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Exclusive: Half of councillors say social housing has not been upgraded since 2010

As residents face extortionate energy bills this winter, many council homes in need of retrofitting remain unfit for purpose.

By Sarah Dawood

Inflation might be coming down but bills still feel pretty high. The energy regulator, Ofgem, is increasing the energy price cap again from January, with the typical annual household bill projected to be £1,928, nearly twice as high as it was in April 2021. As winter sets in, heating will prove to be an essential that many people simply cannot afford.

England’s leaky housing is exacerbating this problem. Our notoriously poorly insulated housing stock is among the least energy efficient in Europe. Promises to improve the heat retention of the country’s homes have been fleeting – the Prime Minister recently scrapped the government’s pledge to force private landlords to upgrade their properties to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating C by 2025. Nearly half of social homes in England (43 per cent) do not meet this requirement.

In exclusive polling carried out by New Statesman Spotlight*, a third of councillors in England (33 per cent) said that housing services in their areas had either been closed or cut since the Conservatives came into power in 2010. More than half (54 per cent) said their local authority had completed no major upgrade works to their social housing stock over the past 13 years.

Labour-run councils appeared more likely to experience these issues – 42 per cent of Labour councillors said their local authority had been forced to cut housing services, compared with just 6 per cent of Conservative councillors. Half of Labour councillors said their council had completed no upgrade works on social housing, compared with 42 per cent of Conservative ones.

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This, of course, assumes that there is any council housing left in these areas. Many respondents to Spotlight’s survey answering "other" said their areas had no council housing at all, and that it had either been transferred to social landlords and housing associations, or sold off as a result of the “right to buy” scheme and not replaced.

[See also: Housing benefits still don't keep up with skyrocketing rents]

England is facing a housing crisis, and local authorities do not have the money to deal with it. Many councils are being pushed into bankruptcy, in part due to having to spend increasing amounts on emergency accommodation. There has been a huge rise in homelessness because of a dearth of affordable housing, with a lack of social homes and a largely unregulated private rental market. Some councils are now spending up to half of their total available housing finance, millions of pounds, on emergency accommodation to tackle the problem. Basildon Borough Council in Essex, for instance, spent £2m on emergency accommodation in 2022, up from just £7,000 in 2017.

According to our polling, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of councillors say it’s likely or very likely their local authority will go bankrupt. This would mean roughly 80 councils in England.

*The full councillor survey results, made up of responses from 528 councillors across English local authority districts, are available here, and in a special policy supplement with the New Statesman issue published on 24 November. Read it here.

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