Developing support interventions for social housing tenants with heat pumps

Codrina Cretu

Codrina Cretu, mission manager in Nesta’s sustainable future team, explains why making the transition to green heating easier is so important.

As the Welsh Government’s optimised retrofit programme (ORP) continues to roll out in Wales, finding ways to make the transition to green heating easier for tenants and housing associations could be critical to the success of the programme.

Some housing associations have told us installations of heat pumps under the scheme have prompted significant support demands from tenants. In a number of cases, the negative experiences of tenants have resulted in extensive one-to-one support from housing association staff.

Nesta, the UK’s innovation charity, is launching a pilot project to explore how to successfully engage with social housing tenants to design, prototype and test scalable initiatives to improve their experience of heat pumps and other low-carbon tech.

Why are we doing this?

We hope tenants can help us develop ideas or tools which will meet their need for advice and support, reducing the burden and resource on housing associations linked to after-care support, and contributing to a more positive tenant experience across the ORP.

Social housing is ahead of the curve when it comes to decarbonisation of housing stock, and there might also be lessons we can learn that could help support later stage adopters in private homes. A strategic objective of the ORP is that learning from it should ultimately drive increased action on retrofit in the private sector.

However, some social landlords have told us that resourcing is a challenge, with installing measures, securing finance, and supporting tenants being a higher priority than thinking about scaling learning to other tenures. At Nesta we want to try and help with this, working alongside social landlords to turn initiatives that work for tenants into products or services that could help everyone in the transition to clean electric heating.

Our recent heat pump user survey showed that, in general, heat pump users are highly satisfied with their heat pumps, considering them to be safe, reliable, quiet heat sources that are effective for space heating and producing hot water. However the findings did highlight that homeowners who inherited a heat pump (a heat pump was already installed on the property when they moved in) had slightly lower satisfaction levels than those who installed a heat pump in their property themselves. As with heat pump inheritors, we think it’s possible that having a heat pump installed under a government scheme, rather than because they have chosen it, may be affecting social housing tenant satisfaction, lowering their tolerance for poor experience and increasing their support needs.

Recent work we undertook with social housing tenants in Newcastle found that tenants’ negative experiences with their new heating system were linked to their inconsistent level of engagement with the induction and support process.

Ultimately, the process of designing and testing support for tenants could provide us with learnings to help improve tenant experience, increase the number of heat pump installations by social landlords delivering the ORP – and speed up decarbonisation across the UK’s social and private rented sector.

What will this project look like?

As a charity with a focus on speeding up home decarbonisation, Nesta is planning to apply user-testing and behavioural science methods to engage with tenants.

We will first focus on understanding the issues from the tenants’ perspective, using research methods including online interviews, floor plan designs and home visits.

The project will then move into designing and prototyping some tools or initiatives with tenants to help address the issues, and re-testing these with other tenants to improve them further.

We anticipate that these initiatives are likely to focus on building confidence in using heating controls and understanding of how a heat pump system is different to a combi-boiler. But we’re keen to ensure that tenants lead us to the solutions, and that we focus on the issues that matter most to them.

The role of the housing association we work with will be to facilitate access to tenants who we can engage with. The pilot will also help us test how successful participant recruitment and engagement can be – by measuring the proportion of tenants that agree to take part and how consistently and deeply we are able to engage with tenants.

How to get involved

If you work for a housing association in Wales and are installing heat pumps on new-builds or retrofits under the ORP, we’d love to chat about working with you. This project should be relatively low resource for the housing association, with no financial costs involved, but some investment in time supporting the tenant engagement.

While heat pumps are our focus, our scientific methods could also be applied to other green upgrades to help you understand more about the way tenants can engage with the changes and adapt to them.

To talk to us, contact