THE BLOG
27/03/2015 06:54 GMT | Updated 26/05/2015 06:59 BST

Time to Dump Green Policy for Home Sales?

Colourful, mandatory, and costing around £100 - but is anyone buying a house ever influenced to make a purchase decision based on its Energy Performance Certificate ?

Very few, apparently. A property agency with 26 offices reported two years ago that not one buyer had asked for information about energy performance when negotiating a sale.

The time has surely come to review the value of something supposed to encourage energy efficiency in the light of such indifference, particularly as we begin what is traditionally the busiest time of year for house buying.

The intention behind the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which was introduced in 2007, is to help lower carbon emissions by grading the energy efficiency of a property and nudging people to make changes.

But there is scant evidence of anyone taking the hint. Owners never make improvements before a sale to get a better rating, buyers are oblivious to even the direst, and nobody carries out improvements after completion as a result of one.

In short: They don't work. Worse, they involve a lot of environmentally unfriendly colour printing, additional car journeys and cost.

An EPC gives a property an energy rating from A (good) to G (poor) and is valid for 10 years. There are recommendations to improve the rating, such as putting in a new boiler, but no obligation to do so.

Despite the lack of requirement to actually follow through, it is illegal to sell a property without an EPC. This is at least good news for the flourishing industry that has grown up to provide these largely unobserved, little understood features of a property transaction. But it is hard to see how the EPC regime is actually helping reduce carbon emissions.

What then is the point of a policy that highlights a failing, but which itself largely fails to require any corrections?

Simply issuing a certificate seems the worst kind of political tokenism: The illusion of activity towards an objective without a practical instrument of policy to achieve it.

An element of compulsion is being introduced to give some purpose to the EPC, but only partially. From 2018 it will be illegal to let a property that has an F or G rating.

Whilst this change does take an irritating formality and turn it into something with teeth, rental property is only a proportion of the housing market; and a rush to band E, with four grades higher to the ideal, is hardly a standard to be particularly proud of achieving.

If the aim is for a Britain with Better Boilers and to insulate more homes, then policy should be directed specifically at that, rather than obliquely through what is at best a partial policy of persuasion.