Decarbonising housing; taking stock of the green home retrofits

Chris Busey, Policy Manager – Housing, BSA (Chair)

Phillippa Cardno, Chief Executive, Newbury Building Society

Clare White, Operational Risk & Climate Manager, Hinckley & Rugby Building Society

Colin Calder, Co-Founder, Digital Building Limited

Sandy Ruthven, Chief Executive, Severn Wye Energy

Chris Busey, BSA, opened the session by taking stock of the current situation in the UK:

  • Legally mandated target to reduce carbon emissions (The Climate Change Act commits the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050.)

  • Running up against that is the old, leaky housing stock accounting for around 17% of UK carbon emissions

  • Estimated figure of £280bn to bring all of these properties up to EPC C

  • UK government has recently rolled back on their commitments (Private rented sector / gas heating requirements)

  • Labour Party has also reduced by half their investment pledge

Despite all of this, the building society sector is forging ahead, there are now 16 green mortgage products on offer. Within those offerings are significant innovations, for example:

  • Energy efficiency included in affordability calculators

  • 0% rate for additional green borrowing product

  • EPC+ assessments

  • Stepped incentives into home retrofit measures – the more a homeowner does to improve their property, the bigger discount they receive.

  • Demonstrator projects to help educate homeowners

The session continued with an overview of the partnerships between the panellists.

Newbury Building Society and Severn Wye Energy

Phillippa Cardno, Newbury Building Society, outlined the Society’s ‘Green Ambition’, in place for three years and now in practical application. When asked about the motivation behind helping customers on this journey, she spoke about the importance of customer knowledge and education and how the narrative is often focused on reducing energy bills which isn’t necessarily the outcome for all – there isn’t always a financial payback. The Society has partnered with Severn Wye Energy to give customers the opportunity to have a face to face survey to help them fully understand what they could do to improve their homes and how they could do it.  Phillippa said working with an energy company on this journey was very interesting, their knowledge was invaluable having been working on this for years. 

The survey offer is at no cost to the customer – it is a two way process whereby the Society can learn from the process and case studies. They have found that the onboarding and application 
communications to customers were key and they specifically targeted those with lower EPC rated homes. Members are now beginning to sign up for the process.

Hinckley & Rugby Building Society and Digital Buildings Limited

Clare White, Hinckley & Rugby Building Society, and Colin Caulder, Digital Building Ltd, outlined the partnership between the Society and Digital Building Limited. Digital Building Limited has developed a digital platform to take the consumer on a whole retrofit journey, beginning with the development of a digital version of their home, allowing them to obtain competitive quotes. The journey is overseen from start to finish, including all legal protections, to enable the consumer to have full confidence in the process.

Colin outlined the journey to developing the partnership with the Building Society:

  • Identified the blockers and mapped them

  • Designed the end to end customer journey under the Trust Mark scheme

  • Created a legal framework to support homeowners, right the way through to collecting smart metre data.

  • Mapped out two different pathways – remortgage and top-up loans

  • More recently exploring how to include intermediaries in the journey – working with LMC to create webinars and training sessions.

The product will be going out to market later this year.

Clare spoke about the motivation behind the partnership, how as a building society helping members is what they do. People often have busy lives, little time and need help to know where to start. They also need to be able to trust the process – educate and enable.


When asked about the challenges, Colin highlighted how, in his experience, brokers are not particularly focused on further advances for home improvements so there is a knowledge gap that needs addressing. He believes that making non GDPR sensitive property data available to brokers will help them have these conversations with clients, both on properties they own and those they want to buy. 

Remaining barriers to consumer take-up

When asked about the barriers, Phillippa spoke from the lenders’ perspective about how it is very important that we don’t create a divided property market, leading to mortgage prisoners - some lower EPC rated properties are not possible to improve. She also highlighted how EPC as a measure is not designed to do what it is used for today and how the 2025 review is very welcome. She would like to see a move to measuring carbon emissions.

How do we drive demand from consumers?

Sandy spoke about the disparity between levels of interest versus levels of action and how it isn’t where it needs to be. He questioned whether a push to incentivise people was needed. Sandy outlined what he sees as three key drivers:

  1. Offering the right products

  2. Scaling up of the retrofit industry

  3. Guidance from government.

Sandy also highlighted how important it is to move the messaging away from saving money on energy bills. Many homeowners are just more comfortable in their homes for the same cost / energy usage. The panel all agreed that the use of the word ‘retrofit’ should be replaced with ‘home improvements’ to help engage homeowners.