According to the latest statistics¹ almost 3.3 million households in the UK suffer from fuel poverty and often have to choose between heating and eating. A high number of these people live in social housing.
There is of course a moral obligation to tackle fuel poverty, but also an economic one as well since families facing fuel poverty often slip into rent arrears as they struggle to cope. Lack of heating can also lead to a build-up of condensation or damp and then mould resulting in a downward spiral for both the tenant and the property.
This is an area where a small investment in smart thermostats can help identify vulnerable households before it becomes an issue and then assess the effectiveness of remedial action.
Smart thermostats are more expensive than the standard options that they replace, but they do allow more sophisticated and easier to understand control for the tenant to reduce heating bills and also provide data so that the social landlord can help the tenant and take targeted action.
Use the data
The key to such action is the data that such devices can provide to the landlord, and this does require agreement from the tenant and a clear understanding of how they will benefit. Most devices also require internet access, which can be an issue, but there is an option from Switchee that can also communicate using GSM technology.
Once the intelligent device is installed the real benefits become apparent. First it can help the tenant manage their heating to reduce their bills. There is even talk about developing technology that allows tenants to manage their heating based on the amount of money that they can afford – watch this space.
Second if the housing association can access the heating data then they can identify where there might be a problem and take targeted action to help the tenant and ensure that it does not get out of hand. Often this may involve improving the property’s insulation.
In fact, as Ben Malton, Strategic Partnership Manager from Switchee explains “Once you have the data you can begin to measure the effectiveness of different courses of action. If you are deciding between different types of insulation, for example, you could test their effectiveness and value for money by conducting A B testing on identical properties and decide on the better option.”
Smart thermostats can also highlight if there are problems with the heating so that the landlord can build maintenance into a planned programme rather than reacting to an emergency call out. Indeed some devices can even arrange a remote pre-winter check of the boiler to highlight any issues in advance of the first cold weather spell.
The fact is this technology already exists and some trailblazing housing associations are already using it as part of their maintenance programme. Data telling you where there are potential issues help you tackle problems before they escalate and become expensive.
Morally they also help you help the tenant with issues such as fuel poverty. It will help you target your resources where they are most needed to help not only the tenant, but also the property to save you money over the long run. It’s a real win win situation.
Take a look at our whitepaper to see how else smart home technology is helping social landlords manage their properties and save on maintenance costs.
¹ Based on different sources for England, Wales and Scotland as detailed below