Twenty-one percent of English homes are flats, thirty-eight percent of Scottish homes are flats or tenements. We are failing to make energy efficiency improvements in blocks of flats at the same rate as we are making them in houses. This has direct impacts on the achievement of our national targets to tackle carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty. The least energy efficient - and most dangerously cold - homes in the English stock are flats in converted houses, and blocks of flats see lower levels of retrofitted insulation and double glazing than houses.
There is one big reason for the current lack of progress in improving energy efficiency in blocks of flats. A large number of different parties can have a title to – or responsibility for – any given block: freeholders, leaseholders, short-term tenants, mortgagees and management companies. Under the current system, it is very difficult for these parties to reach agreement practically and lawfully for energy improvement works to proceed. In England and Wales the problem is made more complicated by the fact that every flat lease can be different, and there’s no easy way of knowing who has the right and responsibility to upgrade different parts of the building, for example window frames. Few, if any, leases provide for energy efficiency upgrades.
This "governance problem" around blocks of flats differs across Great Britain, due to differences in property law with the situation in Scotland being arguably more straightforward. But right across Great Britain and, indeed, internationally there is a challenge around persuading different owners to agree for energy improvement works to proceed in blocks of flats.
The research work to date has consisted of:
- A round table with housing,energy efficiency and policy stakeholders in March 2015 to discuss the issues, with a report produced on findings
- A meeting with legal experts in November 2015, hosted by TLT Solicitors
- A report produced by Prof. Bright, Mark Routley of TLT Solicitors and David Weatherall, presented at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold in Dec 2015
This is a complicated problem. There is no one solution that will resolve this issue for all - or even a majority - of blocks. New primary legislation is likely to be required. Nonetheless given the scale of the problem, unlocking action on even a minority of blocks of flats could lead to major progress on energy efficiency and fuel poverty in the hardest to treat buildings. We have identified four possible solutions, and the Futureproofing Flats team are currently exploring these with stakeholders. (Note these have been developed primarily in the context of English property law but we are considering the applicability of the ideas developed across Great Britain).
The below ideas have been developed by the Futureproofing flats team, consisting of legal experts Prof. Bright and Mark Routley of TLT Solicitors with Irene Fernow a housing officer from Westminster City Council and David Weatherall, an energy efficiency policy specialist.
Building –level solutions
- A duty on the freeholder or other party having control of the building to undertake an energy efficiency survey of the whole building to identify where measures could be installed and to provide a cost/benefit analysis.
- An independent right for leaseholders and/or freeholders to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in which they have an interest.
- Changing leases to permit energy efficiency measures to be undertaken and the cost recovered via the service charge
- To prevent this problem arising in future, ensuring that new leases adequately allow for energy efficiency upgrades to be made.
- Where a lease contains a covenant prohibiting a leaseholder from carrying out alterations within a flat, overriding such a provision where the leaseholder intends to undertake energy efficiency measures.
 English Housing Survey
[2} Scottish House Condition Survey
 English Housing Survey