The partner at RLB explains how a new initiative is helping to reduce fuel poverty in Sandwell

The general misconception is that fuel poverty is just about low incomes but in fact it’s part of a much more complex picture linking high fuel costs to poor housing stock that is inadequately insulated and contains inefficient heating systems.

In order to help improve this, the government has made it mandatory for Social Landlords to report on the Standard Assessment Procedure ratings of their stock on a yearly basis.

The rationale behind this is that the thermal efficiency of social housing properties should increase gradually as the stock condition is improved through their remedial and refurbishment works.

The SAP is the government's recommended system for rating domestic dwellings for energy efficiency.

A higher value indicates a lower energy cost, with a SAP rating of 100 indicating a zero net energy cost i.e. all the energy required is self generated. According to a survey by the NHER a typical SAP rating for an average house in England is 45.

But with over three million social houses in the UK under the Decent Homes programme and 30,000 alone in the borough of Sandwell the SAP analysis is a major task.

Naturally social landlords carry out physical surveys on a proportion of their properties to determine their SAP ratings, with the average rating then taken as the rating for their housing stock.

Although this process is valid, it is still very labour intensive, expensive, dependent on the target sample and it would be several years before all the properties have been surveyed.

This then means that improvements to properties can be a long time in coming and without an indication of the SAP rating of a property, the energy efficiency of a house can not be maximised – much to the detriment of the tenants.

To combat this, the Sandwell Decent Homes Partnership has worked in collaboration with consultant Rider Levett Bucknall to develop a smarter and more cost effective computer model to determine the SAP rating of individual homes.

The computer model can also predict the SAP rating for individual properties before and after the Partnership’s 'Decent Homes' work has been undertaken. The desktop model then highlights the ‘Quick Win’ solutions that can be undertaken to quickly improve the energy efficiency of homes.