The Scottish Parliament has set a target for Scotland to become a net zero carbon emissions country, society and economy by 2045. Heat within buildings makes up around a fifth of all of Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions, making the housing sector a key component in the drive to reach net zero.

The Scottish Government has published a Housing to 2040 Route Map, which sets out the Government's ambitions for the housing sector in Scotland over the next eighteen years. The guiding principle behind the Route Map that decisions in the housing sector must be consistent with the target of net zero by 2045. In a social housing context, relevant bodies require to consider the goal of net zero throughout the planning, development and implementation of social housing initiatives.

While recent events have pushed "net zero" off the news headlines, it is clear that achieving "net zero" by 2045 will be one of the most significant tasks facing the social housing sector in the coming decades. In this blog, we set out below some key challenges faced by the social housing sector as they strive to meet net zero. 

1. Uncertainty surrounding performance of heat pumps and electric heating technology

Social landlords have faced challenges in the past when working to meet energy efficiency standards in homes - initially the Scottish Housing Quality Standard and then the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing. In meeting these standards, social landlords had to deal with older heating technologies, pitched to landlords as energy-efficient, which failed to perform as modelled within homes as they aged.

Heat pumps, and other forms of electric heating, are currently envisaged as playing a key role in meeting social housing net zero targets by promoting energy efficiency and by reducing dependence on fossil fuel sources. There will be concerns as to whether electric heating technology will face the same issues as previous forms of heating technologies. Social landlords must therefore satisfy themselves as to the effective performance of heat pumps and other forms of electric heating technology in terms of promoting energy efficiency and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

2. Social housing within mixed tenure block

    A challenge in social housing generally is that social housing often exists within mixed tenure blocks. Some of the owners within blocks will be private owners. There is no onus on private owners to transition to more sustainable heating methods within the housing units that they own. Some social landlords may therefore face a challenge in seeking cooperation from private landlords to invest in energy-efficient heating frameworks or other improvements which require a "whole building" approach.

    3. Cost of zero emission heating systems and other changes

      Zero emission heating systems can be expensive to install. The maintenance and running costs may also be substantially higher than gas heating systems. Significant changes can often be required to buildings; for example, creating the space required for installing a hot water storage unit. Landlords in more rural or island areas may face particular difficulties, where geographical logistics may cause increased costs. Social landlords will therefore require to carefully consider how they propose to pay for the installation of zero emission heating systems, and the extent to which those costs can or should be passed onto tenants.

      The cost of changes within the social housing sector more generally to comply with the Scottish Government's net zero targets are a significant test for the social housing sector, particularly at a time where costs for both tenants and landlords are increasing significantly. A key challenge for the social housing sector will be balancing the objectives of decarbonisation with maintaining affordable homes for tenants and meeting their legal obligations in respect of both.

      The Scottish Government have recently announced the Social Housing Net Zero Heat Fund which will provide up to £500,000 for small/medium social housing providers to undertake development work, assisting them with delivering a business plan for reaching net zero across existing dwellings. The funding invitation is open now and will close on 30 May 2022.

      Both the Scottish and UK Governments will publish further strategies and guidance for achieving their "net zero" targets. We will be blogging on their implications for the social housing sector once published, so watch this space.


      Douglas Waddell

      Senior Associate