During our annual Tenant Pulse on Net Zero and energy efficiency, we asked participants if they’d want to be apart in a focus group that revolves around Net Zero. This week, we held our first focus group, and centred the group around tenant/landlord communication on Net Zero.

How should landlords communicate with tenants about Net Zero?

During our annual Tenant Pulse on Net Zero and energy efficiency, we asked participants if they’d want to be apart in a focus group that revolves around Net Zero. This week, we held our first focus group, and centred the group around tenant/landlord communication on Net Zero.

Eight tenants took part in this focus group. The participants names and their landlords’ names have been made anonymous to preserve confidentiality.

Engagement taking place right now

There were two tenants who had mentioned that they were a part of a Net Zero tenant group, and that it had helped push things along when staff needed insight as to how to best communicate with tenants on Net Zero. One tenant said:

“We had to take matters into our own hands and start a Net Zero group, and it’s been going really well.”

They mentioned that the group is made up of tenants, councillors, and staff, and that it has helped in voicing the priorities of tenants and allowed tenants a look into the many challenges that staff have in planning around decarbonisation and Net Zero targets. The group has thought of solutions for making it easier for tenants to transition to using air source heat pumps, with QR codes to more information on the systems and physical manuals for those do not have access to smart devices.

The remaining tenants said that they had received no sort of communication around Net Zero from their landlord. There were feelings of frustration and mistrust that ran throughout the group, with one tenant noting, “I’d rather know that nothing is happening with plans than be completely in the dark.” Another participant said that they had heard of tenants ripping out the newly installed heat pumps or turning them off completely because there was no communication or information given.

Here are some more quotes from this part of the conversation:

“There is more happening behind the scenes that they aren’t saying. They [the landlord] are afraid to do anything, so they aren’t communicating at all”.

“I haven’t hardly seen anything around Net Zero being talked about”.

“Everything seems like a ‘project,’ and nothing is certain”.

Where’s the sweet spot with tenant communication?

Curious about the participant’s thoughts around a good solution, I asked what they thought the best form of communication is. We’ve heard from staff that organisations usually communicate by letter, email, information leaflet, or phone call to let their tenants know what is going on. Tenants in this focus group agreed that while none of these engagement tools were the best choice, it was better to do them all than do nothing.

One tenant noted that having a representative going door to door could be a good option for tenants who were illiterate or can’t read in English/Welsh. There was an understanding from the group that while they know that housing associations and local authorities have limited resources and capacity, Net Zero needs to be made a priority if we are going to meet targets.

A second idea was to hold an open day so that tenants could ask questions to staff about Net Zero and what they can expect to see and ask questions about the technology that is in their home.

What’s the magic solution?

In short, there isn’t one. But, there were some ideas on how to get the Net Zero conversation moving, as the census was that it’s better to start the discussion now. A participant noted that a Net Zero conference specially for tenants could be beneficial and would allow a good amount of time and space for attendees to get their heads around Net Zero. There are so many terms and concepts mentioned within the Net Zero space, making it difficult to keep up.

Another tenant mentioned that a show home with all of the tech could be useful for tenants to see and touch the technologies. They said that once tenants are able to see the technology in person, it could ease some fears around new systems and ways of operating your home. Transparency around costs were a factor in this discussion, and one tenant was adamant that landlords need to be honest with how much might change in a tenant’s home with new systems.

But, they didn’t agree with the idea of visiting a supplier’s show home or an organisations show home, because it can become confusing for tenants to know which technology will actually be in their home. Different HA’s and LA’s are moving forward with different Net Zero solutions, and tenants in this group believed it would become confusing to see every sort of technology instead of what their landlord was doing.

So, what next?

Net Zero is a complicated topic. Not only do staff need to think about costs and planning, they need to think about implementation, which homes to retrofit first, how to engage with tenants moving into new builds, and how to communicate with tenants about the new systems that they may get. It’s a lot, and many tenants understand that.

But what these tenants said was: communication goes two ways. For the tenant that is part of a Net Zero group with their landlord, the tenants had to initiate it.

Overall, tenants in this focus group felt that they had skills and insight to offer to their landlords when it came to communication efforts around Net Zero. They noted that none of the past ways of engagement would be the most useful when discussing Net Zero, and that staff would have to go to the drawing board to find new solutions and new ways of engagement. But they were happy to be involved and a part of that process.

We’ll be holding our next focus group on October 3rd to chat with tenants who are living with Net Zero systems. Sign up below if you are a tenant living with an energy efficient system and want to tell us about your experience: