Let GPs share NHS savings from energy retrofits, says think tank

Doctors’ surgeries should be able to share in NHS savings when they refer patients whose health can benefit from home energy efficiency retrofits. That is one of the recommendations made by think tank ResPublica in a new report looking at improving the energy efficiency of UK housing stock.

ResPublica notes that fuel poverty and associated health problems affect all ages, from babies in low income homes to those in retirement, and that the private rented sector has some of the coldest and least energy efficient homes. Its report, Out of the cold: An agenda for warm homes, sets out recommendations including:

  • Giving citizens the right to not only report, but to enforce, energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector through a local authority led structure which also involves the health sector
  • Triggering a penalty charge on landlords who repeatedly breach energy efficiency standards in private rented homes
  • Enabling GP practices to benefit from savings made by the NHS when family doctors refer patients needing work to improve the energy efficiency of their homes
  • A more ambitious government target to upgrade all properties connected to the gas grid in the private rented sector to a minimum standard of energy performance certificate (EPC)
  • More help for those living in rural areas and off the gas grid who continue to suffer from a lack of support, and are often neglected because they are hard-to-treat and geographically hard-to-reach.

ResPublica believes that while suppliers will spend nearly £1bn a year installing insulation measures in hard-to-treat households and low income areas under their energy company obligation (ECO), the current framework, which is set to run until March 2017, needs to be changed. It says the funding pot should be devolved to local administrators, creating an ECO competition for each local area, open to cities, local authorities and housing providers working with community and local organisations.

On funding, ResPublica believes the government should launch an independent review to explore whether the funding for ECO should be transferred to general taxation. In addition, it says city regions and local authorities should lead on integrating health and social care budgets with ECO budgets to fund local initiatives that tackle fuel poverty.

The report is supported by all of the three main political parties. Tim Yeo MP, chair of the energy and climate change select committee, said of the report: “It is a bold and ambitious document and is exactly what’s needed in this policy space in order to ensure we capitalise fully on the massive potential for energy efficiency improvements in our homes.”

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