviously, there are legislative powers in place now, but again it's a case of enforcement of that legislation. I would query the capacity within local authorities to enforce. But also, obviously, there's a Rent Smart Wales option in terms of enforcement as well. So, it's tying all those strings together through a carrot and a stick approach, in terms of what incentives can we put in place to encourage landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their property, but at the same time they have to adhere to the legislation that is in place now. So, there is more that can be done, there are steps being taken, but there is much more that needs to be done to bring them up to standard.

Just on the same point, picking it up, we've had evidence from the Residential Landlords Association, and they mentioned that the ECO scheme that is open to the private rented sector and owner-occupied sector isn't actually being pursued in the way that you might be able to as local authorities. Part of the reason, they claim, is that there aren't sufficient staff within the authority area to do that work. So, we've heard what you've said, but we've also got what they've told us. Do you think that that's a fair assessment?

Yes, in short, it is. I've mentioned to you about capacity for enforcement. Similarly, capacity for proactively seeking the funding under the various and numerous energy efficiency schemes that are in existence as well is also an issue. It's not consistent across Wales in relation to that capacity to proactively seek the funding. And it's a competitive bidding process, I would be putting a bid in against Swansea, for example. So, there's not enough money to go around. And it's then a case of how well are you at writing bids, really, to secure the funding.

But some of the criteria under the ECO schemes, and the ECO Flex scheme  as well, don't allow landlords to access the funding. That's the issue as well in terms of some of the ECO criteria that are in place. It doesn't actually allow the landlords to benefit. It could be that it's for owner-occupiers, it could be off-gas areas, it's a very complex system that takes quite a lot of time to wade through.

09:50

In Swansea, we've literally only just let this contract, because it was quite complicated. I looked at other councils, for example, to see how they had done it, and there were a couple of issues here and there. So, I think it's time as well—for us, anyway—we haven't really rolled it out yet. So, we're hoping now in the next—. Up until, I think it's 2023, is it, that we can—?

We have an ECO Flex in place, and have done for the last 18 months, but the issue is that we have no control of it. We can sign the declaration and sign up to ECO Flex, but we do not have control of the purse strings at the end of the day. We've procured contractors under a framework to actually deliver the schemes, but we don't have any control of those contractors in terms of cold calling, the quality of the work—those are the issues that we've had. We do not actually have any control under the ECO Flex, apart from trying to set up some sort of procurement framework that safeguards the householder in that light-touch approach.

I've tried to nail it down a bit more, to be honest with you. I've got three agents who will deal with contractors themselves rather than with us. The idea is that they'll tell us what areas they're going to, and we'll be informed of that. So, we're trying, but again, I'm not sure, we'll have to see how it works. So, there will be more control, but then of course there are more resources on our side to be able to do that.

Yes. So, are you advocating a bit of streamlining, in effect? Because you've mentioned multiple sources of funding, various access points in different ways. Would it be something that we as a committee could recommend to Government, in that they do look at introducing a single point of contact, maybe greater coherence across the different funding streams? I know they come from different directions, as you said—some relate to housing, some relate to decarbonisation—but does it need to be packaged in a more joined-up way?

I think we should have—. We keep going through third parties all the time for the money. I think the council is perfectly capable of knowing what areas should be targeted. We've got the expertise, the technical—

And what about working collectively, regionally, across a number of councils instead of individual councils?

That sounds good as well, but what I would say is there are lots of people involved then, and it takes time then to get these things through. Personally, I'd rather have a mechanism where the authority is allocated x amount of cash, it could be based on whatever statistics you want, and then we actually—

Yes, we know our stock, and we can get it to the people who need it quicker.

Before I come to Arbed, I just want to ask you what your relationship with the energy suppliers is. Because they have all the information about how much people are consuming, particularly if they have a smart meter.

Not a great deal, to be honest with you. I deal with them in terms of—. With Arbed, for example, I met all the energy suppliers, basically to try to get money off them with our stock, but actually they weren't that interested at the time.

Okay. Because they talk a good talk, but then when we meet them in the Royal Welsh and things like that—

Well, it's a private business, isn't it? They've got different—

I think that's something again that could be improved on—joint working with energy providers. You mentioned smart meters. We all know there have been issues with smart meters. I think there's a missed opportunity there. You look at Arbed schemes, for example, part of those schemes should have insisted on smart meters being installed at that time, and monitoring of that work, to see the success of it, through the smart meters. That would have been the ideal opportunity to do it, for me. A missed opportunity, I think.

09:55

And also, with the smart meters, the smart metres aren't smart, are they? The SMETS 1—smart meter equipment technical specifications 1—can't be transferred to different suppliers, so that must have wasted a huge amount of money and work that these companies are putting in. I don't know why that was even allowed to happen, I have to say.

Can I just mention support for technology as well? We're putting systems in, and I think it's about—. We've had some links with some of the energy companies around our energy-efficient roadshows and things, and it's been helpful, but it's about more resource, more social responsibility as well.

One thing I'd like to add is, talking about Welsh index of multiple deprivation data and things like that, if we could get hold of the energy performance certificate data—an easy way to get to that—then I think that would be hugely useful.

Okay, thank you for that. Just moving on to Arbed, could each of you outline the relationship you've had with the development of the Arbed scheme and tell us how many Arbed schemes you've been involved in? Do you want to start, Swansea?

Yes. Well, we've been involved in several Arbed schemes from 2010, and if I'm honest, it was early days, it was quite good, but you had to get everything spent by, say, March, and you didn't get the money until October of that year. I spent more time on small little grants than I did on that £2 million spend, for example, just to get the money out and as time went on, it got slightly better, but actually, I found that it got worse. With the Arbed team, there was a complete change of team, there was no continuity. A couple of years ago, we were asked to come up and have a discussion about what we think would be better, and we said about getting these schemes out quicker. We know, as I said earlier, we know our areas, we know the stock. But the money was put to scheme managers and, actually, in the end, we didn't get anything—nothing like we did. So, actually, I think it got worse.

A similar experience, I'm sorry to say. I think there are issues with the timeliness of the scheme itself—the bidding process, the approval process. And exactly what Patrick said: tight timescales on actually undertaking the works. We've had very good success with Arbed funding, but often, it's had to be done in the winter months. When you're talking about external wall insulation and rendering properties through the winter months, it's the wrong time to do it. That's had consequences of poor-quality work; it's been rushed, and there have been latent defects for those properties as well. So, whilst the principle is really good, there have been issues with it.

The other thing, we were talking about fuel poverty and Arbed hasn't specifically addressed those properties where households are suffering with fuel poverty; it's been done on a lower-layer-super-output-area basis. Another issue with that is that it's linked with postcodes. You could live on one side of the street and it would be covered by Arbed and the other side of the street wouldn't. That's led to other problems with complaints and animosity, and practicality issues as well. So, it could be improved, and I'd also support Patrick in saying as local authorities, we do know our housing stock best, and I think we should be allowed to have more input into those schemes. They are being done through project management agents and through energy companies. Personally, I think that's the wrong way to do it.

A similar experience. We've had three Arbed schemes under Arbed 2 and 3. It has been a very frustrating process. In fairness to Welsh Government, they have been putting steps in place to try and improve and relook at the criteria. And they've had challenges, obviously, with change-over in staff. Obviously, what they have also done is extend the criteria, because we've always had difficulty with using Welsh index of multiple deprivation data as an indicator for a funding bid, because I don't think it was intended for that purpose, and it does actually detriment rural areas. So, we've tried to look at other indicators such as free school meals, for example, but that is the difficulty with an area-based approach. I can understand and justify an area-based approach, but then that doesn't actually necessarily target those who are in need who are just outside that area.

One of the issues that we've had with the Arbed scheme is that it hasn't actually included enabling works. So, because it's looking at carbon reduction and energy efficiency, it might be trying to do that on a very poor standard of property where it's got a leaking roof, cracked rendering, for example. So, that is a difficulty, we've had to manage the cost parameters of the Arbed scheme onto a property where we would like to do a better job in terms of the finish and we'd like to do some more enabling works, but the funding isn't within the Arbed scheme for those enabling works to happen, so that you're looking at that whole-house approach, not just from an energy efficiency point of view, but from a disrepair issue as well. So, that's another issue that we've got.

The use of the time limitation, as well, of the schemes, you've already mentioned, but that then detriments the ability to use local contractors, and that's been a key thing for us; we've wanted to use local contractors. We did access revenue funding at the same time that Welsh Government made it available to try and train up small and medium-sized enterprises to be able to do some of these Arbed schemes, but because it's only a short, three-month or four-month window of the scheme, they're not interested. Whereas if we could say, 'There's a three-year project,' it would make it worth their while to actually—. So, it's about tying the links with economic regeneration and local contractors that needs to happen as well as looking at fuel poverty.

10:00

You put this point in your written evidence. When you've pointed this out to Arbed, what's happened, because they're rather obvious points: that you need to have the run-in to enable your local contractors to bid?

Yes. At the end of the day, though, it's a time-limited project. They do that intervention on that estate or in that area, and because it's that annual bidding process, we can't guarantee—. So, in terms of the contractors that are brought in, then, from outside, because it's under a national procurement framework that they do the project management and also the actual contractors element of it, they can subcontract to local contractors. So, it's that chain down, in terms of there is an ability for local contractors to get a chunk, a small chunk, of that money, but it is quite a small amount, which probably isn't enough for them to justify taking part in it.

All right. So, how much of this is down to the lack of capacity within local authorities that the Wales Audit Office report highlighted—that local authorities are struggling to find the capacity to engage with Arbed? Do you think that's a true comment or is that not the way you see it?

I don't think that's a true comment; I don't think it's a capacity issue at all. I think it's a planning issue. I think there should be more time put into planning. These Arbed schemes should be longer term, rather than, as Gaynor said, an annual bidding process. We could support enabling works through the social housing stock by targeting an extra works programme in an area for which we've put a bid in for Arbed, but we don't know if we are going to be successful with our Arbed bid. So, we could do all those enabling works and the Arbed bid might not be successful. But if the planning is there, we could plan our programme around those Arbed successful bids. So, I think it's a planning issue, rather than a capacity issue for local authorities.

So, overall, how much say do you have on which area to target? Are you consulted? Because I've had cases of estate A and estate B across the road, one of them gets it and the other doesn't and it leads to all the problems you just described. But is there a discussion between the local authority and Arbed as to which street is the most needy, based on all the local information you have?

Yes, you submit an expression of interest, really, which defines an area that you've used some of the available data to pinpoint. So, in fairness, yes, it's kicked off by the local authority in terms of us identifying an area or a couple of areas that would meet the criteria, and then the Arbed am Byth team come down and have a walk around. So, there is consultation that happens, but then, if it's taken over by them, it's very much over to them, and they deliver the scheme. So, there is consultation.

Also, for our schemes that have been successful, they've been propped up by other funds, like you say about enabling works, that's what's happened. There have been repair moneys in there as well. So, I think that's how the Arbed team have looked at it: 'How realistic is this scheme? Will it be delivered?' That's the other thing—that's the feeling I got—they have to deliver the scheme, they have to spend the money and they're looking at us to see whether we could deliver it in that time period. So, there are all those sorts of constraints, I think.

Just moving on, how much public awareness do you think there is of the Arbed scheme, because obviously for some people, when somebody knocks on the door and says, 'We'll insulate your house for free', there's a bit of suspicion that this might be not what it says it is?

10:05

In our situation, they were mainly renewal areas. A renewal area might be going for, say, 10 years, so it takes a bit of time to get the thing going, but once that's up and running, then all they really see is funding coming in from the council; I don't think they necessarily know it's from Arbed. So, all they would have seen is that there's a programme going on—

Okay, but where you've got mixed-tenure schemes, where you've got council tenants and privately rented and owner-occupiers all in the same street—

Ours are all private sector, our Arbed schemes—mainly. Apart from in the beginning, in 2010, for example, we were putting renewables on and things like that, onto public sector stock.

What about lower Morriston, which is a mix of housing association, privately rented and private housing, which was part of an Arbed scheme a couple of years ago?

But that was done by a scheme manager. So, the council lost control of that, really. All we actually did in that instance was provide an address list. 

Yes, and we've had Arbed schemes with mixed tenure—private sector and public sector housing. I think we've got to be careful about raising awareness and residents' expectations, because obviously, until that bid is approved, we don't know if it's actually going to proceed. As soon as the bid is approved, yes, we will do communication events, we'll do newsletters and letter drops. With regard to the private owners, we get them to sign an agreement to participate in the scheme. But again, similar to what Gaynor has been saying, with the council housing stock, yes we could put funding in to do the enabling works—that's not so much of an issue for us—but on the private sector side, you've got flat roof abutments going to the main wall of the house, you've got flashing details, the roof might need renewing; they won't pay the cost for the renewal of that. It didn't cover the cost of changing windows, so you could be putting external wall insulation on the single-glazed windows there. Gaynor mentioned the roofs; the roof might need renewing, you put EWI on and you end up with water going behind the insulation. These are the type of things, otherwise you're talking about short-term fixes and gains here. So you're right, I think it needs a whole-house approach, but unfortunately that comes with a funding issue, because in the private sector, they will say that they're not willing to pay. 

Okay, but then obviously improved regulation might assist with that. But I appreciate that unless it's a whole-system approach, you're not getting the full benefit. 

You might be able to enable the private rented sector from a regulatory perspective, but for owner-occupiers, which is the majority, we've got loans that we could offer, but if they're fuel poor, then they wouldn't be able to afford to repay that loan. So we're in a bit of a catch-22 situation. 

Okay, thank you.

Is there anything else that you want to say about Arbed? One of the things I was wondering is whether this is something for public services boards, because, Mr Couzens, you mentioned that you don't really liaise that well with education, social services and health on identifying the right people who are in fuel poverty. 

Yes. I can't speak for the others, but that's certainly something we need to improve on in Caerphilly. It goes back to what we said before: the Arbed scheme hasn't been run and delivered by the local authority, it's been done through project management and through Welsh Government. I think there's a bit of confusion there over whose role that should be and where the information is coming from. It's similar to what you've got in the paper about monitoring the success of these. Again, is that down to the council to monitor success, is it the Welsh Government or is it a project manager? I think there are a few things here that could fall between a few stools. 

True, but we're talking about a joined-up approach and education and social services are part of the council, so if you can't liaise even within your own body, then it makes it difficult to convince us that you're going to be effectively liaising with health and other bodies. 

Yes, and I totally accept that that's something we need to improve on. Likewise for social services, education and health, I think if they're coming into contact with people who've got issues that we can perhaps assist with—energy efficiency, fuel poverty—then they need to refer those to us as well to make sure that we are aware. Likewise, we need to go to them as well and try to glean that information.  

Thank you. We're going to have to move on, because we've used up two thirds of our time and only half the question areas. Joyce Watson. 

I'm going to ask about Nest schemes and if you have any in your area. I want to know, if you have, if you know about any limitations or barriers to delivery because, ultimately, what we want to do is make some recommendations for improvement.

10:10

Well, I've been involved with a few Nest schemes, mainly their leaflet drops—providing addresses for them to write to—and also I signpost a lot of people, you know, 'Just e-mail me directly', and if we can't help them locally with local initiatives I forward them to them. So, I've found them quite good, actually, Nest. 

We're very pleased that the health criteria have been widened; I think that's been really useful. We've linked that through all our partnership work and involved Nest in terms of coming out and doing more training and support. I think it's supported more of those who are eligible in fuel poverty. But we do think that there are people who are still falling outside of that, who really are eligible—sorry, who should be eligible, but don't meet the criteria. And I think we've got a lot of knowledge locally—again, and I suppose it's similar to the last question, but we've got a lot of knowledge locally, and partner agencies as well like health and partners who know about individuals and their circumstances. I think there should be some discretion as well with Nest, or some facility to allow that discretion for people's eligibility.  

Yes, it is a difficult one, I think, with Nest, and likewise there are people who should have access to it and are falling just outside. Conversely, then, only one member of the household needs to be in receipt of a means-tested benefit, so the overall household income could take them out of fuel poverty. So, again, is it targeting those most in need? That's my main question. And the other thing I'm not sure of—again, as a local authority, we don't seem to have a lot of feedback from the measures being put in and the success from those schemes. I do wonder whether a lot of the targeted measures have gone for the quick fix, less costly measures rather than the higher-value measures. I mean, that's—. I just don't have—I don't know if that is the case. 

I would agree with that last point, really. Again, from a rural property perspective, obviously, it's very expensive for Nest to have an intervention there, which is why you see that the lower-cost options are put in as installations. But I think, again, there's a missed opportunity, as Shaun has mentioned, in terms of, 'Have we maximised our opportunity of bringing people out of fuel poverty?', both from—. You know, there's very little awareness of the energy efficiency or the energy advice line that Nest runs. It's a telephone intervention, whereas, from some of the work that we've done locally, where we've had proactive third sector agencies going in to give income maximisation advice and working with that householder directly, that's had more of an impact in terms of income maximisation and tackling fuel poverty, as well as the measure itself. So, that's where Nest potentially needs to move towards.  

So, overall, it seems, from what I've gathered, that there is an issue about monitoring schemes, and, if you're not able to monitor properly, which is what you've all said, I think, then how does it get reported? How do people know that you're actually solving the problem that you're all trying to solve? 

And I don't think it's just one fix; I think people can fall in and out of fuel poverty—circumstances change. So, that's certainly something else to consider as well. Monitoring, as you said, is difficult. Whose role is it to monitor and how can it be done? Like you said, because of all the changing circumstances, it's going to be difficult to monitor that, because you can go in and—. The other problem with Nest, I think, is that the property is benefiting from one measure. There could be a change in circumstances further down the road. If they've had that measure, they can't have another one—it's against the property, rather than the household. 

People have variable weekly income, never mind anything else.  

Sorry, I might have misunderstood. You say it's difficult to know who is to monitor or to do the monitoring. Why is that difficult? Surely, that should be something that should be a given, because, if you can't monitor what's going on, then how do you know what your outcomes are going to be? Or have I misunderstood the way you—?

No, not at all. I think the problem with Nest—I don't know if my colleagues can speak, but the problem I find with Nest is that measures are delivered; as a local authority, we don't exactly know what measures are delivered and we don't know what the impact of those measures are on that household, whether it's going to take them out of fuel poverty or not. It's focused on the property. So, that's where I'm coming from on the monitoring. 

Sorry, just to take that point—sorry to cut in there, Gaynor—you must raise this with the people higher up the chain, if you like, who are signing the cheques, to say, 'We don't know what the outcomes are, so we need better monitoring'. What's the response to it? Don't your concerns get taken on board? 

10:15

To be fair, I haven't raised those concerns personally. I don't know if anybody else has in my authority. 

I think the measure that they're using is an EPC, whether the EPC rating has been improved or not, which doesn't necessarily measure whether fuel poverty has been eradicated or not, I suppose, does it? So, it's choosing the right measure is what we're talking about here. Under the Arbed schemes as well I'm not necessarily convinced that they're measuring fuel poverty; they're measuring whether the EPC's been improved. So, that's where we're saying that we need to tie these strands up, in terms of let's more robustly measure whether fuel poverty actually is being targeted or not for all the schemes consistently. 

Yes, just to follow up in a broader sense about how the schemes don't seem to be joined up to identify fuel poverty as such, focusing on the property side of it is a good thing in itself, if we want to improve the quality of the housing stock in terms of heating outcomes. If we're going to focus upon the poverty aspect, then we need a completely different design of scheme, don't we? So, can I ask you, then, whether energy efficiency schemes in Wales are prioritising the right measures and technologies in order to achieve this result? It seems to me that—. And there are good policy arguments for doing what we're doing, in one way, but, if we want to focus upon the income-related element of this, then what we're doing is taking far too broad a brush in the way the schemes are currently constructed. 

I think there's been—. A lot of good measures have been introduced. Having said that, there have been problems with a lot of measures that have been introduced as well. And you've got to question perhaps the quality of the installation, the assessment of the property to start with. You're probably all aware that local authorities have had problems with cavity wall insulation. It was all put in—marvellous cheap way of improving energy efficiency of the home—led to dampness and we had to take it back out at significant cost. 

Similarly now—again, for the others I can't speak, but we've had problems with external wall insulation in Caerphilly, which has only been introduced quite recently. We're looking at addressing those problems. We've had issues with air source heat pumps. So, there are lots of things being done, and the question I've got is about the quality and the assessment works going on. I mentioned before about the timescales. If we're rushing work in to meet funding deadlines, that's not the ideal way of working for anybody. That's going to bring its own problems. 

So, we need a longer time frame within which these schemes operate. The annual deadline seems to me to be getting in the way of an efficiently working scheme. And so if we did it over, say three years, then you would be able to plan better, and the point you made earlier on about using local contractors, then, could be met from within that.

There are various options here, aren't there? Some have shorter term paybacks than others. There's a kind of tension between spending money on insulation, for example, which has a very long term payback involved on the one hand, and boiler replacement schemes on the other, because boilers wear out more quickly than insulation wears out. And then, even within the boilers that are available, oil boilers are difficult or impossible, effectively, to decarbonise, whereas LPG-based systems you can drop in some compound, which enables you to meet your carbon targets. But they're not necessarily available in all areas or suitable for all houses. So, how do we go about refining schemes in a way which takes account of these complexities that exist in the real world? Or is that too difficult a question?

I think it goes back to quality assessments again. If I just look at cavity wall insulation, for example, there was funding available and it was full speed ahead, 'Let's fill every property with cavity wall insulation.' The consideration should have been: 'Is the property suitable, what's the location of the property, what's the exposure of the property?' Testing the cavities—whether they're all clear. Those detailed assessments, to me, weren't undertaken at the time. And that's just one example. I think that goes across the board with anything, even new technologies. Is it suitable for that property? Is it suitable for that household?

You mentioned education and training as well—I think that's a very important aspect. If you're going to introduce new technologies, training and education of the households on how to use those efficiently is another aspect, otherwise we'll be ploughing a lot of money or funding into these areas and, again, you won't have the desired outcomes.

10:20

So, do we need, therefore, to have a wider range of schemes and interventions that are available? And, if so, how could we reconstruct the systems that we've got at the minute and add to them to make them more effective?

I think a lot of research has been carried out under the decarbonisation programmes, and technology is evolving in the energy world, and I think that one of the challenges that we've got is that it's a very fast-moving, developing agenda. So, it's a case of whether the systems that we've got are flexible enough to account for those, and whether the timescales as well—it's not to rush into it. Because, at the end of the day, we could throw money at it, or Welsh Government could throw money at it, but it's a case of: if the technology isn't ready, then is that the best use of public resource? But that's not to say that we don't need to be looking at areas and seeing what the best solution for those specific areas are according to the archetypes of the properties that we've got there. So, there isn't a simple solution—every area needs to be looked at and every type of dwelling needs to be looked at, because the solution is appropriate to that type of dwelling.

A second point that I'd like to follow up—it's been raised earlier on—is about repair works that might need to be done to the housing stock before you start your interventions. Shaun, you went into some detail on this—things like flat roofs and flashings and inefficient cavity wall systems, et cetera. There's no money available except, as you mentioned, loans, given the high proportion of people who live in private sector houses, rented or owned. Given that we're focusing here on fuel poverty and the ability of people to take advantage of any scheme that might be available, we seem to be going round the problem in some many different ways and not focusing on what should be in the centre of the circle. How could we better provide for people who are in fuel poverty to take advantage of the schemes that currently exist?

More information and advice assistance, that one-to-one assistance as well—it is more resource intensive, but it can get better outcomes. I think, just looking at the fabric of buildings and improving properties is one side of it, but it is about income. It's about people's income, and it's about energy usage as well. So, people have the understanding and the information available—both on the technology side of it, but also just about other measures as well that can reduce costs.

So, we need perhaps to focus more on providing people with greater income so that they can afford to pay for these measures, rather than providing them free at the public expense, perhaps—looking at it through the different end of the telescope.

That's why some of us support the real living wage and the end of exploitative contracts. On to Andrew Davies.

Can I just ask: is there enough money in the system to meet the demand? I have to say, I've met some providers—one of them won the Fast Growth 50 award for improving insulation in homes, and his point, especially in rural areas, was that they just can't get enough properties. It's not so much that the money's not there, especially with the levy on the energy companies and all the rest of it—actually, there's a huge amount of money there, if they could find enough properties to do it. So, is there enough money in the schemes to meet the need and the demand?

I would say, 'No, there isn't.' It's a bottomless pit, as far as looking at energy efficiency is concerned. You're talking billions and billions here, and that's the issue that we've had—that, under the ECO schemes, there's not enough ECO funding to make it financially viable without the householder needing to contribute quite a significant amount towards any scheme if you're looking at a large rural—well, not necessarily a large rural, it could be just a detached rural—property. So, there isn't enough ECO incentive there, because, obviously, they are changing on an ongoing basis, the energy company obligations, but also, under the Arbed schemes, there is an amount of money that is available for each property, really, or for each scheme. So, you could throw money at it, at the end of the day, which is why, in fairness to Welsh Government, it's a case of, 'How can we target this to those who most need it?' But in a rural area, there are always needs and pockets of deprivation that don't feature on any sort of indicators, so—.

10:25

Especially as in rural areas, very often, the houses are bigger, yet the incomes are smaller—

—and they're older as well. The Government declared here in Wales a climate change emergency back in April. Obviously, the new fuel poverty strategy is a way of trying to assist people out of fuel poverty. How can that strategy be tailored or worked with to meet the aims of the climate change emergency that the Welsh Government declared in April? I'll look at the whole panel—anyone can answer it. 

I think this is where you need to align your decarbonisation with the fuel poverty. I look at fuel poverty, perhaps, being more, as Amy said, about looking at the household income, about employment, about those wider, 'How can you maximise income for those householders?' And, obviously, the decarbonisation is more looking at the fabric. So, that's more—in my mind—simplistically looking at the climate change issue, isn't it? So, you could argue that they are at the moment working against each other; they're not dovetailed well enough. And this is where we're saying that we need to also focus our fuel poverty perspective on those individuals and households about maximising their income. How can we work with them to energy switch, for example, and live more sustainably within their homes?

Everyone agree with that or any other comment? Because the climate change emergency's quite a big ticket.

I certainly agree with Gaynor. I think it isn't just a housing issue. I think there needs to be a focus on households themselves as well. You mentioned a few things there: employment is obviously a massive issue. You mentioned about funding as well, I think—. We can't deal with energy efficiency measures in isolation, and we already mentioned issues with enabling works. I think we need to be mindful of the fact that we've just spent a lot of money on our social housing stock with regard to the Welsh housing quality standard and now we're looking to spend a lot of money improving the energy efficiency of those same homes. And, in some respects, you add those two together and that cost is higher than the market value of those properties to start with. So, there's got to be a balance there as to where we stop: where's the cost-effectiveness and the benefits, and are they going to outweigh the cost of maybe looking at demolition and rebuilding some of these properties? So, it's striking that balance, I think, that's going to be a difficult one.

Can I just query—? Your definition of cost, of course, is monetary. I mean, I would calculate cost as the societal cost in terms of the health disbenefits of living in a damp and cold home and people ending up in hospital. And I know it's easy enough for me to say that sitting here, you're the ones who have to pay for some of these improvements, but we do need to broaden that concept of cost, I think, don't we?

Yes, certainly. And there's the wider benefits to consider as well, isn't there?

There's the carbon benefits and everything else as well.

Just on the monitoring that we've heard an awful lot about, there have been changes, of course. People used to be on housing benefit and that would have, I assumed, given you some indication of need and then you could target those people because you knew they were in need because—. But now we've got universal credit and people can choose to retain their housing benefit element even though it's reduced and pay you directly. So, I suppose the question here is: when the previous system of housing benefit was in place, did you use that to ascertain fuel poverty and direct some help? And, if you did, has the new system, universal credit, put a barrier up in the way that it makes it more difficult for you to identify people in need?

We've used housing benefit to target people for Nest, for example, to a certain level, because we weren't able, for data protection, to get all the information up, but that's what we've done. But as far as universal credit is concerned, I'm not really sure what impact that has had. But we've done it recently, I know.

Yes. We're using the data where we can. So, there are other sources of data as well, some of which have been mentioned around free school meals and other bits of information. So, I think we're just trying to be smarter, really, with what we have. So, has it made an impact? There's still a housing element of UC, so there's elements in it that we can identify cohorts and target groups.

10:30

Same in Caerphilly. We do use that information. Picking up on the UC question in particular: yes, we've seen a large difference with people falling into rent arrears, for example, who have moved onto universal credit as opposed to the old housing benefit system. Again, we're using that data to provide tenant support. We actually do that face to face with those people. And we provide energy advice as part of that, as well as employment advice, debt advice, and other mechanisms.

So that's the way we are targeting that, but we've certainly seen a big difference with people moving onto UC.

'Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World'—wonderful title—the decarbonising Welsh homes report, there was a comment in there that said that the Welsh Government should target making all homes EPC—going back to your point—EPC band A, which, you know, ambition never killed anyone. How would you suggest that that line in that report should become a reality? What would be the quickest way of allowing that to happen if you had the ability to obviously feed that in?

Yes, it's going to be extremely difficult. I think we're all on the same page here. Band A achievement is going to be extremely difficult, and energy efficiency measures alone: I know that Welsh Government's view is that energy suppliers have got a part to play in that as well through the supply of green energy, which can contribute towards that A target, but again, we've already mentioned there's different varieties of house types and hard-to-treat properties, and to get every property to band A, in my view, is not realistic.

Also, we've spent a lot of money on WHQS so far, and brought them up—we've had a level of standard assessment procedure 65 to reach, which we've tried to achieve, and now the bar's been moved. Are we saying that we are going to—? You can't just put, say, another layer of external wall insulation onto a property that's already been enveloped. It sounds like just an incremental change, but in reality, you'd have to take that off to put another system on. You've got problems with the roof, the soffit size—I honestly don't think it's realistic.

Okay, thank you. We've gone two minutes over where we should be, which is better than where we were up to earlier on, so can I thank our witnesses for coming along? It's been very helpful and informative. And can we meet back here at 10:40?

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:32 a 10:40.

The meeting adjourned between 10:32 and 10:40.

10:40
3. Tlodi Tanwydd - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
3. Fuel Poverty - evidence session 4

[Inaudible.]—Cymru, and Tim Thomas from the Residential Landlords Association. Welcome. Are you happy for us to move straight to questions? Good. If I can start: what are you doing to try and tackle fuel poverty within the housing sector that you are responsible for, and what is the scale of the poverty you're dealing with?

Good morning. Shall I start on that one? Obviously, we represent private rented sector landlords across England and Wales. Landlords as individuals are doing quite a bit to make the most out of their existing stock in the PRS. So, they're doing things like external wall insulation, loft insulation and a suite of measures to improve the fuel efficiency of their specific properties. But, essentially, fuel poverty is impacted by, mainly, the lifestyle and circumstances of tenants and also the actual conditions of properties.

Landlords in the PRS are in a difficult position to even know if their tenants are suffering from fuel poverty. It's quite an intrusive question to ask people, these personal questions, and they don't really quite enjoy that same relationship that perhaps might be had in the social housing sector. But what they can do is they can look to signpost their tenants to various support, things like Nest and Arbed and the Energy Saving Trust. They can also educate and advise their tenants on some basic steps that they can take in improving the energy efficiency of their homes—some basic stuff like closing windows and draught exclusion measures as well.

For the RLA as an organisation, fuel poverty is a major phenomenon. We're raising awareness on things like MEES, the minimum energy efficiency standard, and we also took part in the Welsh Government's decarbonisation of existing homes programme as well. 

Just to add to that, I'll be speaking about housing professionals on a cross-tenure basis. So, if you think about social housing, the work done through the Welsh housing quality standard has been really significant for the sector, not just for the material works but keeping employment within local economies, having real value for things like apprenticeships, training opportunities and jobs locally. I think it's also really important to note the service around money advice as well. So, the broader impact that is having on addressing other things that might be causing hardship and exacerbating fuel poverty and creating a real cycle for households.

And then, finally, through things like tenant involvement and engagement, actually speaking to people on the ground and having those conversations. I would support Tim's comments that engagement across tenures can be very different. Housing providers will often have pre-tenancy checks, work with individual people before tenancies are signed up to to understand which factors could significantly impact their ability to live a really good quality of life within the home. And that might then be quite different from a private landlord, depending on what resource that landlord has to draw on in the first place. One thing we'd like to see as CIH is far more of a one housing system approach where those kinds of inequalities are looked at in far more detail and resource from the Welsh Government is spread across, so that whether you're renting privately or in a social home, your experience and your ability to access funding support is reasonably equal. 

As an organisation, we have a real role on things like professional standards. So, we work very closely with the profession around best practice. Just last year, we brought in the architecture team behind Goldsmith Street, the biggest passive house development ever done in the UK, which won the Stirling Prize for architecture last year, to one of our housing conferences last year and they'll be coming to conferences this year to engage professionals about how to futureproof homes, what development standards could look like and methods used, but also to understand what measures are going to be in place in that scheme to understand behaviour change, understand the benefits to communities over the longer period as well. 

We represent housing associations in Wales and, in the social sector, there are 9 per cent of people living in fuel poverty. The social sector has worked really hard over the last decade to really try and offset some of the symptoms of fuel poverty. It dropped from 26 per cent of households to 9 per cent in 2018. There is a range of ways in which we've been doing this. Certainly WHQS is part of the way of improving the energy efficiency of homes, but I think, really, now we need to go further to reach an EPC A, because getting a property up to an EPC C might make you a little bit more comfortable in your home, but your bills aren't going to be less and you're still going to be living in debt.

Energy efficiency is certainly a third of the way there, but a big issue as well is low incomes and high energy costs. And housing associations—. There's a variety of ways we're trying to offset this. Housing associations have projects where there are energy advisers, energy wardens, money advice teams, and they're really helping, giving intensive advice on income maximisation, on switching, on making sure you're on the best deal; all these types of things can certainly help. 

Although we've dropped to 9 per cent, that's 20,000 households in the social sector still living in fuel poverty, and that's 20,000 too many. So, I think we need to build on the good work with the right support and investment and funding behind it. We need to build on that good work to eradicate the problem for good. 

10:45

How difficult is it, though, to move from EPC C to A, given that we've just heard from local authorities saying, 'Whoa, at that point, you are putting more into this house than the value of the property; you'd be better demolishing and rebuilding'? 

Absolutely. It's going to be very, very expensive to get up to an EPC A. Obviously, with the 'Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World' report, the expectation is going to be that housing associations reach EPC A by 2030. This isn't going to be possible without a separate funding stream, because the funding arrangements that we have already are not going to scratch the surface. I think the report recommended something like £0.5 billion to £1 billion over the next 10 years that that's going to cost.

Okay. So, it would involve quite a lot of rebuilding of some properties that are just too difficult to heat up. 

The hope is that we won't have to demolish, but I think, realistically, as you've said, for some properties it's not going to be possible to get them up to an EPC A. 

Sorry. To add, very, very quickly, I think that needs to be considered in the context of building new homes as well. Local authorities are looking now to start back on the journey of house building, and some already have been doing so. It's looking at the resources you have to hand and understanding how you balance retrofitting homes to quite a high cost and standard, with also boosting new housing supply. Those two things go hand in hand, so it should be considered that way. 

Just to add on that to illustrate the difficulties, one of our landlord members owns a Victorian stone house property and, in order to get it to a D measure—which is above and beyond what she actually has to achieve, of course; she has to get it to an E to make it fit for rental—she spent £17,500 on things like external wall insulation. If the projectory is to get it to C by 2030, which isn't a stone-cast policy yet, she's not entirely sure what extra measures she could do to get it to a C. It might be things like triple glazing, but even that might not get it up to the standard. So, it is really complicated and complex. 

Yes. Okay. So, A is out of the question then, realistically. Yes. Okay. There we are. Right.

I'm interested in the definition of fuel poverty and the fact that Wales has stuck to the Boardman-based definition, whereas England and Scotland have amended theirs. I'm just interested in your views as to whether we have the right definition in Wales, and particularly whether we should be moving to a Scottish model.

For us, the definition isn't a huge concern. Our housing officers will know straight away from going into a property if that person's living in fuel poverty. It'll feel cold, they'll be wearing lots of jumpers, they might be ill. Saying that, I understand that—

You need some sort of defining criteria, don't you? You can't walk in and think—

Of course. They'll be on low incomes as well, and there will be a range of other things. But saying that, I do understand that our current definition is quite a crude measurement of looking at the issue. There are some properties in there that are counted as living in fuel poverty, when it's people on high incomes who choose to live in draughty big housing. They have the income to spend; they don't want to. I think what we do need to do is include some sort of residual income or net income, like in Scotland, where they take into account childcare and housing costs. I think that is definitely important. 

I think having the accurate data is important so that we can target correctly where the most in need are. We've dropped now down to 12 per cent. These 12 percent are probably those who are the hardest to reach and in the most severe fuel poverty. So, we do need accurate data. What I will advise against is spending a lot of time and effort and money on this. In England, with the Hills review, it took a year to come up with the new definition. We would rather see that time, effort and money be put into tackling the actual issue, I think, rather than defining.

10:50

Yes, if there's a simple, quick way to do it, I think refining it is definitely advisable.

I wouldn't be overly different. I would only just add that the definition is pointless without really good ways of measuring data and progress at really specific points. Longitudinal studies can be difficult with households sometimes, but certainly it is pointless without those things in place. 

Yes. In coming to you, I noticed in the paper that you say that a more holistic approach to tackling fuel poverty is needed. I don't know how we can achieve that and how that tallies with the current definition.

From a private rented sector perspective, I think it's about targeting the least fuel-efficient homes—so support for the Fs and Gs, effectively—and having a two-pronged approach, really. So, targeting the least fuel-efficient properties, but then also providing that support for tenants living in these properties. Because of course, in the social housing sector, they do have support for tenants in terms of poverty issues; there isn't that support in the PRS. So, you have almost like a postcode lottery. So, we'd like to see support organisations being able to step in to help tenants.

I'm going to ask: who? What kind of people would do that, then? 

Well, perhaps the third sector, local authorities.

Yes, okay. We were given evidence a couple of weeks ago that, if we were to change the definition, there is a risk that, if it becomes more complicated, it makes it more difficult for people to access support. A lot of people don't identify themselves as being fuel poor at the moment and, if it's a more sophisticated or complex definition, you're pushing those people even further away, potentially.

Although I agree, if you look at the Nest and Arbed programmes, on the Nest programme, the eligibility criteria for that isn't, 'Are you living in fuel poverty?', it's, 'Is your property E, F, G? Are you on a means-tested benefit?' They brought in the health condition as well. So, as a householder and as a housing officer, you're not going to be working out whatever the definition—. Even if we've got the 10 per cent in here, you're not going to be getting a calculator out and working that out. You'd know those sorts of things.

Okay. So, we shouldn't get too hung up on the definition. So, the question then is: how should the new fuel poverty strategy differ from its predecessor? If we're not going to focus too much time and energy on the definition, what are the changes that we need to make in terms of the strategy? 

I think it is about tackling a holistic way around things like household income. So, ensuring holistic advice and support. Face-to-face support is really important. To give you an example, Cartrefi Conwy up in north Wales work together with tenants who are having gas maintenance done, taking two advisers to sit down with tenants to understand what other aspects—things around benefit checks and things like fire safety checks. Using a holistic approach to increasing their quality of life within the home.

The other part of this as well is what activity should be undertaken through these kinds of measures in the future through the strategy, and actually how you maintain the works done through that within the local economy. We did a bit of work with the Welsh Government a few years back for the i2i project, called the Can Do toolkits, where local targeted recruitment and social responsibility clauses were used within contracts to make sure that, actually, any work we undertake through multi-million-pound revenue programmes was realised in the local economy, which again has a pay-off in terms of local income, and again could be one of the levers we could take to ensure that, broadly speaking, fuel poverty is eradicated within those areas. 

I very much support what Matthew said there in terms of improving standards across tenures, including the PRS. The PRS does have an important part to play in eradicating fuel poverty, but what I think we need is actually targeted funding for the PRS. I think a lot of the existing schemes have actually captured the low-hanging fruit, if you like, and they haven't quite met the needs of the PRS. So, perhaps we could have ring-fenced funding for the PRS, and we need a stronger quid pro quo relationship with local authorities and landlords as well. Even when there are funding programmes for the PRS—things like ECO Flex, which I'm sure we are going to divulge on later on—there is an ideological impasse with local authorities, where they're reluctant to pass this money on to landlords, preferring to give it to other sectors.

I think one of the issues with the last plan was that the target was far too ambitious given the investment that was put into it. So, in 2016, there were 320,000 households living in fuel poverty, but the Nest and Arbed programmes were looking at 6,000 properties per year. That's going to take over 50 years to touch those properties. I do think there should be targets in the new plan, but I think there needs to be the investment backed up to the need, and there need to be milestones in between those targets.

I think, as well, I agree with the in-home advice. I think the Nest over the phone—. I'd question the effectiveness of over-the-phone advice for someone living in fuel poverty. You need someone who can give consistent, intensive advice inside someone's home. Where they can see if there's damp; they can go though the heating system; they can sit down and go through a benefits form. We know that 12 per cent of people in Wales are illiterate. If it's over the phone, they're not going to be filling out those forms for that person. This is particularly true in rural areas as well, where people need advice on what fuel clubs to join, on oil and LPG, on solid-wall properties. I don't think you're getting that sort of advice over the phone.

10:55

And who's role would it be then to deliver that? Local authorities would be key in that respect, I'd imagine. 

Well, yes. And from our view, housing associations. A lot of associations already have energy advisers, but it's not meeting the need that's there. They can only afford one or two per association. We need the funding to be able to do that.

So, how does declaring a climate emergency change all of this then? Because surely if the Government is serious about tackling climate change then this has to be one of the key components of addressing that, and that should mean greater resources, a greater focus on these issues. How would you want to see that declaration of a climate emergency reflected in the new strategy? 

The fuel poverty plan has to completely align with the decarbonisation policies. We can't now be going into a property, putting in a new boiler, getting it to EPC C, and then five years down the line going back in and having to cause more disruption to get it to an A. We know the expectation is going to be EPC A, so this plan now has to get these properties up to A, because that's going to tackle the problem. If a property is being retrofitted to EPC A, their bills will reduce up to 90 per cent; to EPC C, their bills aren't going to reduce that much. So, it has to be aligned.

I think there's place as well to work with UK Government and Ofgem. I think, at the moment, certain carbon policies are paid for through the standing charge. This is one charge that's being put on everyone's bill, and it's the same amount. So, the poorest in society are paying a disproportionate amount for those policies, for things that are going to pay for electric vehicle charging. The poorest in society aren't going to have electric vehicles. So, I think there's place to work with UK Government as well.

I think it's also about looking at—again, going back to how the work could be undertaken—ensuring that we have well developed supply chains that can achieve the economies of scale to ensure that actually the process of doing the work doesn't create a greater carbon footprint in the first place. That needs to be done really clearly.

I think the other thing we would be in favour of is tenure-neutral initiatives. Think about things like Supporting People funding, which is now tenure neutral, because actually PRS landlords require access and that kind of support for their tenants in the same way social housing providers do. You could apply the same kind of logic to this topic as well.

So, we've talked a lot about what the strategy should be and what the definition should be, but we've actually got some schemes that are working. What we want to know is: are they effective? And are they actually—we've read your papers, of course—successful in bringing households out of fuel poverty? I know everything that you've said already suggests that, in and of itself, they're not. But nonetheless, we have these, and we're trying to look at their success.

I think I'll start by saying that the Nest and Arbed programmes are much needed and they do some really good work in Wales. I think, with some tweaks and amendments, they could become even more effective. I've said already I think a way that the Nest scheme can really be more effective is to provide in-home advice rather than over the phone. Also, the technologies used now—. We need to be moving into renewable technologies, rather than just a new boiler scheme. There are some properties that have leaks in the roof and the windows aren't working, but they're still putting in a new boiler. That heat is going to go straight out of the walls and out the windows.

Also, I think there needs to be a separate rural stream to this, because, at the moment, the Nest and Arbed schemes are going, like you said, for the low-hanging fruit, and those properties in rural areas that are really expensive to retrofit, they're being dodged. And that support as well—the in-home advice needs to be specifically tailored from a local adviser for that tenant.

11:00

I completely support that. In terms of the rural issue, I think it's really important to understand that deprivation is in pockets rather than in areas, so it's really important that we recognise that within these sorts of schemes. I think, taking Arbed as an example, we need to understand that, often, tenants will require ongoing support around things like behaviour change, energy efficiency, that sort of stuff. If you look at the Little by Little project run by Melin Homes in partnership with the five authorities in south-east Wales, where they identified households who'd had work undertaken through Arbed, but actually went in afterwards and then worked with tenants to understand in what ways could they also reduce their energy costs, over a period—they were able to save £300,000 over the course of the year. So, that shows that there are things that were missed. So, doing the material work is fine, but that ongoing support, that education, the information, is absolutely vital to unpicking what else could be done.

Okay. And everything's got a target, hasn't it? So, there are targets, which is probably why they're perhaps tackling high numbers rather than, as you say, the more difficult, isolated ones, but, in terms of the targets that we have under the schemes that exist, are they sufficiently ambitious, do you think? And are they targeting—and, obviously, we've taken onboard what you say about rurality—enough households?

I think it's about making sure that those most at need receive the support. So, the predecessor of Nest was the housing energy efficiency scheme, and one of the criticisms of that particular scheme was that, out of the beneficiaries, only 35 per cent of them were fuel poor. So, looking at the monitoring and evaluation of Nest, I understand that it's only 55 per cent of beneficiaries that were actually deemed as fuel poor. So, it has to be more targeted, I think, so we really need to look at more groups of people, demographics, that are specifically vulnerable to be poor. PRS is increasingly occupied by those people. We're seeing more and more people on universal credit entering the PRS, more and more older people and more and more families as well. So, I think it's a targeted intervention approach.   

As far as I'm aware as well, the Arbed scheme doesn't measure levels of fuel poverty before or after measures are installed. That, to me, is something that absolutely needs to be done, because how do you know if those measures are bringing people out of fuel poverty or not?

Just one point on Arbed as well—my understanding is it's based on geography, and it's linked to the Welsh index of multiple deprivation. So, my understanding is—and Bethan, you might be able to help me on this—that it's targeting the 10 per cent most deprived communities. Now, of course, not everyone in those deprived communities is suffering from being fuel poor, and sometimes there are people who are suffering really bad levels of fuel poverty who live in quite, so-called, affluent areas. So, I think it's down to my original point, really, about targeting those properties that are the most fuel inefficient and providing those support measures hand in hand.

We did have mixed responses from our members on the area-based scheme, because although one of the benefits of being area based is that some of those people who technically aren't eligible for the Nest scheme are living in fuel poverty, and that area-based scheme will cover them, I do think the areas need to be chosen in maybe a more sophisticated way, looking at fuel poverty, looking at poor household condition, low incomes and poor health. Warm Wales use FRESH— Foundation data for Robust Energy Strategies for Housing—mapping, which is a really good way of looking at where fuel poverty is. I don't know if the WIMD—I'm not sure if that's particularly appropriate for fuel poverty.

I think, with a lot of those targets, it's really important about the timescales as well. You've had local authorities in here before us, and no doubt they'll have told you about Arbed being quite difficult to implement over the annual period of funding. So, I think a long-term approach linked to those targets is really important to give everyone a chance to get the outcome that we all desire to see.

A 10-year plan is what most people are saying. Do you agree that it ought to be a 10-year plan? But, of course, some of this is European money, so that might be a bit of a problem. But, anyway, I'm also interested to know whether any of you have come across the Government's ECO Flex scheme, and, if you have, any comments that you have in terms of fuel poverty.

11:05

Yes. So, the ECO Flex scheme—this is, as you said, a UK Government scheme, and it's open to the PRS and the owner-occupied sector. So, it allows landlords and homeowners the opportunity to fund home insulation and heating measures, providing they're not covered by the minimum energy efficiency scheme. It's mainly designed to give local authorities this flexible funding to target groups, demographics, that are particularly vulnerable to being poor, and it's based on an income threshold some local authorities use, or the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines on demographics that are particularly susceptible to being poor—so, people with things like respiratory illness, pregnant ladies, elderly people, of course, as well.

But, regrettably, what we're finding, in the RLA, is that the take-up from Welsh local authorities is quite poor. Very few local authorities are maximising this UK Government funding, unfortunately, and what we're experiencing is a very risk-averse nature from local authorities in Wales, particularly with their legal and procurement teams, in working in partnership with energy suppliers. And also another problem we're experiencing—I think this is down to austerity, to an extent—is, where Welsh local authorities are keen to administer this scheme, they don't actually have the personnel to monitor, evaluate and administer the scheme.

But one thing we would encourage local authorities to do is to really maximise this scheme. It's free money, after all, from the UK Government. But one opportunity they could take—they could work in partnership with other local authorities as a region, perhaps, and one local authority could support the scheme as a region, or, in fact, the Welsh Government could take the scheme on as a pan-Wales scheme—or another organisation. We have seen some notable best practice, if you like, from Torfaen and Monmouthshire, who are starting the scheme quite well, actually. I believe Torfaen, particularly, they have a sign-up scheme for PRS landlords in early February.

We would hugely welcome the new focus of ECO3 solely on fuel-poor households. The only experience we really have with ECO is that one of our members had to leverage in ECO money for the Arbed scheme. They said there was a bit of a battle to be able to use local suppliers, because the energy companies wanted to bring in their own contractors, which weren't locally based. So, there was a bit of a battle over that and we did manage to use local suppliers in the end, but I think that's just something to be aware of.

I have nothing to add.

Okay. So, I just want to go back to hard-to-treat in terms of the question of whether we're prioritising the right interventions. We've talked about houses with stone walls, off-grid for gas, local authorities—Ceredigion told us that they were extremely expensive to tackle, but they never mentioned ground source heat pumps or air source heat pumps or anything like that. If you're on LPG, you definitely need to be moving to an alternative source of fuel. So, have we had enough—? Is there enough knowledge out there to understand that innovation's moving on?

I think there's definitely enough knowledge, but it's just looking at how we can tailor that in Wales. We're eagerly awaiting the Welsh Government's research on different pathways to reaching EPC A. What I will say about air source and ground source heat pumps—if they're powered by electricity, electricity is four times the price of gas. So, that's going to plummet someone into fuel poverty. So, we need to—. It's on an individual basis, isn't it? You need to look at each property and decide what is the best treatment for that individual property.

Okay. But, equally, if we're installing gas boilers still, when we're going to need to strip them out if we're going to become zero carbon, surely we should be changing our policy on that pretty much straight away, shouldn't we, rather than having to come back and remove them and put some other system in.

11:10

Yes, I completely agree, and, if there's a way that we can make heating affordable and reach EPC zero carbon, then we need to be—. I'm not the best person to say exactly what that technology is at the moment. I know the Welsh Government is looking into this, so we'll wait and see what comes out of that research. 

Okay, but the innovative housing scheme that's been funded by the Welsh Government is delivering a lot of information. 

Yes, but that's for new build, and new build is far easier than retrofitting existing properties. 

Okay, but there is also other work going on in relation to retrofitting different types of housing. Cardiff University has been leading the way on that. Is there not sufficient information available, Matthew? 

I think you're right; there's some really good stuff happening out there. In terms of retrofit, I think it's really important to remember that, actually, organisations have a decision to make over resources. This isn't a simple thing. The right thing to do is often very different from what can be done, and I think it's about understanding that organisations are making difficult choices in terms of carrying risk, financial risk, whilst improving the lives of tenants, not just against the conditions of a home, but things like rents, community facilities, services for tenants within the home. And this will be an organisation-by-organisation basis. I appreciate it's frustrating because, actually, you want to see a consistent approach and, actually, tenants being served in a similar way. 

I think it's really positive that we see that we've started—. Pobl Group, for example, are now working with RCT council to build the largest carbon-neutral development in the UK. So, this shows we can lead the way in terms of new build, but, certainly, I would agree that we've got some way to go in terms of retrofit, and that almost shows how it is as important for us to focus our attention on our existing homes as it is to build new homes, and tackle the sharper end of the housing crisis.

Okay. So, sticking with our existing homes, if the intervention is going to be effective, it's obviously going to reduce people's energy bills. So, is there a way in which we can share the financial burden by what the Labour Government previously wanted, which is that the energy companies install the retrofit of whatever it was, and then gradually take the money back by not reducing people's energy bills until that money had been paid back? Is that the sort of thing that we could do in Wales? 

That feels like a sensible suggestion to me. I don't see any problem with that. 

Okay. Obviously, there's devolution issues around that. But, just turning to the RLA, is that not the sort of thing that your members might support—that there'd be some way in which you can share the financial responsibility? Because the person who owns the property is obviously getting a benefit by improving the energy efficiency—it's making that a more valuable property. 

Yes. There's obviously legislation about the minimum energy efficiency standards as well. So, that is going to be quite challenging as well for the PRS, I think. 

Okay. And there's also been the empty homes strategy, and so that money has been available for bringing homes up to the standard. 

The problem with empty homes is it's difficult to get funding when a home is empty; you can only get the funding when you've got the tenants—

That's one part of funding, but, in terms of tackling fuel poverty, this is a real challenge in terms of getting properties up to scratch if you haven't actually got the tenant in there. So, it is about making the most out of the existing stock and future stock, really. 

One of the things we heard from the local authorities who've just given evidence was that it was frustrating to have the Arbed scheme without money for the enabling works to ensure that the roof was properly insulated before you put in all this wonderful insulation. How much is that an issue from—? Is that something you've identified as where we're not being as efficient as we need to be in terms of having a whole-system approach?  

We'd certainly ask for any new strategy to have a better grasp of what support is required at those initial phases to make sure any changes maximise the energy efficiency of the home. Some of our members do report that—not wide scale, but certainly, on an ad hoc basis, we do hear that anecdotally. 

Okay. So, any new scheme has to enable people on the ground to be innovative in the way they resolve the problem of individual fuel-poor homes. 

Some people with fuel-poor homes, if you put in double glazing and windows that fitted, that would actually make a huge benefit. We keep on talking about improving houses that are of a reasonably good standard. I have houses in the Plasmarl area of Swansea that are let out as privately rented houses—but, I would guess, not by members of your organisation—where they have ill-fitting, single-glazed windows.

11:15

Yes, that's terrible. We condemn that, obviously. We're all about improving the sector, absolutely. 

But, as I said to some of your colleagues, the problem with private landlords is not the members of your organisation; it's those who don't belong to any organisation, who do let out these very poor-quality houses. Your organisation does a good job, but, some of us, through how unhappy we are, tend to blame you, and it's nothing to do with you. It's not your members. Most of your members, if not all of your members, are keeping houses in a good standard. 

Yes. Absolutely right. I think that what we need is more funding for local authorities to enforce against those rogue landlords, so they're not jeopardising the reputation of conscientious landlords. 

I think that we ought also to recognise that private landlords can have a very different business model situation—so, aren't bringing in multi-million pounds-worth of revenue, for example. So, in terms of borrowing against that revenue and that sort of stuff, that just isn't possible. So, it's about understanding that. As smaller businesses, they'll have a very difficult financial scenario to try and stack up.

Yes. Can you help us on how far each of your sectors is currently complying with various energy efficiency standards—the WHQS and MEES, for example?

Shall I kick off? Well, I can't help on WHQS. But, in terms of MEES, the minimum energy efficiency scheme, obviously, as of April this year, landlords in the PRS have to have at least an E rating to be able to let their property. As I said earlier, it's not a stone-cast policy yet, but there is a proposal from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make properties a C by 2030. One of our main concerns about this proposal is that, in communication with local authorities across Wales—other than, obviously, our membership—there is a little bit of ambivalence towards the lack of awareness from landlords. So, I think that this could catch out some landlords, so I'm a bit concerned about how both Governments are raising awareness of this among landlords.

We would also raise some concerns over the validity and accuracy of EPC data. So, there was a study that showed that—. The methodology used was called SAP 2012, and what this actually found was that they were undervaluing single-walled properties, and there's a high propensity of single-walled properties in the PRS. So, what that effectively means is that—. EPCs last for 10 years, and what that effectively means is that some properties that were valued as an F may not quite require as much work as they are deemed to—well, they may not require any work that they are deemed to—and the G properties might not require quite as much as originally thought as well. Also, the original—

I don't quite understand that. Could you explain a bit more how something that is currently classed as F doesn't need any work in order to be put up to a higher standard level? 

Sorry, I didn't hear that, sorry.

I didn't quite understand what you were saying there. You said that a house that is currently at EPC F level might not need any work in order to go up to C level. Or have I misunderstood what you said?

Yes, I think that you may have misunderstood. It's based on the methodology used. So, SAP 2012 was the methodology used for current EPC levels. As I say, there's undervaluing of those properties that are single-walled cavity walls.

Not giving them a sufficient level—undervaluing the level. So, they may be deeming them to be an F, but the reality is that, under the new modernised methodology, they may be an E.

Also, it's very much based on modern methods of construction. Of course, in the PRS, we have a high proportion of properties that were built pre-1919 as well. The new methodology does support that. So, what the RLA is encouraging landlords to do is get their EPCs revalued—EPCs, of course, last 10 years. So, regardless of that, get your EPCs revalued.

11:20

So, the categorisation of the housing stock in energy-efficiency terms is misleading under the existing—. 

Under the SAP 2012 methodology, yes.   

Right. Okay, fine. So, to go back to my original question: the extent to which the other sectors then—if we move on to your colleagues—are currently complying with energy efficiency standards. 

So, in the social sector, we've got the WHQS, which the last—the latest data show that 99 per cent are compliant and the WHQS includes a SAP 65 or above rating. I guess, for the purpose of this inquiry, energy efficiency is just a third of the way there to helping someone in fuel poverty. So, the sector's done great work in reaching SAP 65 or above, and they've shown the drive and capability to do that, and I think the next step for us is zero carbon and EPC A. And, as I said, that's a third of the way there, and there needs to be the offsetting of high energy bills and low incomes with intensive support as well. 

I think, just to add to that, the national core standard is a good standard, because it measures more than just fuel efficiency. It handles other things like property management; it can look at things like the adequacy of kitchens, bathrooms— those regularly lived-in areas. And I think that's really important for us understanding broadly more quality, rather than just one aspect of a household's living costs. 

Just one other point on MEES. Originally, it was—from BEIS, the original proposal was that it would come at no cost to landlords. Now, there's a cap of £3,500. From the select committee, there was a recommendation, which was rejected, to increase that cap to £5,500. I think landlords should have to pay, but what the concerning factor is is that a lot of funding opportunities that are out there—things like ECO Flex—you cannot use them on the minimum energy efficiency standards. So, I think they should open up funding channels, really, to—. At the end of the day, it's about improving the stock, really.  

Very good. You touched on my next question earlier on, but perhaps we can explore it a little further. The 'Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World' report said the

'Welsh Government should set a target of EPC Band A for homes in social ownership and homes in fuel poverty'.

And what you were saying earlier on is that this is fundamentally a totally unrealistic aim except at exorbitant cost. 

We welcome that ambition. I think, going back to things like WHQS, that standard has a legacy of finance to it. It isn't to say, 'We've done it; that's fine'—those homes will require an ongoing programme of maintenance to ensure they maintain that standard. So, as we go forward now into the next phase of realisation of what we want to get to, that will again have increased costs. So, I would again emphasise it's got to be set against the amount of new homes you want to deliver—affordable housing, the social housing programme—against how then we put resource—considerable resource in many areas—into upgrading existing homes. 

Housing associations are certainly up to the challenge of reaching EPC A. We've yet to see if this is going to be possible over the next 10 years. But I agree: we've shown with the WHQS we've got the drive and capability to be able to do it, but it needs to be backed up with the funding to be able to do so.  

I imagine this is largely a function of the historic nature of the housing stock. In the older properties, it's obviously much more difficult and much more expensive, if indeed it's possible at all, to bring them up to level A, band A.  

Absolutely, and we know that Wales has the oldest housing stock in, certainly, western Europe, and so I completely agree that's part of the challenge. 

So, Bethan's quite right. Wales has the oldest stock and, within that old stock, the PRS is the oldest. Again, we have a very high proportion of pre-1990 buildings. 

So, what's the point of setting an objective that can't be reached?  

We don't yet know if it can't be reached. We need the research the Welsh Government are currently undertaking to find out if it is possible. It definitely is possible. We just don't know if it is possible in 10 years, but we'll see. 

And we also have to have some idea of what is the likely cost of achieving this objective, because obviously Welsh Government has a limited budget and endless claims upon it. And, although this is a very worthy objective, then this has to be set as a priority amongst many other equally worthy priorities. 

I think it's really important, when we look towards the next Assembly Government, how we look at things like affordable housing targets and, understandably, there'll be a drive to push that target higher and higher. And that's absolutely welcome, and something that the sector will no doubt be working towards anyway. But actually, then, if we're then saying, 'We’ll have some of the most ambitious targets around decarbonisation and carbon neutral that we've ever ever had', how do we balance that in terms of available resource?

11:25

Okay. Thank you. Jenny Rathbone wants to come in with a supplementary.

If we're going to meet our zero-carbon objectives, we're going to have to address this. It may be difficult. Who's going to be best placed to decide whether bringing a particular home up to band A is going to be just not cost effective and that it needs to be replaced? Is that's something that CIH is best placed—because you, obviously, are across—?

We are best placed as an organisation. We haven't got the technical expertise—this will certainly be done by our members on the ground in collaboration with tenants and the broader community as well. Those conversations already exist in some areas, but, of course, it's a very difficult process, and, for different organisations, there will be different levels of business case and finance behind it. What we need to make sure is that there's a level of fairness and consistency within that, and it will be different between stock retained in local authorities, housing associations, stock transfers. Those are all different kinds of businesses. What we need, then, to ensure is that there are levels of support from the Government that provide equality and consistency across not only social housing, but all housing tenures.

Okay. So, is it something that should be centrally driven, given that it does require you to be aware of the latest technology?

I think a level of guidance will certainly be welcomed, which draws upon current best practice—and you've already mentioned new, modern research—and that comes in collaboration to understand actually what can we realistically do now, what is the expectation on organisations, and where we could be going in the future.

Yes. Rural areas: in the evidence we've received, anyway, unless you're on mains gas, you're far more susceptible to be driven into fuel poverty, you are. What advice, what suggestions, what proposals would you have for Welsh Government to do to try and reduce the susceptibility of people being driven into fuel poverty if they're not on mains gas?

I think—and I said this earlier—there certainly needs to be a separate stream of the fuel poverty plan that solely looks at rural areas, and in that stream there needs to be more money put aside per property to be able to retrofit that household. As well, as I said before, there needs to be intensive in-home advice to talk about fuel clubs in oil and LPG and stone-walled properties. I think, as well, there's something that Welsh Government can work with UK Government on—some sort of regulation of oil and LPG. Ofgem don't regulate these. There needs to be transparency around costs, consumer protection as well, and at the moment that isn't there. And I think that is definitely needed in rural areas.

Transparency—how could that be driven in? How could it become more transparent? What would you suggest?

It's something that you'd have to work with the UK Government and Ofgem as well on to look at how they do that with energy suppliers in electricity and in gas. 

Good luck with that, then. Because I was going to ask CHC—. You did provide in your evidence that there needed to be a suite of rural policies, I appreciate, in response to Joyce and you've just touched on now. Are there any other policy areas you think need to be specifically for rural areas if a suite of policies are brought forward by Welsh Government, other than what, obviously, you've directed us to?

The only thing I can add, really, is there seems to be a culture and a reluctance in rural areas to switch energy providers, and that could be down to poor IT infrastructure, perhaps. And perhaps there's a role here for Welsh Government to have a dedicated switching campaign in raising awareness, perhaps.

I would suggest it's possibly down to vulnerability, if you live in a rural area—the 'better the devil you know' mentality, as such, then—

I think there's a place here for smart meters as well, particularly when we had that really cold weather, the beast from the east. If you're living in a rural area and you're on a pre-payment meter for your electricity, you're not going to be able to get to the shop if the weather's really bad, and then you're self-disconnecting or forcibly having to be disconnecting yourself. Whereas, smart meters, you can top-up from the comfort of your own home, you can call, you can use the app, you can use online. So, there's a place there, maybe, for education about smart meters in those areas as well.

I think there's also a lot here around engaging local contractors in those rural areas to make sure its really viable, getting involved in things like Arbed, for example. So, the Welsh revenue funding into Arbed, because it was year on year, that revenue funding was linked to more training, that sort of stuff, within local contractors. But a year's timescale to undertake both training and then becoming involved in that work was just too tight. So, actually, you could really have, potentially, an even greater impact in rural areas if you were to make that a longer term funding stream that could roll over year on year.

11:30

Thank you. Okay. Well, thank you very much for coming in. We've found your evidence very helpful, and we're very grateful for you giving us your time. Thank you very much.

4. Papur(au) i'w nodi
4. Paper(s) to note

Can we now move on to papers to note—correspondence from the Chair of the Committee on Assembly Electoral Reform? 

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I move the motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from item 6? Yes. Okay, agreed.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:30.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:30.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru