James Murray warns that further incentives are needed to make the Green Deal a success
Let me provide a few insights into my life.
I am fortunate enough to live in one of those pleasant Victorian streets in north London that connects an avenue of £1m-plus properties with a busy main road featuring charity shops, dilapidated flats, and newsagents selling knock off mobile phones.
My partner and I rent the second floor flat and have lived there for just over a year, revelling in the fact that we officially live in a part of London that convention dictates you term 'leafy'. It is a nice flat and we've just renewed the contract for another year but, like all rented properties, it is not without its difficulties.
When we first moved in we discovered that the lock on the sash windows in the kitchen was broken; anyone with a ladder could have let themselves in. We also found that all the other windows in the house had only small screw locks, meaning that, because we live in a postcode that singles us out as being at high risk of burglary, our contents insurance would be invalidated without secondary locks on the windows.
We contacted our landlady to explain the problem and found ourselves embarking on a two-month debate as to whether or not she would provide us with a secure kitchen window and locks that would allow us to have valid insurance.
First, she argued that we had rented the property as it was, and that the previous tenant did not have a problem. She then grudgingly agreed to look into it, but only if we got a quote first and it wasn't too expensive. Then she suggested that we should make a contribution to the cost of any work.
After about eight weeks of living in a completely unsecure flat, we bought some secondary locks and fitted them ourselves with the help of a kindly relative who owns a drill.
We emailed our landlady to tell her what we had done and asked her if she would be OK reimbursing £30 towards the cost of the new locks. She agreed and we sent her the receipt. We never received the promised cheque.
Given that we liked the flat and did not want to antagonise our landlady so soon after moving in, we let it lie. Thankfully, there have been no more major issues and we're looking forward to another year in our north London enclave.
I only recount the story as it highlights perfectly the huge challenges the government faces as it strives to ensure that its flagship Green Deal scheme really does deliver energy efficiency makeovers to the nation's properties.
There was an encouraging development this week when Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne performed something of a u-turn, significantly strengthening the Green Deal requirements placed on landlords.
Under the new rules, landlords will from April 2016 not be able to refuse "reasonable requests" from tenants, or local authorities acting on behalf of tenants, calling on them to use the Green Deal to improve their property. Moreover, the Bill will make it illegal from April 2018 for landlords to rent out a house or business property that has less than an E energy efficiency rating.
This is great news for tenants, but it begs the question as to how the rules will be enforced. In theory, the Green Deal should be fantastic for landlords: they pay nothing, their property is improved, and the tenants pay for the work through their energy bills.
But as someone who has lived as a tenant for much of the past 10 years I would be amazed if any of my previous landlords would have seamlessly acceded to my "reasonable request" for a Green Deal makeover. My current landlady balked at the hassle associated with fitting a window lock. Imagine her reaction to a request for entirely new double glazed windows.
Unless the government gets the Green Deal regulations, enforcement measures and, perhaps most importantly, messaging spot on, it is easy to envisage tenants not requesting improvements for fear of recriminatory evictions and landlords ignoring the scheme to avoid the associated hassle of overseeing building work.
Which brings me to another little insight into my life. Like the vast majority of people I know, I am staggeringly disorganised and genuinely useless at the important life skill of "getting round to things".
I have had (albeit modest) savings sitting in accounts earning virtually zero interest because I have not got round to sorting out an ISA. There is a bag of clothes for the charity shop that has been sitting in a cupboard for about six months because I have not got round to dropping it off. My tax returns are invariably filed within hours rather than months of the deadline because I have not got round to filling in the forms, and, as previously explained, I spent two months living in a house without any valid insurance because I did not get round to sorting out the locks.
There is some validity in characterising this disorganisation as the consequence of what newspapers refer to as a 'time poor' lifestyle, but in reality it has as much to do with laziness. And I am not alone; as mentioned, most of the people I know lead a pretty similar existence, repeatedly postponing things they know they should do.
This is the real challenge that the Green Deal faces. The government can orchestrate all the clever financing mechanisms it wants, but people still know that fitting insulation or replacing draughty windows is a hassle. Do you really want to spend a Saturday clearing out your loft in readiness for the builders?
Unless the government can find a way to make the Green Deal so compelling for households that they ignore the associated hassle and embrace the prospect of energy efficiency improvements, this most ambitious of environmental policies is doomed to failure.
Whether that means a degree of compulsion, subsidised interest rates, a genuinely tempting package of incentives, or a combination of the three is up to ministers to decide.
But if my experience of renting properties and generally mismanaging my life has taught me anything, it is that something more attractive than the current proposals will be required if the Green Deal is to deliver the green building revolution the government promises.
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