Row of houses with external wall insulation and one without in Blackpool

From wall insulation to new boilers, CHiL is addressing fuel poverty, focusing on the oldest properties in the most deprived areas. They have helped 17,000 people and save 5,600 tonnes of CO2 a year.

In 2014, 13.7% of households in Lancashire were classified as fuel poor. This includes high numbers of hard-to-treat homes, with walls that are not properly insulated, and the region has a high exposure to wind and rain, which causes damp problems when wall cavities are filled in the normal way. 

CHiL has helped thousands of households, many of them struggling to pay energy bills, by using clever financing to fund retrofitting with the support of Public Health.

Ashden judging panel

Context

In 2014, 13.7% of households in Lancashire were classified as fuel poor, compared to an English average of 10.9%. Blackpool had the highest percentage of fuel-poor households in England at 18%, and Lancaster was third highest at 16.3%. While this may be partly due to low income, the quality of the housing stock is an important factor – the county includes high numbers of hard-to-treat homes, with solid walls or cavities that are too narrow or irregular to insulate, and the region has a high level of exposure to wind and rain, which can cause damp problems when wall cavities are filled in the normal way. Preston and Blackpool also have many blocks of flats, where external insulation can only be applied to the entire block in one go, requiring consent and funding for every flat in the block.

Mrs Ratcliffe, a Preston council resident having her boiler replaced under the scheme

Helping households stay warm

Lancashire’s Public Health directors recognised the effect of cold homes on people’s health, and in 2014 helped fund the creation of Cosy Homes in Lancashire (CHiL), a partnership between 14 local authorities in the county, with the goal of improving the energy efficiency of privately owned and privately rented homes. By pooling the members’ resources, CHiL has been able to improve domestic energy efficiency despite government programmes such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) being scaled back. It has installed efficient gas and biomass boilers, insulation for solid walls, cavity walls and lofts, and provided advice on reducing energy use and switching tariffs. Operating as a partnership has enabled it to use a common brand, to access bulk-buying discounts, to share access to legal advice, and develop an innovative approach to funding, making a wholehouse approach to retrofitting possible.

In addition to the Public Health funding, the local authorities contribute the time of their Energy Officers to CHiL’s work. The other key partner is CHiL’s managing agent, Firefly Energi, which has been instrumental in the work, supporting and advising CHiL on technical matters and funding applications.

Fitting a new efficient boiler

CHiL demonstrates that there are still ways for local authorities to reduce fuel poverty by insulating homes, despite diminished support from government policy, and sets an example for other UK local authorities to follow.

The ChiL process

The funds available for domestic energy efficiency work are much smaller than ten years ago, so CHiL works hard to combine funding from multiple sources. In an unusual move for a local authority, CHiL has secured an ECO contract with a large energy supplier, and has combined this with charitable funds, and the Health Booster and Central Heating funds from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). ECO provides an amount of funding linked to the expected CO2 saving for a home, but in some cases not all the funding is required to complete the installation. A private contractor would take the difference as profit, but CHiL redistributes it, using it to top up funding for households that are in fuel poverty but don’t qualify for enough ECO funding (which is based only on CO2 savings) to retrofit their homes. By working across Lancashire, CHiL is able redistribute the surplus funds so that all households suffering from fuel poverty can potentially be helped.

A newly fitted boiler, made possible by Preston Council

Firefly Energi, the managing agent, surveys homes to create an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and to determine what energy efficiency measures could be beneficial. Once funding has been identified and the installation completed, quality checks are carried out and households are given advice on how to use new boilers or central heating controls. Follow up visits or phone calls are used to ensure households are happy with the results, are coping with new boilers and controls, and are aware of the need for servicing.

Targeting Retrofitting

CHiL makes use of community representatives whenever possible to help it identify households in need of energy efficiency retrofitting, and specifically targets the the oldest properties in the most deprived areas. More commonplace marketing methods, such as leaflets, a website and a call centre are also used to reach households, but in an innovative move CHiL has developed an ‘inreach’ approach to contact those most at risk of ill health due to the cold. It sends staff into hospital wards dealing with respiratory illnesses to talk to patients about their home heating. Home visits are then used to clarify the situation, either after the patient is discharged, or beforehand with a family member, and retrofitting is arranged if required.

I’m proud to be working in a partnership that has developed CHiL for the benefit of local residents. It’s a unique delivery model that ensures access to energy efficiency improvements for the most vulnerable households, and is addressing fuel poverty in some of the most deprived wards in the country.

Stuart Pye, Home Improvement and Energy Solutions Manager, Blackburn Council

Achievements

Although CHiL officially came into being in 2014, the local authorities had been partnering on energy efficiency work as early as 2011. Since then, the following work has been carried out in over 7,000 homes across Lancashire:

  • 1,675 solid wall insulations
  • 4,140 cavity wall insulations
  • 4,588 loft insulations (including top-ups)
  • 520 new boilers
  • 5 biomass boilers for blocks of flats, totalling 2,210 kW
  • 3,429 households given energy efficiency advice

As a result, 17,000 people are benefitting from warmer homes and lower energy bills, and 5,600 tonnes /year of CO2 emissions are being avoided.

Future plans

One of the challenges CHiL has faced is that the businesses it needs to work with require a single legal entity to deal with. As the largest member of the partnership, Blackpool Council has played this role so far, but CHiL wants to create a more equal governance structure in future. The next step is to set CHiL up as a social enterprise, with the goal of reducing dependence on local authority funding over time.