It found that four out of five people who had received an Energy Performance Certificate when buying or renting had not acted on any of its recommendations to make their new home more energy efficient and save money.
The survey also found that only one in five people who received the information said it had any influence on their decision to buy or rent the property.
However, when asked what features in a new home were most important to them, apart from price and size, one in seven people said energy efficiency mattered most.
Recent Government figures show that carbon emissions coming from Britain’s homes are still at almost the same level as 20 years ago, having fallen just 3% between 1990 and 2009.
EPCs are vital to the success of the Government’s Green Deal, which aims to cut emissions from homes. In future they must help consumers understand how to access the Green Deal and whether a property has a Green Deal loan attached to it. The EPC must be accurate, clear, and be provided before people buy or rent a property.
The Government’s announcement on Monday 31 Jan, that accredited Green Deal providers will be able to contact homes with EPCs to offer tailored advice, is welcomed. This is provided that advice is relevant, accurate and can be compared with other offers. However the information on the certificates themselves must be improved to help consumers make informed decisions on the energy efficiency of their homes.
Liz Lainé, energy expert at Consumer Focus, said: "Our survey shows that energy efficiency can influence people when choosing a new home. But the information in the EPC is not helping people act on those concerns. With the Green Deal just around the corner, these certificates must become a trigger for action, not just a sheet at the bottom of a huge pile of home-buying paperwork.
"Too many landlords and estate agents are getting away with selling and renting properties to people who have no idea how much heat their new home will leak. If prospective buyers and tenants could easily compare how much their energy bills are likely to be in different properties, they could negotiate a price based on their new home’s energy efficiency."
Consumer Focus is calling for the EPC to be changed to make it clearer how much money people can save by carrying out the suggested energy efficiency measures – particularly given the key role of the certificate in Government plans for the Green Deal. Information could also be included to help consumers compare the likely differences in heating bills between homes.
It also wants the Government to give Trading Standards powers to crackdown on people who break the law by selling and leasing properties without an EPC. This would allow Trading Standards to inspect commercial letting and estate agents to make sure they are using EPCs. Almost half of people surveyed who had moved in the last two years did not receive a certificate, with tenants even less likely to receive it.
In the meantime Consumer Focus advises prospective home buyers and tenants to:
* Use the EPC to see how much they could save – energy performance certificates include a list of improvements from which a property would benefit. Consumers can get more information from organisations like the Energy Saving Trust on costs, savings and access to grants or other assistance available in their area;
* Use the EPC to negotiate on price – the worse the energy rating of a home, the more it will cost to heat. Whereever possible, consumers should take this into account when choosing a home and use this as a bargaining tool to get a better deal;
* Report people selling or renting property without an EPC – Landlords and sellers who do not supply an EPC are breaking the law and are liable to a penalty charge.
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