Homes England Eyes Retrofit

Homes England Eyes Retrofit
The Homes England Logo

Green shoots in the retrofit sector are possibly reflected in the complexion of the Homes England staff as they weigh up the results of the Homes England Public Bodies Review 2023.

Why might they be envious? Well if the Homes England team are relieved of some of their duties;

RECOMMENDATION: DLUHC should transfer responsibilities for the Help to Buy scheme and Building Safety work out of Homes England in the medium term. Homes England Public Bodies Review 2023.

as suggested in the report, the idle hands of the expanded agency will still need to fulfil it's statutory objectives which are to;

improve the supply and quality of housing
secure the regeneration or development of land or infrastructure
support in other ways the creation, regeneration or development of communities or their continued well-being
contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and good design

Althought the review came out in broadly positive recognition of their work, we wanted to look at three issues.

Homes England, in it's own words is an 'arms length' agency that is sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. For this reason it is subject to reviews like the reporting in Homes England Public Bodies Review 2023 and regular checks on the progress it is making.

Deep in the report there were indicators that retrofit and the work required to achieve could be adopted by the agency, but we wanted to know;

  1. Could Homes England work on national retrofit coordination?

Nationwide Retrofit Campaign

Homes England emerges as a formidable entity in the report with a commendable legacy in stimulating housing supply and regeneration, evidencing its vital contributions towards the realization of quality homes across England​​. Nevertheless, the report intimates work needs to be done in Homes England's operational breadth and resource allocation to navigate the complexities inherent in a nationwide retrofit campaign​​.

  1. Could Homes England have the correct skillsets to manage the finances of retrofit funding?

Coordination of Retrofit Funding

Delving into Homes England’s aptitude for orchestrating the central government’s retrofit funding, the review lauds its stewardship over managing large budgets with probity. However, the report author calls for a prudent reassessment of its diverse engagements, advocating for a concentrated focus​​.

  1. Does Homes England have the digital expertise for the demands of retrofit?

Coordinating Logbook and Retrofit Data

The demands for data management, data tracking, and data collection in retrofit mean any agency would need to have it's digital 'fingers on the pulse'. The demand for digital logbooks and the associated improvement in tracking EPC data as recommended by various logbook organisations (Listen to our podcast about logbooks ⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️)

Although skimming through the report, you might find that digital benchmarks are not being met by the teams at Homes England. The experience of managing a series of challenging digital projects says, that Homes England have the capacity to work on even more challenging projects like adoption of logbook data for tracking retrofit.

In sum, the Homes England Public Bodies Review 2023 actually reinforces an idea that a 'arms length' body with vast experience and expertise might be the very best choice to further enhance the good work of the CIC, not for profit and trade bodies that are contributing to the National Retrofit Hub's great work.

I spoke off the record to a civil servant familiar with working with Homes England and other regional bodies like the GLA. They spoke candidly about the challenges that organisations with party allegiances (The GLA is considered a Labour backed entity) but spoke of the relish and apolitical willingness to work that staff at Homes England demonstrated.

I think as the government of the day may change, we can expect a 'land grab' from some agencies to take on the more dynamic challenges of retrofit as we push harder and harder against the resistance to to net zero. As recently as this week the UK's own FT remarked;

Why is making UK homes more efficient so difficult?
Homeowners need help they can trust to cut their bills and carbon emissions

on how difficult retrofitting is, maybe Homes England is the start of a government swing into what the Co-Director of The National Retrofit Hub called a "policy void".