Stephen Herriot: Climate emergency creates added pressure to make Scotland’s social housing more energy efficient

Social landlords are leading the way in terms of the energy efficiency standards of homes in Scotland, but more work lies ahead to satisfy a new level of expectation, writes Stephen Herriot.

Stephen Herriot: Climate emergency creates added pressure to make Scotland’s social housing more energy efficient

Stephen Herriot

The issue of climate change has been creeping up the political agenda in recent months, prompted in part by high profile demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion across the UK.

Speaking to the SNP spring conference at the end of April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a “climate emergency” and added that “Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it”.

That declaration was followed in early May by a vote in the Scottish Parliament to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045, five years ahead of the previously agreed target date of 2050.

Of course, those targets can only be achieved via a range of implementing measures designed to set all sectors of the Scottish economy on a path to zero carbon.

In the field of social housing, landlords have already been set ambitious targets to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock and to cut carbon emissions as a result. Under the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH), all social rented homes in Scotland will need to meet Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band D or better by the end of next year.

With that deadline less than 18 months away, it is estimated that there are still around 40,000 social rented homes in Scotland that are rated below EPC Band D.

At the same time, many social landlords are already turning their attention towards achieving longer-term energy efficiency goals beyond the end of 2020. A Scottish Government consultation on that very topic took place last year and proposed a longer-term target to maximise attainment in the social housing sector of EPC Band B by 2032 and a further goal for all social housing in Scotland “as far as reasonably practical” to be carbon neutral by 2040.

To put the ambition of that goal into context, in 2017, only 3% or around 18,000 units of Scotland’s overall social housing stock met EPC Band B or better. That said, the social sector is currently outperforming other tenures of housing.

Compared to existing owner-occupied housing stock in particular, the energy efficiency of the social sector is a long way ahead. 2017 figures show more than a quarter of a million owner-occupied homes in Scotland rated below EPC Band D, equivalent to more than a quarter of all owner-occupied housing stock in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map sets a target for all tenures of housing to meet EPC Band C by 2040. For owner-occupied homes, progress is to be “encouraged” until 2030 with mandatory action only taken at that stage if insufficient progress towards the target has been made.

Relatively speaking, policy makers have far greater powers to drive up the energy efficiency of existing housing stock in the social sector than for owner-occupiers, where the main lever available to them is to mandate increasingly strict energy efficiency standards for new build homes. But with all analysis suggesting that the vast majority of homes in which we will be living in 2045 have already been built, improving the energy efficiency of existing properties will continue to be a key priority.

Given the collective commitments made by politicians across all parties to transform Scotland into a low carbon economy, the pressure to transform the energy performance of all tenures of housing is only likely to intensify over the coming years.

As many of our members are already doing, registered social landlords should anticipate a continued ratcheting up of energy efficiency standards for social housing as Scotland strives to live up to the ambition of becoming a zero carbon economy by 2045.

PfH Scotland is actively helping its members to meet that challenge head-on through its dedicated heating services procurement framework, specifically created to help registered social landlords meet their obligations under the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH).

The level of expectation policymakers are placing on the social housing sector to lead the way in the drive for Scotland to become a zero carbon economy should not be underestimated. Whether to bring remaining housing stock up to the EESSH1 standard in time for the December 2020 deadline or to anticipate the step-change in energy efficiency needed to comply with EESSH2, now is the time for Scotland’s registered social landlords to act.

  • Stephen Herriot is head of operations at PfH Scotland

For more information about the PfH Scotland Heating Services Procurement Framework, visit

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