Rishi Sunak’s decision to scrap plans that would have forced landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes will leave millions of renters cold and with sky-high bills, campaign groups have warned.
The prime minister made a screeching U-turn this week on a series of net zero policies that were designed to keep the country on track to meet its internationally agreed climate goals by 2050.
Further policies the government hadn’t even adopted were also dropped, such as meat taxes or carpooling, along with a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars being pushed back five years to 2035.
Mr Sunak also ditched energy efficiency targets for households, which included stricter environmental standards in new tenancies from 2025 and in all rental properties from 2028.
At the moment, rented homes only have to meet the energy performance certificate (EPC) band rating E, but the government had intended to implement plans to require properties to have at least a C rating.
Mr Sunak’s abandonment of the policy, which the government first consulted on more than two years ago, means there is no requirement to improve energy ratings that would make homes cheaper to heat.
Around five million people rent in the UK, according to the last census, with 2.4 million of these falling below the C standard.
Campaigners say scrapping this policy will hit those on lower incomes hardest, with one in four renters living in fuel poverty – when a household cannot afford to heat their home to an adequate temperature.
According to the think tank Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), Mr Sunak’s U-turn could cost British households almost £8bn in higher bills over the next decade, and potentially more if gas prices spike again.
Dan Wilson Craw, deputy chief executive of Generation Rent, said dropping higher standards for rental homes was a “colossal error” that “makes the cost of living crisis worse and damages renters’ health”.
He added: “One in four private renters lives in fuel poverty and, without targets for landlords to improve their properties, they face many more years of unaffordable bills.
“Energy efficiency is also an essential part of a home’s quality. Backtracking leaves the government’s levelling up mission to halve the number of non-decent rented homes in shreds. It also undermines ministers’ promises to tackle the scourge of mould-ridden homes that killed Awaab Ishak.
“Both tenants and landlords need support to upgrade private rented homes, and the prime minister recognised that ‘big government grants’ help make it affordable. But without higher standards, landlords have no reason to accept tenants’ requests for improvements.
“The government’s dithering over these standards in recent years has led to the housing sector being unprepared for the original 2025 deadline. Ditching it completely is both cruel and out of proportion to what the Prime Minister wants to achieve.”
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Net-zero policies are a key part of the solution to the cost-of-living crisis. Whether it’s improving energy efficiency standards in our homes or phasing out gas boilers, these policies will ultimately lower people’s energy bills and help protect us all from fluctuating gas and oil prices.
“The government’s decision to row back on these policies will particularly hurt renters, leaving millions of tenants across the country facing needlessly high bills through the winters ahead.”
And Jess Ralston, an energy analyst at ECIU, said the move was “chaotic” and not the way long-term policy should be made around important issues, with emergency cabinet meetings and investors “spooked”.
She said: “Quite the opposite of an honest debate, the implication that any of these policies were going to affect the cost of living here and now is untrue. In fact, the PM has sided with landlords over renters, putting their energy bills and cost of living up by ducking the improvement of rules on energy efficiency.
“That doesn’t make any sense when excess cold in homes costs the NHS £1.2bn per year and renters are amongst those with the lowest incomes.”
What do the public think?
After the announcement, The Independent‘s reporter Jabed Ahmed took to the streets of London to ask the British public what they thought of Mr Sunak’s watering down of net zero pledges:
Luke Gardiner, 22
“Climate change is the biggest threat of our age, like incredibly important. I really think we need to have a serious conversation about how much it’s going to be cost and whether we should be taking a hit in terms of income to do what we can for the planet and the future generation.”
Charlotte Evans, 25
“Climate change isn’t my biggest concern right now. I think they are some more pressing issues currently.
“Take for example, the cost-of-living crisis, rise in crime, lack of government funding into social infrastructure and the migrant issue. These social issues are a lot more important to me.”
“Although I am fully aware of the consequences of climate change. It seems to me that there is very little I can do to change it. The government and corporations should be leading the changes.”
Rehan Khan, 30
“As a parent of a newborn, I understand that my kid’s environment is going to be different to my own. We’re already seeing this in action, all these climate events, flooding, heatwaves and storms.“The future that my child will have is bleak, if governments do not act and force change.
“Governments are leaders and if they do not act no one will change their behaviour and things will only get worse.”