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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Oxford’s thriving industries fuel a fiercely competitive housing market. Health, bio-technology, digital and creative businesses are booming alongside our traditional strengths in education, publishing, vehicle manufacturing and the visitor economy. Our residents also have a median age of 31 compared to an England average of 40 and the difficulty young people face buying their own home is exacerbated in Oxford where average house prices are over ten times higher than average salaries. Up to half of all dwellings in the city are private lets and improving the thermal efficiency of these homes is critical to reducing domestic carbon emissions and keeping fuel bills down.

As Cabinet member for Housing on Oxford City Council I’m determined, alongside my other colleagues, to drive up insulation standards and our new private rented sector licensing scheme complements our other efforts to do that. The scheme came into force in September last year, we’ve already been licensing Houses in Multiple Occupation for over a decade and now all privately let homes across the whole city need to be licensed.

To ensure all Oxford private rented properties meet a minimum energy standard of E in their Energy Performance Certificates, we enforce the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards using powers from The Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. Where these don’t apply, but the property is low performing for energy efficiency, we will often use Housing Act 2004 powers to ensure landlords address deficiencies to improve their properties, excess cold is a hazard which tenants should not be forced to live with.

For single family rented properties, we are targeting properties that are rated F and G in their EPCs for assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), as they are at high risk of being a ‘Category 1′ hazard for excess cold. Where hazards are identified, landlords are required to make the necessary improvements to remove the health risk to their tenants or they face enforcement action.

Frustratingly, some long-standing Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) don’t require EPC certificates, but when HMOs do require a certificate, a licensing condition is added to require a new EPC to be submitted demonstrating at least a D rating as a prerequisite for a longer licence. This should be further improved over the lifetime of the licence if possible.

Landlord’s can gain accredited status and benefit from reduced licence fees, when they do we expect the highest EPC ratings possible within reason for the construction type of their property. As a minimum the council expects properties managed by accredited landlords to be “D” rated. Landlords and agents with properties rated E-G will need to provide evidence that continued energy improvement works to their managed properties have been carried out and that improvements are ongoing to those properties that fall below this standard.

A variety of energy efficiency grants are available to homeowners and occupiers, private landlords and tenants. Whilst many of these are offered by other organisations, we’ve drawn them together and publicise the links on the council website.

We are also ambitious about improving the energy efficiency of our own council owned housing stock. We have a target of getting 95% of our 8,000 homes up to an EPC rating of C or above by 2030 which will be an important step towards our goal of a net zero carbon Oxford by 2040. We will need support from the Government to achieve this and we are currently waiting to see whether our latest bid for grant funding to boost our own investment will be successful.

Oxford City Council is pulling our weight to drive up insulation standards in the city, but what’s really needed of course, is a Labour & Co-operative Government which is fully committed to supporting warmer homes.