Easy as EPC - how to meet consumers' needs
Clarity, credibility and comparability – that’s what consumers need from an EPC, and what they are currently missing. This is the finding in Consumer Focus’s latest report ‘Easy as EPC’ which examines potential improvements to the content and format of the report, following up its look at the impact of the EPC ‘Room for Improvement’.
Our interest in EPCs is driven primarily by the need for a value to be placed on energy efficiency in the property market. Without recognition of its benefits, energy efficiency providers will struggle to overcome the barriers of awareness, motivation and affordability; EPCs will remain languishing in a pile of property paperwork; and EPCs and DEAs’ skills and time are undervalued – with a potential impact on the quality of EPCs.
More concerning to the Government will be the role of the EPC on the Green Deal, their flagship energy efficiency policy. If prospective buyers or tenants do not understand the value of Green Deal measures, there is a real threat to the viability of the Green Deal finance offer. Early Green Deal consumers must feel confident that the presence of the Green Deal charge will not impact the value of their property, and if anything enhance it.
So what changes do we think could make the EPC clearer, more credible, and aid comparison? For clarity, there was one strong message from consumers and energy professionals: ‘money talks’. Other metrics, such as CO2 and kWh, and extensive explanatory text reduce the strength of that message. For one sector the financial value is missing altogether: without including feed-in tariffs, and in future the renewable heat incentive, microgeneration appears unattainable and undesirable. And whatever the technical reasons for the incorporation of both the Environmental Impact Rating and the Energy Efficiency Rating, policymakers must recognise that two similar-but-different graphs are not the answer if the goal is to engage consumers.
We focus particularly on the A-G rating as that is a real strength of the EPC. It is a format recognisable from other markets, and gives consumers a sense that an independent assessment has been used. However, this credibility could be undermined if EPCs are out-of-date. We are very concerned by the Government’s position that an EPC can remain valid for ten years. This will mean consumers miss out on improved assessment methods, recommendations for new innovative products, and up-to-date advice on the Green Deal. Meanwhile the calculation of financial costs and benefits may change dramatically as the Green Deal market develops against a backdrop of rising energy bills, further affecting the accuracy of advice in the EPC. Prospective buyers and tenants must be given up-to-date information.
And what will aid comparability? We’re back to money. But whose? We saw some participants respond to questions as a potential seller, rather than as a buyer or prospective tenant. Whilst there was little interest amongst prospective buyers and tenants in choosing a property on the basis of its energy efficiency, those who adopted a seller’s outlook were much more concerned about the ability to compare as that could affect the value of their property. We do not know whether measures to assist comparability, such as the earlier presentation of the EPC, clearer presentation of costs and benefits, and the inclusion of the rating in property ads, will encourage sellers into action but it is certainly worth tracking by Green Deal providers as an additional trigger point for action.
In the past year the Government has come a long way in recognising the role the EPC can play in the Green Deal. It is the basis for Green Deal advice, and will act as the principle route for disclosure of a Green Deal charge to prospective buyers and tenants. The joint review by DECC and DCLG in early 2011 has continued to explore the potential for improvement to meet the needs of both Departments and, more importantly, consumers. We are hopeful that changes to the content and format will be made to make the benefits of energy efficiency clearer to prospective buyers and tenants, as well as to sellers who want to maximise their sales price, but the challenge now is for Government to develop, test and rollout a clearer, more credible and comparable EPC in time for the introduction of the Green Deal in late 2012.
Liz Lainé is Senior Policy Advocate, for consumer Focus.
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