Concerns remain that MEES energy efficiency rules for rental properties in England and Wales are not being robustly policed
No penalties issued to landlords offering draughty, energy wasting homes for rent have been made public by councils in England and Wales, despite the government's plan to 'name and shame' those falling foul of legally-binding energy efficiency standards.
A BusinessGreen investigation earlier this month revealed how properties were being advertised for rent in England and Wales which did not meet Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) regulations, with little evidence of the rules being robustly enforced by cash-strapped councils.
The regulations were brought in as part of the government's Clean Growth agenda to help cut greenhouse gas emissions from the UK's building stock. They require landlords of the most inefficient rented homes to invest in insulation, energy efficient boilers or other measures in order to ensure they meet minimum standards.
Landlords breaching the rules can potentially face fines of up to £5,000, as well as being 'named and shamed' on a publicly accessible online register. The rules apply initially to new tenancies or contract renewals, but by 2020 will apply to all domestic rented properties on the market and by 2023 all commercial properties.
But despite MEES rules having been in force since April 2018, BusinessGreen could find no evidence of any landlords having been penalised for breaching the rules on the public register.
And now government has confirmed to BusinessGreen there are no penalty notices whatsoever on the public register, meaning not a single council in England and Wales has publicly declared any fines or other actions they may have taken against rogue landlords.
The empty register does not necessarily prove no rogue landlords been fined for breaching MEES rules, as councils may have issued penalty notices without reporting it publicly. But it does suggest the government's threat to publicly name and shame those breaking the rules has not been acted upon.
BusinessGreen also understands local authorities are under no obligation to publish the details of a MEES breach or resulting prosecution on the register, further diminishing the threat to name and shame those landlords flouting the rules.
Richard Twinn, senior policy advisor at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said it was "disappointing, but entirely unsurprising" that no MEES penalty notices had been reported.
"With councils cash-strapped and under pressure, enforcement of a somewhat confusing new policy was never likely to be a priority," he said in an emailed statement. "But we can't afford to put climate change on the back burner. Recent changes have greatly simplified the regulations, so central government must now do more to support local authorities to enforce MEES regulations and crack down on rogue landlords who let out cold and draughty homes."
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said it is currently funding a series of 12-month trials throughout this year to look at the most effective way for councils to enforce the regulations and inform thinking on future energy efficiency plans.
Deputy director at the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), Dr Joanne Wade, said the early findings from these pilots should be shared in order to encourage more councils to take swift action to properly enforce MEES. And, once the pilots have concluded, adequate resources must be provided to support "timely enforcement across all privately rented homes", she added.
"We remain very concerned about a lack of robust enforcement of MEES in privately rented homes," she told BusinessGreen. "These regulations are intended to help people living in the worst homes, and councils must enforce them. But to do so they must be properly resourced."
Landlords have previously been able to secure exemptions to the MEES rules if they could not get third party funding to foot the bill for any improvement measures needed to bring their home up to scratch.
But in a bid to reduce the number of exemptions, the rules were tightened at the start of the month so that landlords can now only be exempt from the rules if recommended energy efficiency improvements needed to bring their property up to standard will cost them more than £3,500.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry has said the MEES cap will "help guarantee a warm home is a right not a privilege", while also helping to drive down energy bills and "make a huge contribution to our goal of decarbonising the economy".
The latest changes are expected to affect 290,000 properties in England and Wales, representing around six per cent of the overall domestic private rental market, according to the government.
Councils have had little time to issue and publicly register any landlord penalties since the strengthened MEES rules came into force two weeks' ago, and the updated regulations apply only to new tenancies starting on or after 1 April.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) therefore declined to comment on the lack of council penalty notices published online to date. However, it has previously claimed the "vast majority" of landlords understand their obligations under MEES, while conceding it was "concerning" that there remain some who do not.
The trade body has also repeatedly called for tax relief to help landlords finance energy efficiency upgrades - calls which were echoed by the House of Lords' Regenerating Seaside Towns Committee in a report earlier this month.
ADE director Tim Rotheray said that with the MEES regulations having just been tightened it would become clearer over time how well the rules are being policed by councils.
"We definitely know there are properties out there that are not meeting the standards, and which can be made to meet the standards within the budget available, so if we don't see any uptick in registrations, then that suggests there is something else going on," he told BusinessGreen. "It's part of a wider point: there is a need to improve domestic and non-domestic energy efficiency, and to cut carbon out of the built environment, but at the moment it is looking insufficient. I think there is a general sense that really, if we are going to see greater movement on building efficiency, then enforcement and proper measurement and verification needs to be much higher up the agenda."
Separately, the government recently announced plans to ensure all homes use fossil fuel-free heating from 2025. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has insisted new policy action to address building emissions is vital if the UK is to meet its statutory climate change targets.
However, while the promise of new energy efficiency and green heat standards has been broadly welcomed, business groups and campaigners remain concerned about the government's continued failure to support new emission-cutting standards with suitably robust enforcement action.
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