Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Questions (41, 56)

Jan O'Sullivan


41. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the monitoring in place to ensure that local authority homes that have received a thermal upgrade reach an improved BER rating; if a survey is carried out to measure the improvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51802/19]

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Seán Sherlock


56. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount spent by local authorities since 2017 on retrofitting; and the number of houses that have been retrofitted by each local authority. [49434/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Coincidentally, this question is on the same topic. It is the first of the ordinary questions. It., again. relates to the BERs of local authority homes. I stress my concern that while people are waiting for additional funding to be allocated and for this work to be carried out, fuel costs are increasing for those who are, by definition, on low incomes because they are in local authority homes. I urge the Minister of State to improve the situation with regard to such homes wherever possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 56 together.

The energy efficiency retrofitting programme for social housing was launched in 2013 with the aim of improving the insulation standards and overall energy performance of local authority social housing stock for all the reasons the Deputy outlined, including helping with the issue of fuel poverty, making our homes healthier, warmer and more comfortable places to live, and reducing the cost of running them. The programme commenced with phase 1 works, which were targeted at cavity wall and attic insulation. Phase 2 commenced in all local authorities this year and is focusing on fabric upgrade works to dwellings and includes external wall insulation and upgrades to windows, doors and heating. This will be very beneficial. By the end of 2019, approximately 71 ,000 homes, or just over half of the local authority social housing stock, will have benefited from retrofit works under this programme supported by a total spend of more than €144 million.

Improvements in thermal performance are measured by local authorities through the use of pre and post-works building energy rating, BER, certificates which provide a good indicator of the energy savings and the reduction in CO2 emissions arising from retrofit works. As a condition of phase 2, a registered pre and post-works BER certificate must be provided for all properties and details submitted to my Department in order for the local authority to draw down funding. That provides the clarity the Deputy sought earlier.

I ask for greater clarity in this regard. Is there a timeframe for the carrying out of a survey after the works are completed? To be clear, is the contractor paid before the final survey has been carried out?

To be honest with the Deputy, I do not have information on the timing. It is up to the local authority but I presume we can do it quite quickly. With regard to when people are paid, we do not pay out until we receive the rating. I do not know what arrangements the local authorities have in place. We cannot do everything for them. That is a matter for them to arrange locally. The Department, however, does not pay out until we receive the certificates.

In some cases, despite basic works being carried out on attics and walls and so on, a home may still have a low energy rating because of leaking windows or other issues. I know the schemes are very specific but is it possible to allocate funding to carry out other works, such as works on windows or other elements, on such homes?

The Department has common sense. We work with local authorities as best as we can. There are a range of schemes outside of these grants under which houses can be retrofitted. These grants are linked to specific works and to BER certificates. A range of works may need to be carried out. If local authorities propose to carry out other works, we will examine those proposals. The aim is to achieve a BER of B2, the cost-optimal rating. This will mean more work in the case of some houses but that can be achieved under planned maintenance work. This grant is focused on energy efficiency and making our houses more comfortable and warmer but there are other works to be carried out on houses. As the Deputy will be aware, we discussed the voids programme last night. At this stage, close to 10,000 houses have been brought back into use. When local authorities are doing this, a deep retrofit and other works are often carried out on the house. In some cases, a house identified under the voids programme may require €80,000 worth of work rather than €30,000. That is the time to do the work.

Local authorities collect a lot of rent from some of these houses. We have asked them to put in place a planned maintenance programme. That will also consider energy efficiencies. There are different ways of doing this. Naturally, we ask local authorities that are drawing down this kind of funding in respect of a house to complete other works at the same time, if possible. They have maintenance budgets, as they should. Some local authorities do well and have a good record of collecting rent and spending it wisely. Others charge lower rents for whatever reason - that decision is made locally - and may not always spend the money raised on maintenance programmes. We encourage local authorities to collect a reasonable rent to spend on existing housing stock.