Sheffield City Council: free insulation scheme


Sheffield City Council set up a free area-based insulation scheme that aims to insulate all private sector homes by 2015 (council-owned houses are already insulated). The Sustainable Housing Affordable Warmth (SHAW) team aimed to reduce fuel poverty, improve health and has cross-party political support. Please note the scheme ended in December 2012.

Key learnings for other councils

  • In the long run, adopting a free insulation scheme makes sense – a discounted or incentive scheme will never reach all households
  • Free scaffolding, loft clearance and loft hatches, if necessary, can help reduce barriers and maximise the number of households who sign up
  • It can be surprisingly difficult to persuade some people that the scheme really is free: good publicity is therefore essential.
  • Schemes of this type can help meet national indicator (NI) 185 (percentage CO2 reduction from local authority operations) and NI 186 (per capita reduction in CO2 emissions in the local authority area).


A household is in fuel poverty if it needs to spend 10 per cent or more of its income to adequately warm the home. Insulating houses helps to reduce heating bills by making them more energy efficient.

This helps to reduce CO2 emissions and to making houses warmer and drier. This contributes to better health as many diseases, especially cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, are exacerbated by cold and damp conditions.

Insulation schemes typically provide incentives for households to take them up by subsidising the overall cost of the scheme. But research from the company Warm Zones suggests that a free insulation scheme gets three times the take-up of a discounted one.

With better insulation, householders will use less energy to heat their homes, which should reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is emitted into the atmosphere. CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas thought to be responsible for climate change.

Sheffield decided that, to achieve the best return on the twin aims of alleviating fuel poverty and reducing CO2, it would set up a free area-based insulation scheme.

As Robert Almond, Manager of Sheffield's Sustainable Housing Affordable Warmth (SHAW) team pointed out:

"…even when you have a discounted scheme there is still a chunk of money for householders to pay. This can be too much for quite a lot of people, even when there is a good payback."

Who was involved?

  • Sheffield City Council Strategic Housing department
  • Eaga Insulation
  • NHS Sheffield.

The problems and how they were tackled

The SHAW team, based in the Strategic Housing department, organises and manages the scheme.

The project is being implemented using a two-pronged (or ‘twin-track') approach. One prioritises specific areas within Sheffield, the other covers the whole city area.

The team identified priority areas by devising a set of factors that point to a household being at risk of fuel poverty. An example is the number of older people on pension credits. They mapped these to identify a list of priority wards where all households are eligible for the free insulation scheme. The team is implementing the scheme four wards at a time.

Parallel to this, households that are at risk of fuel poverty – wherever they are in the city – are also eligible to take part in the scheme.

Once a ward is ‘declared' eligible to participate, the team has nine assistant project officers or ‘energy advisors' employed by the council. They visit households to explain the scheme and its benefits, answer questions and sign residents up.

To overcome householder suspicions about whether the visit is genuine the staff carry ID and wear distinctive council-branded clothing. Although the main reason for the appointment is to arrange for loft, wall and cavity insulation, the assessors hold a City and Guilds qualification in Energy Awareness. They can thus give basic energy efficiency advice.

The officers also identify poor housing conditions or other problems, especially health, where they can refer the resident on to other services. These include, for example, the older people's tenancy support services that operate across Sheffield.

The scheme's insulation contractor is Eaga Insulation, which undertakes both the technical surveys and the insulation work.

One aspect of the programme that has surprised the team is how difficult it can be to persuade some people that the scheme really is free. To counter this, the council writes to every homeowner and private tenant in the declared ward. Personal visits (in the evenings where necessary), letters and leaflets, community posters, events and roadshows (involving partners including NHS Sheffield), and working with community groups have all helped.

Unlike many schemes, Sheffield also includes free scaffolding, loft clearance and loft hatches, where necessary. This is to help reduce barriers and maximise the number of households who sign up.

The team has put considerable effort into contacting every household directly.

Costs and resources

In broad terms, the scheme will cost £6.4 million for the first two years (to March 2011). If it is extended to cover all of Sheffield, this will mean funding for another three years – approximately an additional £16 million.

Half of the scheme's cost is funded by the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT). This places an obligation on energy companies to reduce the CO2 emissions coming from the households they supply - in this case, Scottish Power.

It also has a requirement that at least 40 per cent of what they do is focused on priority groups, that is, vulnerable and low income households. The remaining funding is a mix of:

  • Housing Market Renewal grant
  • money from the council's housing capital programme
  • some area-based grants (ABGs).

ABGs are to help meet national indicator (NI) 185 (percentage CO2 reduction from local authority operations) and 186 (per capita reduction in CO2 emissions in the local authority area). These came out of pooled funding for the local area agreement (LAA).

It is unclear how much of this funding will survive the national autumn Comprehensive Spending Review.

Outcomes and impact

So far eight wards have been invited to participate in the scheme. Another two or four are likely to be added in this financial year, subject to funding.

The council has surveyed 15,872 properties and has either insulated – or is booked to insulate – 3,431 cavity walls and 9,177 lofts as at end of August 2010.

NHS Sheffield has worked with SHAW to complement its mainstream activities with specific projects associated with fuel poverty. These can be both long-term and one-off joint initiatives. For example, both organisations actively support the Hot Spots South Yorkshire network. This went live in August 2007 and has helped more than 2,000 households in Sheffield.

Council officers estimate that the amount of carbon emissions the free insulation scheme will save at the completion of the first two year will be 14-15,000 tonnes per year.

As for so many public health interventions, Almond concedes that it is "quite difficult to disentangle our actions from some other things". However, anecdotally many people in Sheffield are now benefiting from more comfortable homes and reduced energy bills. This will lead to a reduction in health problems caused by cold and damp homes.

As well as the physical improvements to people's homes, Kath Horner, Public Health Lead for NHS Sheffield, believes that the improvement in health professionals' understanding of affordable warmth has been "immense":

"A lot of health staff knew that people were having trouble but didn't know where to get help and didn't know where to refer to. The awareness has improved and some of the partnership working has improved."

On the council side, the SHAW team now understands how it can help the health prevention work of the PCT. The team's Health Lead, Heather Stewart, says that:

"Potentially our work is going to have several beneficial health impacts, particularly a reduction in hospital admission rates and a reduction in delayed discharges because if you've got a sick person in hospital you don't want to send them back to a cold, damp property."

Next steps

Despite current pressure on public finances, Leeds City and Wirral Councils are poised to introduce their own free schemes.

They too believe the best way of achieving energy savings, CO2 reductions and fuel poverty targets is a free area-wide energy efficiency scheme.

Contacts and links

For more information about current schemes please see or ring Sheffield city Council's Sustainable Development Service 0114 203 9202 or 0800 915 9096

Jenny MacPhail
Sustainable Development Service
Sheffield City Council
PO Box 1918
Sheffield S1 2XX
Telephone: 0114 203 7438

Wirral Council and free home insulation decision

Leeds City Council and free home insulation decision