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Private tenants are trapped into higher fuel bills

13 December 2011

Tenants who live in the coldest privately rented homes which haemorrhage heat through the walls, windows and doors are trapped into higher fuel bills because they rely on landlords to make their properties energy efficient.

Citizens Advice and Friends of the Earth today (Tuesday 13 December) called on private landlords and Government to take action on heatless homes that are costing tenants hundreds of pounds in wasted energy a year. Citizens Advice wants:

  • private landlords to take responsibility for cutting tenants’ fuel bills and make their homes more energy efficient now, instead of waiting for the Government to force their hand in 2018;
  • the Government to bring forward, from 2018 to 2016, the date when it will be an offence, in most cases, to let or market a property that falls below an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating Band E – a move which would save tenants in the worst insulated properties up to £1000*.

And Citizens Advice also advises private tenants to check if they are entitled to free or cut-price insulation from their energy supplier – as it could encourage their landlord to take action.

Around 680,000** private tenants who live in the coldest homes (those in with an energy rating of F or G) on average fork out £488 per year*** on wasted energy - over 40% of these tenants are in fuel poverty**.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“People are desperate to make their fuel bills cheaper, but if you live in a privately rented home there is a limit on what you can do to stop heat seeping from the property and racking up a huge energy bill.

“Rising rent and hikes in fuel costs are busting many people’s budgets. So landlords need to speak to their tenants about what they can do together to make their home warmer – and their fuel bills cheaper.”

As the bill payers many tenants are entitled to free or discounted insulation but they need their landlord’s permission to have it installed.

Often tenants are unsure of their rights - some are even afraid their landlord will evict them if they complain their home is too cold and draughty. Landlords can really help by talking to their tenants and letting them know that they would be happy for them to take free insulation.

The Government also has a part to play by bringing forward the date - from 2018 to 2016 - when it will become an offence to let, or market to let, a property that falls below an energy efficiency rating of an EPC Band E without it being improved. Citizens Advice believes it is common sense for the Government to bring this forward to 2016 – in line with the Government’s statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty.

Dave Timms, Energy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:

“Rising energy bills thanks to our addiction to fossil fuels and lack of decent insulation means millions of families will spend this winter shivering inside or spending a fortune to keep warm.”

“Landlords can make Christmas a happier time for tenants by getting their properties properly insulated - there are lots of offers of help to do this.

“The Government must move faster and get tough on landlords who do nothing by forcing them to improve properties which are so cold and expensive to heat they are a health hazard.”

Citizens Advice has put together some top tips for private tenants who are considering asking their landlord to make energy efficiency improvements to the property they rent. And has provided tips for private landlords too.

Top tips for private tenants

  • Landlords are required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). The certificate rates a property's energy performance from A to G and can give you an idea of how expensive it will be to keep warm and how it can be improved.
  • Private tenants may be entitled to free or heavily discounted insulation, depending on their circumstances. As it is the tenant who pays the fuel bills it is the tenant who would get the free insulation. Check with your energy supplier, or see if there are any government or local authority schemes that you may be eligible for on the Energy Trust's website at http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Take-action/Grants-and-savings/Energy-saving-grants-and-offers Or you can phone them on 0800 512 012. Also, if you are disabled you may able to get a grant.
  • To get insulation installed you will need written permission from your landlord but in many cases the supplier can apply for this on your behalf.
  • As a tenant, you have the right to have the structure of your home kept in good repair by your landlord. Heating and hot water systems must also be kept in working order. Details about repair responsibilities are usually set out in a written tenancy agreement.
  • The first step is usually to talk to your landlord. It may be worth trying to negotiate amicably with your landlord, even if they do not have a legal duty to carry out a repair. Put your request in writing and keep a copy.
  • If you are living in private rented property which is in an unsatisfactory condition, there may be several ways of getting repairs or improvements done. BUT you should always check your housing status before you complain about housing conditions, as your landlord may try to evict you if you ask for repairs to be carried out. If in doubt, get advice from an experienced adviser at your local housing aid centre, law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau (see www.adviceguide.org.uk)
  • If this doesn’t work, DON’T just stop paying your rent, You don't have the right to withhold rent and you shouldn't do this to try to force your landlord to do repairs. Your landlord could take legal action against you for rent arrears and you could lose your home.
  • Once you’ve checked your housing status, if you think that the condition of the property is either affecting your health or causing a nuisance to others, you can complain to the Environmental Health Department of your local council. They should investigate and they have the power to order your landlord to do the necessary repairs. Local councils also have a duty to take action against a landlord if they consider that housing conditions are not acceptable for people to live in.
  • If you haven't taken up a tenancy yet or if you are thinking of moving to another private rented property, they should ask to see a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate for the property, if the landlord doesn't provide it, to see how the energy efficiency of the property has been rated.
  • More tips on how to manage your fuel bills, including switching suppliers can be found on a leaflet which can be downloaded from http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/index/g_selfhelp_fuel_debt.pdf.

Tips for landlords

  • Landlords must provide an EPC free of charge to prospective tenants at the earliest opportunity and must provide a copy of the EPC to whoever takes up the tenancy. The certificate rates a property's energy performance from A to G. By 2018, in most cases it will be illegal to let out a property which falls below an EPC Band E.
  • Let your tenant know whether their home already has loft or cavity wall insulation. If it doesn't, then some tenants may qualify for free or discounted insulation from their energy company. Talk to your tenant to encourage them to find out if they are eligible.
  • Sometimes tenants are unsure of their rights or are worried about how their landlord might react if they complain their home is cold - talk to your tenants and make sure they know that you would be supportive if they wanted to have insulation installed.
  • Be clear with your tenants about whether you would be prepared to contribute anything towards the cost of energy efficiency improvements
  • If you pay for energy saving improvements to your buy-to-let property such as draught proofing then as a landlord you may be entitled to a tax allowance called Landlord's Energy Saving Allowance. Check with HMRC for more information

* Source: Based on two years of saving £488 on lost energy; from Which Way Up – Advance Headline Findings, Energy Saving Trust, Feb 2011

**Source: Page 54, Energy Bill: Green Deal Impact Assessment, DECC, 2010

*** Source: Which Way Up – Advance Headline Findings, Energy Saving Trust, Feb 2011

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.