We mustn’t sleepwalk into a zero-carbon fuel poverty crisis

Comment from Paul Richards, Group Director of Customer and Communities at Orbit


An Inside Housing survey at the end of last year estimated that it will cost the affordable housing sector more than £100bn to decarbonise its total housing stock by 2050.

At Orbit we are resolutely behind our commitment to reach net zero carbon by this date, but at a time when we’re being asked to build more affordable homes, to review and remediate buildings in line with government fire safety standards, and to improve the standard of our homes, neighbourhoods and services, this all has to be achieved from a finite resource.

The Government’s decarbonisation fund of £3.8bn sounds like a lot of money, but given the £100bn price tag, there’s a potential giant black hole opening up in the sector’s finances. It may well be that this doesn’t just impact housing providers - it has the potential to impact our customers.

To date greener fuels have been inherently more expensive, and although future strategies are based on lowering energy consumption levels (for example through better insulated homes), if we’re not careful and timings don’t align, then some of this could easily spill through into increased energy bills. We know from our own work on Child Poverty that energy costs are in the top three of household costs, and that many of our poorest families face a daily choice between “eat” or “heat”.

Get decarbonisation wrong and the fuel poverty crisis that is already a reality for many customers could be further accelerated. As an example, stopping the fitment of gas boilers in new homes from 2025 is absolutely the right thing to do carbon wise, but have we fully understood the impact of this from a fuel poverty perspective on our most vulnerable customers? I suspect not.

So, if we are to achieve net zero carbon we need a proper conversation that links together housing providers, energy suppliers, technologists and the government to come up with some innovative ways about how we can invest in a zero carbon future, reduce energy consumption, but always to ensure this remains affordable for our customers. There are no easy answers, but without significant and rapid joined up thinking, we are in danger of sleep walking into a zero-carbon fuel poverty crisis.