New NHF research highlights barriers to retrofitting homes

10 September 2020

The social housing sector is already decarbonising. Housing associations are investing heavily and driving innovation in new homes, by using different materials and modern methods of construction. Housing associations are also investing in existing homes by retrofitting new heating systems and insulating to improve energy efficiency and cut carbon emissions.

In short, the social housing sector is taking action in tackling climate change and is already outperforming other housing providers in delivering energy efficient homes, with a higher proportion of homes rated at EPC Band C or above.

However, the sector is not complacent. There are significant challenges to overcome if housing associations are to deliver an ambitious retrofit programme and become net zero in terms of carbon emissions by 2050.

Our research

To understand these challenges better, we conducted a survey of housing associations over August 2020 to identify the major barriers and obstacles to retrofit. Our headline findings are:

  • The overwhelming majority of respondents – nearly three in every four – told us that concerns around funding were a key barrier to retrofitting at scale and pace.
  • Over half of respondents reported that the lack of policy clarity made it difficult to plan effectively or with any degree of confidence.

Other major challenges highlighted by housing associations include:

  • Concerns around unproven technology or approaches.
  • The need to manage other organisational priorities, such as supporting residents through the coronavirus crisis and safety remediation work.
  • Skills shortages and supply chain concerns.
  • The absence of a sustainability strategy or retrofit plan within the organisation.

The full survey results are outlined in the table below.

Next steps

These results add further weight to our calls for the government to deliver:

  • A £3.8bn 10-year Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund as promised in the manifesto, to help mitigate costs.
  • A policy roadmap setting out the standards, targets and requirements that the social housing sector will need to meet to deliver the 2050 ambition, to enable housing associations to plan effectively and with confidence.

We will be using the outcomes of this research to support our policy asks on decarbonisation in our submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

What are the principal obstacles to retrofitting

% total responses

A lack of finance


A lack of policy certainty and direction


Concerns about unproven technology or approaches


There are other organisational priorities


A lack of capacity and capability in supply chains


A lack of technical knowledge in the business


A lack of a retrofit strategy or plan


Unproven business case


Resident resistance


Planning issues


Difficulties in procurement