In our previous blog in this series on ‘Positive Resident Engagement on Retrofits’, we looked at the need for strong internal alignment and connecting with residents’ lived reality. Once this strategy is in place, what next? How do you alleviate residents’ fears around such an emotive topic? And what is the best way to bring home retrofits’ positive impact?
In this second blog, we will look at how to overcome four key barriers to positive resident engagement – from concerns around being treated as a ‘test bed’ to technologies’ unfamiliarity and dislike of change.
Four Main Barriers to Resident Uptake
Retrofits should be – and are when managed correctly – a win-win situation for residents and the planet. The headline points are simple: save money, have a more comfortable home, and reduce your carbon footprint. And according to recent research, most residents agree that saving money on their utility bills would be a key motivator to participate in retrofits – particularly given today’s cost of living crisis.
But even when a well-thought through communication plan has been actioned and residents know how projects will deliver meaningful bill savings, many can still be reluctant. And this typically boils down to four key things:
- Feeling of being a test bed for the industry
- No long-term visibility
- Unfamiliar technology
- Dislike of change
Graphic: Social Housing Decarbonisation Study: Views from Social Housing Providers
All residents’ concerns must be considered and addressed during an engagement strategy. Understandably, residents are anxious about what will happen to their homes. And it is equally true that Social Housing Providers (SHPs) will not have all the answers. The key is to be consistent and transparent, and work collaboratively with residents on what you don’t know. But there are several ways to address the above concerns upfront.
First and foremost, retrofits are a tried and tested solution. Thousands of homes were retrofitted in the UK social housing sector in 2021-22 alone and their value is recognised worldwide, with countries such as the Netherlands linking rent to a property’s energy efficiency rating. Such projects are consistently considered to be the first fuel in the fight against climate change by organisations like the International Energy Agency.
While residents can know the benefits of retrofits intellectually, being able to hear and see their positive impact is game-changing. Listening to a fellow resident say “I saved over £400 one winter.” or going into a show home and experiencing how comfortable it is, is incredibly powerful. Such an approach is backed by the CEO of PlaceShapers who said “We’ve heard that the most effective messengers to support the resident journey around retrofit are other residents who have gone through this.”
So, as part of an engagement strategy, identify residents who have experienced retrofits – either in your own portfolio or in a partner’s – and if they are willing, share their experiences. And this can be done in a scalable way. For example, a video recording that is distributed via email or a monthly newsletter, targeted Instagram posts, and/or being played at community events.
A Long-term View: Retrofits are an Ongoing Process
Another key barrier to resident uptake is belief that they’re not receiving the full picture. One resident stated “I want a step guide from housing associations, a clear vision of what is going to happen.”
From SHPs’ perspectives, there are concerns that releasing a detailed plan to 2050 will leave them overexposed. Plans change – and often for reasons outside of SHPs’ control. But the basics do not. Namely, getting homes to net zero is not a ‘one-and-done’ thing. It requires a phased approach – not least of because the supply chain is currently not scaled for certain technologies, some technologies are prohibitively expensive, maximising resident impact upfront must be the priority, and the fact every home is different. Acknowledging that resident homes will need multiple interventions and the whys of this must be explained.
Providing a Safety Net for New Technologies
Too often, ‘unfamiliar’ is taken as synonymous with bad – a case of ‘better the reality you know than the one you don’t’. So, as part of the later stages of your communication strategy, ensure residents understand exactly what technology is going to be installed, what it does, how it will help them save money, and what happens if something goes wrong.
This latter point around things going wrong is particularly important. In a recent HACT report, one resident commented “I want reassurance that what is being installed is being done properly”. Such concerns are not unique to residents and are shared by landlords – sparking questions such as “Who’s responsible for maintaining the technology?”, “Who pays if it breaks?”, and “What does it mean for bill savings?”.
Insurance plays a key part here. Energy Savings Insurance (ESI) guarantees the performance of a retrofit project in kilowatt-hours and what this means in pounds and pence. So, if a solar panel does not produce as much electricity as it should, residents will be financially compensated – with an insurer paying the difference between the increased cost of buying from the grid instead of self-consumption. This means residents are never left short-changed.
As part of this policy, technology performance is verified straight after install as well as on an ongoing basis. This checks that things are working correctly. And if they’re not, they’re fixed. ESI’s shortfall cover directly incentivises insurers to ensure fast repair and replacement in the event of underperforming technology – which the insurer also pays for.
Change is Inevitable
Lastly, 62% of residents are held back by a dislike of change. This is of course slightly harder. But change is inevitable – even if residents do nothing. Energy inefficient homes are more costly to run than their more efficient counterparties. And since prices rarely come down for the long run, the price differential between efficient and inefficient homes is only going to get worse; meaning, inaction will leave residents with even more inflated bills.
A large part of disliking change is fear of the unknown. While an insurance policy can help take away some of those concerns, there is a human element. Sero has a customer support team that is at the disposal of each SHP they work with. This team is designed to help everyone. On hand via the phone, email, or in-app chat, our experts guide residents through the entire retrofit process.
Recognising that Retrofits Are Not a Static Process
Too often, resident engagement on retrofits stops once all resident concerns have been alleviated and contractors have been given access to carry out the works. At most, it continues in the form of user manuals on installed technologies or a customer help desk. While these are important, successful engagement needs to extend beyond this and ensure that residents are happy with projects for the long term.
In our next blog, we will look at supporting residents’ post-completion, ensuring fast repairs, and what this looks like in practice!
Michelle Taute, Tallarna
Kris Ablett, Sero