The Retrofit Academy’s review of Housing 2022
The Retrofit Academy attended Housing 2022 in June this year, Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference and Europe’s largest housing festival. First impressions; it was great to see so many people in person again and experience live events coming back into their own. It was our first Housing conference as the Skills and Training Partner for Unlock Net Zero, giving us a chance to share our own experience on Green Skills and Employment including our CEO David Pierpoint speaking about this at the Unlock Net Zero stage.
We noticed a number of themes coming through clearly, for example, social value, MMC and technology; EV charging, repairs scheduling, safety & compliance software, AI, digital twins, GIS, and sensing & monitoring technology. But the strongest focus seemed to be net zero, partly driven by the Unlock Net Zero Stage and campaign, and partly driven by an increasing sense of urgency amongst clients. There were some clear dilemmas under discussion, for example, to what extent do we invest now, and how, against the extent to which we wait until finance, technology and policy can give us more confidence and clarity.
We took the opportunity to engage with visitors using some pre-prepared questions and graphics on our stand:
Day 1: Where will you find your retrofit supply chain?
Some clients are looking to utilise existing frameworks and DPS arrangements, but there is an increasing focus on responding to external capacity and capability challenges by building in-house teams. For some clients these were quite technically focused, i.e., creating a bank of professional PAS2035 roles so that retrofit can be better managed and to retain the focus on safe, good-quality retrofit. A smaller group of clients were actively considering expanding their directly employed workforce and are in the process of building these teams and procuring the external capacity they know they will need to continue to draw on.
There was a consensus that retrofit coordinators – both directly employed and access to capacity – were much better operating client-side.
Day 2: What are the benefits of retrofit for you?
Housing organisations highlighted very clear, practical, mission-based benefits; warm, healthy homes, better utilisation of stock, and, of course, fuel costs. Responses demonstrated the depth of concern about the cost-of-living crisis, including the impact on occupiers as they must make awful ‘heat, eat or rent’ choices, and the consequences that follow; debt, arrears, stress, and potentially worse; mental health.
But regardless of benefit, there was an acknowledgment that customers need to be kept on board and supported if we want benefits to be realised.
Day 3: What is your biggest retrofit challenge?
There were multiple challenges highlighted:
- The supply chain skills gap
- Selecting the right properties and doing the right work for them
- Ensuring work is future-proofed
- Lack of confidence in funding streams, partly due to their short-term nature but also lack of visibility of future funding such that plans could be made, communication developed with tenants, and partnerships built with the supply chain
- Customer engagement: what is the best way to get conversations started that are likely to support the creation of good quality customer relationships that support effective programme delivery and the creation of great outcomes?
In addition to our daily questions, we had two graphics that enabled responses to build up during the course of the conference:
Our first was a temperature gauge with the question, “what is an acceptable household energy bill for your residents?” This had a range of £0-£20 at the bottom of our gauge, up to £200 at the top, based on average monthly energy costs. As a point of reference, there was a marker at £95 for the average as of September 2021; note this is pre-hike, with the cost cap now averaging £165 and likely to go above our £200 upper limit by early 2023.
By the end of Housing 2022, there were some responses hovering around £20, with responses increasing as people got closer to £50. After that point, there was a more defined grouping as the £95 marker was approached. Most responses coalesced within the £80 – £100 range. Although there were some higher than this level, there weren’t many and no responses went above £150.
Our second graphic asked people how many homes they were planning to retrofit. The majority were in the extremes; 16 visitors were looking at less than 5,000 homes, while 10 were looking at 30,000 or more. There were consistently smaller numbers hovering in the other ranges (5-10,000, 10-20,000, and 20-30,000). This may reflect the nature of Housing 2022, where we noticed that many of our mid-sized clients were less likely to attend than small or large ones.
Our social media story from the event correlated, broadly, with the above. There was a higher percentage of votes in the £50-£100 range in terms of an acceptable average monthly energy bill, and relatively lower votes for the £20-£50 and £100-£150 ranges. There were some votes above £150, but very few. In terms of homes for retrofit, 52% of responses were in the less than 5,000 homes range, and 24% in the more than 30,000 range, so a similar distribution to our graphics on the stand.
So, what are we taking away from the event?
Firstly, the focus on net zero is leading clients to ask critical questions about investment planning, financial capacity, access to internal capacity and capability, supply chain partnerships, and risk. We obviously welcome this focus, and please contact us if we can help you.
Secondly, we are massive champions for PAS2035 as a mechanism to help clients push toward safe, good-quality retrofit, but we got the impression that PAS2035 needed some care and attention. Ultimately, it is a tool to help clients ask the right questions at the right time to the right people. Whilst it was great to see a focus amongst visitors on retrofit outcomes, we may need to do some work to reiterate the role of PAS2035 in enabling the good quality retrofit which creates those outcomes (in contrast to some of the earlier and extremely alarming failed schemes) rather than a stick to beat people into compliance.
With this in mind, The Retrofit Academy’s Head of Social Housing and Local Government, Arnout Andrews, felt that the sector is really starting to think about how to skill up its workforce, both individually and in terms of organisational readiness. They seemed to respond particularly well to the Introduction to PAS2035 and Introduction to Retrofit courses, and the Bootcamp version of the Level 5 Retrofit Coordinator course, with these courses being seen as great entry points for their organisations.
Finally, fuel bills. There is a clear disconnect between where bills are heading – over £200 on average per month – and where they should sit (c.£80/month) to give customers a fighting chance. This is a big question for the sector in two ways:
- How is your newbuild journey to net zero progressing, because there is a real urgency to ensuring that newbuild never becomes part of the retrofit challenge? There were solutions at Housing 2022 that may represent a way forward for clients but whatever the solution, newbuild must address the central question of decarbonisation and fuel cost; and
- We have a challenge as clients to understand how we can push back towards a reasonable average fuel cost for a home. This is a retrofit outcome; so how do we set up internal and external partnerships that are trained, focussed, incentivised, and rewarded across multiple interventions so that fuel cost is manageable, and not something that breaks tenancies, people, and families?