July 12, 2021

The Consultation on MEES: Has the Government inadvertently created a vacuum?

Last month we published a post on the Government’s consultation regarding MEES (Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards). The consultation closed on 9th June, at which time it was our intention to write an update post, to bring closure to the matter.

But the Government has not published the results of the consultation. Instead of clarity, we – and the thousands of landlords of non-domestic, privately rented buildings this will affect in England and Wales – now face a vacuum.

Let’s just remind ourselves what’s at stake here – and why the Government’s actions seem to speak louder than its rhetoric.

Consultation on Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) at Westminster
Consultation on Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) at Westminster

A proposal without a response?

The Government originally published a consultation paper in 2019 that proposed a requirement for all non-domestic rented buildings to meet an EPC B rating – rather than the current E rating – by 2030.

The subsequent consultation, published in March 2021, was concerned with the framework to implement this new requirement and improve its compliance and enforcement process (you can download the document here).

This framework, the Government assures us, ‘will ensure vital energy and carbon savings and support the path to net zero.’

We were prepared, at one point, to believe that. Ultimately, whilst our position on this subject was critical in some respects, it was also cautiously optimistic.

On the one hand, we expressed concern that the change to the B rating might burden landlords with still more bureaucracy, and that this bureaucracy would afford little genuine energy efficiency improvement, being founded (as it is) upon an instrument – the EPC – whose flaws in terms of accuracy are well documented.

On the other, we also predicted that, in light of the Government’s positive advances in removing gas boilers, a carbon tax on gas might realistically be proposed to shift energy efficiency from the purely EPC-driven guesswork of ‘measurement before the fact’ onto a real-world footing based around achievements, incentives and penalties.

In short, we saw the opportunity for significant upside in the Government’s framework. But as the results of the consultation have not been published, the Government has essentially left us all in the dark – missing a sterling chance to capitalise on its past initiatives and to bring the non-domestic private rented sector onside in the process.

And with that category accounting for up to 80% of energy demand in private buildings, that’s a bad miss.

Why does any of this matter?

As we remarked in the previous post, to achieve zero carbon targets in 2050, many experts estimate that every one of us needs to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% in the next nine years.

That, in itself, is a big ask, and so the lack of response from the Government around how the industry thinks we should get there best and quickest is therefore pretty alarming – and suggests they are leaving some of the most urgent questions unanswered.

What were the consultation’s views, for example, on how we transform the EPC approach from a finger in the air, to a process that measures actual and proven energy efficiency (and, indeed, addresses the lack of it) over time?

It’s a genuine issue we see raised by landlords all the time, and we would absolutely expect it to have surfaced in the consultation – so why aren’t we being told if it did?

What were the consultation’s views on the most rapid and least disruptive way of reaping the carbon reduction benefits of solar PV panels, for example?

Again, it’s a topic we come up against time and again (despite the fact that neither ‘PV’ nor ‘solar’ are mentioned anywhere in the consultation paper), but the absence of output from the consultation process leaves the issue dangling.

And what were their views on the proportionality – or otherwise – of the fines that the Government will levy against landlords for non-compliance?

These fines add huge financial pressure to a process that is already a major management headache for landlords. According to a legal analysis of the paper, not only will landlords be liable for a maximum fine of up to £150,000 if a property has been let in breach of the MEES regulations, but the £5000 penalty for smaller breaches would now apply to each and every breach that occurs.

For example, a failure to lodge a copy of a valid EPC by 1 April 2025 would be one breach and a failure to lodge a further improvement EPC or an exemption by 1 April 2027 in relation to the same property would be a further breach.

Conclusion: bring on the rumour mill…

In short, whilst the Government’s understanding of energy efficiency might (hopefully) run to understanding that heat can’t traverse a vacuum, its understanding of communication apparently fails to grasp that rumour thrives in that very same environment.

The result must ultimately be that where a clear way forward and an increase in impetus was hoped for, further confusion and delay will result.

Not what he had hoped for on 9th June.

GBD is hosted a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) virtual seminar on MEES on 7th July, where the author of this article, Simon Green, shared his insights on this and related topics. For a copy of the seminar, please contact Sara@gbuild.co.uk.

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