video Podcast Episode 9

Louise Trenchard from Hastings Council

This week, we're talking with Louise Trenchard, the East Sussex Fuel Poverty Coordinator at Hastings Borough Council. We talk about the success of the LAD Green Homes Grant so far, her thoughts on Phase 1B of the Green Homes Grant and technologies that she finds particularly interesting.

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Podcast Transcript

Alastair:
Hello and welcome to another “Switchee Podcast” The days are getting longer and the episodes are getting shorter and better and today is no exception. I’m joined today by Louise Trenchard, who's heavily involved in trying to solve fuel poverty in East Sussex with Hastings Borough Council. Thank you so much for joining us, Louise. I’m really interested to find out from you, how you got involved in fuel poverty. It's something very close to our hearts at Switchee. Perhaps you could tell us how you got involved in the fight against fuel poverty.

Louise:
Yeah, I sort of fell into fuel poverty and now feel like it's my natural home. So I came through public health. I worked in public health and then this job came up and I thought it was a good opportunity to draw together a few bits. I’d originally worked in housing and supported housing and within housing associations and then a bit around mental health support in housing. I did my master's in public health. And so from there, I took this role and now I feel like it's just where I’m meant to be. I love the combination of drawing the health, the social welfare, the carbon reduction, the healthy housing elements and putting it all together and I find that really satisfying. Yeah, so it was a bit of an accident.

Alastair:
You know what, I’ve asked many people how they got involved in housing over the years and often it's by accident. It's a shame actually because it's such a great industry where you get to have a bit of a purpose behind what you're doing each day but people don't often come out of school or university thinking "That's what I’ll do!". Interesting that you mentioned the different elements that are interlinked with fuel poverty. It's not just about people paying for heating, it's like you said about well-being and a whole host of other things that actually if you tackle one of these things you can sometimes tackle all of them at the same time. I think that's why at Switchee, we're quite interested in the new grant schemes that are coming out. They look to be trying to tackle energy efficiency measures, whole house retrofitting and almost as a by-product sorting some of these fuel poverty issues. So yeah, hopefully, they can merge together to help tackle fuel poverty. One of the ones that I wanted to talk to you about is the LAD scheme, we've heard a little bit about this but I must be honest, I’m not too sure exactly what it is. I’m getting lost with green homes grants and various other things. So can you tell us a bit about the LADs scheme, what it is and how people can use it?

Louise:
Yeah, so the Green Homes Grant was announced last year, everyone I think is aware of that, as part of the summer statement and then the second that was very widely publicized was the voucher element and that's for all householders. So the local authority delivery element of the Green Homes Grant is the bit that I work on. So that's now been through two initial funding rounds, phase 1A and phase 1B and the idea for that was to build on local knowledge, to build on local partnerships, delivery mechanisms, contracts that were already in place or they certainly needed to be because of the very tight delivery schedule that was set. So that gives local authorities an opportunity to build on what they were already doing and to make an application to BEIS and luckily, we were very pleased to be successful both in phase 1A and phase 1B. We just found out last week. Our bid is a partnership bid between all of the East Sussex local authorities. So Hastings Borough Council was the lead authority there and in partnership with Optivo, Optivo Housing Association.

So the idea was the Green Homes Grant is sort of an amalgamation of a few ideas that have been around for a few years. What we see it grow into will be interesting but it was the first opportunity to look at our whole house retrofit approach, whereas eco had always focused on single measures that you might manage to sort of piece together, perhaps with other bits of funding that you might have got but it was still challenging to take a whole-house retrofit approach. So it is the first time that there's been money behind the idea of the whole house retrofit. We've read up a little bit about the strategic aims of these funding streams and its multifaceted. Obviously, fuel poverty sits in there but there are a number of other elements in terms of comfort levels within homes, efficiency, part of the green recovery and all of that.

Alastair:
I’m interested to know from your perspective if you think that this new round of grants and funding is actually going to meet their strategic aims.

Louise:
So, I think there's always the tension between those people who work primarily in fuel poverty and those who work primarily to work towards net-zero. Because sometimes the best thing for a house in fuel poverty is to put in a new gas boiler and doing so is a really good short term benefit to that household and when you are looking at somebody in that sort of level of need, then that's your priority. But if we look more broadly strategically to equitable decarbonization, so if we are looking to make sure that those in fuel poverty don't get left behind, don't get left on old technologies because in the short term that was best for them. Then the LAD scheme does provide real options there. It provides options as well to look beyond just heating costs.

So yes, that's obviously a key element and that was part of everyone's bid. We had to demonstrate that the packages that we'd be putting into people's homes would reduce their fuel bills and reduce their carbon through SAP and also look at improving the health of the house. We are all doing that but there remains that tension, there are times where we've looked to put a package together under this bid and it's like well, that's not the best thing for that household. We've got to rethink again how to do that. But having that increased amount of money available to look at the insulation, the ventilation, and the energy source, the heating mechanisms in place is certainly the first time I’ve been able to do that. Looking at having had the eco measures before but it isn't fully straightforward and there are times there are some fairly well-publicized issues with the green homes grant with supply chains and things like that.

So our original packages were nearly all air source heat pumps. We've now moved much more to PV and so that's been a bit of a shift that we've been putting together because of the issues around the supply of air source heat pumps and the increased cost of them as well. So with the LAD scheme, the aims were the same as for the Green Homes Grant as a whole, so that was tackling fuel poverty. So, yes, it does but it's not without issues and complications still. We know it is reducing carbon which is obviously the main thing that we talk about and it is a huge amount of investment into the green clean growth sort of element of building supply chains but it hasn't so far fully resolved those issues.

Whether it will, in the long run, I think is very possible but it's not just going to be one answer and now everything's fine. It takes longer to build markets like that and build supply chains and change behaviour across the market.

Alastair:
So talking of changing behaviour, I guess we've been made aware that not only are there lots of different measures and multiple interlinking measures that you need to consider for deep retrofit - rightly so. Because there's no one size fits all and you want to try and tackle lots of things at the same time. We've heard about PAS 2035, in terms of new regulation there and the use of retrofit coordinators. I’m genuinely interested to hear if that's come up in the bids that you're talking about or if that's featuring in sort of daily life yet at Hastings?

Louise:
Very much. I think we were a little bit ahead of the game with this. We were rather lucky because we have our main commission service in East Sussex commissioned by East Sussex County Council Public Health Team. They're our warm home check service. So that's provided on behalf of the council by retrofit works. For the benefit of everybody, they are a non-profit energy efficiency and retrofit cooperative. So retrofit works are the lead provider and they work in partnership with citizens advisee Sussex. So, the concept of the retrofit coordinator was something we were quite far ahead on. So the whole house holistic approach was something we were already trying to build on before the Green Homes Grant.

We've heard all the horror stories of things like the green deal and cavity wall insulation that ends up sealing the property and nightmares ensue leaving people in a worse position than they were before. Which is every person in my position's worst nightmare, even just hearing about it sometimes makes me deeply anxious, even though I know that that's not what we're doing. There's just that "Oh my goodness! Can you imagine?" thing. The government has to lead on this. Again we look to the market on the whole. Different companies doing insulation, different companies doing solar PV, different companies doing a gas boiler, often different companies doing different types of insulation etc, etc. So it won't happen overnight but, I think it had to be forced through because we have to be looking at ventilation better.

If you look at the more recent research around indoor air quality - here's where you get the fact that I am a public health person. There's a quite staggering impact to health and there were new nice guidelines last year or maybe the end of 2019 around indoor air quality. So when we're looking at health in a house, we're not just looking at the temperature. We are looking beyond that to whether someone's home is a healthy place for them to spend time and, especially over the past year, we've all spent an inordinate amount of time in our homes. But even in a normal year, we spend roughly around 90% of our time inside. So it's been a little bit more in our private dwellings but that's likely to stay the same for many of us as well.

So PAS 2035 is a challenge for the market. There's a pandemic. So everyone's in a particularly challenging time for their own businesses and to invest in their business for stuff that they don't yet see how it's going to pan out, is a real challenge for contractors. But I think it is the only way forward for someone to be looking at a property and saying, we want to look at the whole thing. We want to look at what it's like to live here as well as reducing carbon and reducing bills and saying, Okay, what we can do now in stage one is this stuff. This will have the most immediate effect on your carbon reduction. This will have the most immediate effect on your bill savings but, if we do this bit now, it means that later we won't get that problem. Rather than doing each bit and then different problems coming out. That has to be held with expertise within the market because householders don't have that. We still very much think of just turning our boiler on. So we need that to happen from the industry.

Alastair:
Indeed. Just on the retrofit coordinator side of things, I can see how individual smaller private businesses may see it as a big commitment. It is a change in how they might have done business or put these type of measures in. I’m aware of some scholarships that are available. The retrofit academy is doing some great work to try and get funded training done and I think they're opening that up to private businesses as well as local authorities and housing associations.

I also just wanted to mention, Louise, we were talking about energy advice and obviously we were talking about Hastings and East Sussex and Optivo, who are one of the housing providers that we deal with at Switchee and you guys are heavily involved with. I’m not sure if you're aware but over the last 9 months or so, we were able to link people that were in potential fuel poverty with energy advice charities but through our device on the wall so, we were aware that where people might have been referred through citizens advice or a GP in the past, that type of interaction wouldn't necessarily have been happening. So people might have been falling into trouble and not have been identified and referred into the schemes that could help. We often find that there is help available for people it's just actually whether they're aware of it or getting the right help at the right time. So yeah, we were able to look at properties where they were being under-heated on a continuous basis with people in their homes a lot under 16, 17 degrees that kind of thing. Send them a message to ask them if they would like to be contacted about some energy advice and we got a really great response from that and linked them with some of those energy advisors and charities and that was happening on your doorstep, Louise is in Hastings and East Sussex as well.

Louise:
I think that's really exciting and I think that idea of that being more proactive I think is really important. The report last week or this week that 600,000 more people fell into fuel poverty over the course of last year. We have a quite frankly overwhelming mission on our hands and I think between public and voluntary and statutory and the private sector we to be really proactive. You know, we see that more in the energy companies. We see them being expected to do more and contacting people with the use of smart tech to be proactive and say, yeah, we're aware that you're rationing. We're aware that you're disconnecting, it doesn't have to be like this. We can move forward with this - there is help available. I think it's really important particularly when you think of those 600,000 people, a lot of them won't be people who we're very tapped into because they're people whose situation changed rapidly last year and it might take quite a while for them to come out the other side. Yeah, so that's really positive, that's great.

Alastair:
It may be a bit of an unfair question for you considering we've just talked about Switchee's technology, but with the projects that you're doing at the moment and the different bids that you're looking at is there any other type of technology that you've come across, new stuff that is going into these bids that you're excited about? You mentioned PV for example, any other parts that you're excited about?

Louise:
I think PV is exciting. It's something that we really hadn't managed to do through eco. We weren't able to do any renewables, particularly through eco because it just didn't hit the full funding and the top-up was just too great. So it's really positive for me to do that. I’m quite interested to look more into hybrid heat pumps and there are people piping up about that a little bit more. I have to say that my initial research, while very positive. It's always a little bit difficult to get through all of the how do I say this, the sales pitch is the nicest way I can think to say this, to the core data and then apply that to your local area and the type of properties that you're looking at. But I think sort of a hybrid battery PV sort of approach is potentially really positive and takes away some of that fear of doing air source heat pump and it not having enough of a bill saving for a fuel poor household.

So yeah, that's where my attention sort of is. Now to sort LAD 2. So, there's phase 1A phase 1B. So that gets us through to September in delivery at the moment and then LAD 2 comes out in May with delivery until December currently. But that's a different system, so that's not an application system. That would be an allocation through the local energy hubs. So that'll be quite different to phase one. But yes, that's what is currently on my horizon quite a lot.

So the local energy hubs have led on the LAD two and they have been consulting with local authorities. Initial responses have come out from them as to what that might look like. We know that it will be an allocation rather than an application process as in it won't be a competitive bidding process like 1A and 1B, where that generally money is being allocated on the basis of percentage of fuel poverty in those areas and it seems initially, they're really hoping to support local authorities who so far struggled to, for whatever reason - capacity, knowledge, history in the area of what they're doing. So they're hoping to support those areas perhaps a bit more than where we're quite far ahead on that in somewhere like East Sussex, the mechanism might not work quite. It would be early days to see how that works but there'll be a managing agent and they'll have more support from the local energy hubs and it's nice to see. I think the more local energy hubs we can build on them and it's going to be interesting. But I think it's a bit of a wait and see at the moment.

Alastair:
Wait and see, indeed. Louise, we're running out of time here but loads of interesting stuff that's come out from today's discussion I think. You reminded me about hybrid heat pumps, which in a previous life I used to work for a heating manufacturer and their idea was you install a new heat pump and then you link it up through controls to the existing gas or oil or LPG boiler that's there and have this sort of transition phase until it is cheaper to run just the heat pump. So, hopefully, the technology's moved on in the last 5 years to make that a reality. These LAD schemes, I think the message that I’m hearing from you and other people in the sector is yes, it might have been complicated in the first place but we're into like the third or fourth tranche of doing this and perhaps now that it's going through these hubs, and it's non-competitive tendering as Louise has mentioned, that might be the right time for any local authorities that have struggled to gain access to the funding before.

Tackling multiple issues at the same time or tackling one particular issue in the right way helps you tackle multiple issues and a bit of advice for people to go and hunt down the retrofit academy, where there can be some scholarships and some funding to get teams up to speed on the retrofit coordinator course. I don't want to leave this on a damp note but you gave us a whack in the face with the statistics about an additional, AN ADDITIONAL 600,000 people falling in to fuel poverty in recent times. It's clear that the pandemic is having this type of effect. It is becoming more and more important and I feel like we're entering the time of year when we can go out and do work to improve people's lives for next winter and actually save lives here. So it's a really important message there, get the funding, get trained up, get your installs and measures done if you're in a position to do so, and help people with it. Louise, thank you so much!

Louise:
Yeah, thank you very much, Alastair! Thank you!

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