Nothing is certain except death and taxes, as the saying goes – certainly not the updated non-domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), the lack of which continues to impact the sector.

Despite despairing posts on Facebook & LinkedIn and lobbying from groups including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, we’re still waiting to hear if commercial properties in England and Wales will have to reach EPC band B by 2030 – three years after the government’s 2021 consultation.

It’s a similar picture in Scotland where a consultation into reforming EPCs has rather fizzled out. The government there sought opinions on whether EPCs were an appropriate tool in meeting net zero and suggested different metrics for domestic and non-domestic EPCs. It planned to introduce revised regulations by Winter 2023-24 but has now ditched its flagship target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030, so the impact of the eventual announcement will doubtless be rather muted. In the meantime, commercial landlords in Scotland face a similar uncertain regulatory timeframe.

Realistically, in England and Wales, I expect the former target of an EPC band C is off the table as I don’t believe Parliament will have time to implement an interim standard before 2030, but EPC band B could well be enforced. There’s actually merit in aiming straight for a B, as it will still be possible to apply for an exemption for those buildings where it would be too costly or impossible to achieve.

I’m not the only one frustrated by this interminable heel-dragging. One property consultant I spoke to recently is working with a 40-outlet bathroom supply firm who was told by its venture capitalists that it needed to grow into a 150-strong chain in the next 12 months. Their investment strategy hinges on achieving EPC band B. The commercial sector thrives off confidence – confidence to invest in new technology, research and resources to manage risks and derive value from their assets – extremely challenging without firm direction and deadlines. A few months ago, when the PM suggested relaxing the deadline for banning sales of fossil fuel cars there was a backlash of opposition from car manufacturers. They had already invested in research, technology and resources to achieve the deadline of 2030, so even a 5-year delay can be catastrophic and disruptive. The absence of any decision on enforcing the next phase of a regulation is even worse.

We certainly can’t abandon the ambition as there needs to be a robust mechanism to make sure EPC B is achievable and won’t cause businesses to fold. After all, a world without MEES would return us to a low value EPC model, resulting in fewer enquiries and instructions, along with fewer people looking to train up and an exodus of Energy Assessors. It would also further dilute much-needed confidence in the sector, forcing property investors to look outside the UK.

It’s infuriating that while investors and mortgage companies understand that energy efficient properties are more valuable, and most of our clients and prospects are focused on achieving EPC band B, the lack of regulatory guidance continues to affect confidence and creates an element of confusion. The danger of allowing market forces to drive the adoption of energy efficient measures is that only those landlords with access to funds will bother to retrofit – and the result will be an even bigger disparity between the best and worst energy efficient properties. Indeed, the latest RICS market report warns that without clear targets there’s a risk that up to 50% of commercial buildings could be stranded by 2035.

A MEES-less world with fewer Energy Assessors is a sobering concept. But while we’re all still here, it’s crucial that we realise our roles have a direct impact on our clients’ success and reputation. The myriad emerging risks and liabilities under the MEES regime, such as asset management, valuation and the emphasis on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors, highlight the importance of navigating challenges effectively while we conduct assessments. Clients now expect insights into the sustainability and ESG risks associated with properties, impacting valuation and marketability, so Surveyors and Energy Assessors need to provide valuable insights without overstepping their expertise and making costly errors – or face potential claims.

Professional Indemnity cover is a must, as well as a robust set of terms and conditions that are communicated clearly while upholding our professional standards. Those newly trained Energy Assessors wanting a piece of the action will find without proper insurance that the fall-out around liabilities and risk of poor advice is going to hammer down. At the very least, they also need to build expertise, knowledge and confidence – or collaborate with those who already have it.

While we all need to raise our game by developing a greater depth of knowledge through continuing professional development (CPD), research and collaboration, accreditation schemes themselves should police their members’ CPD more closely, encouraging them to engage in a range of topics to deepen their knowledge, rather than simply repeating the same module each year to satisfy targets.

The sector is working hard to uphold quality, accuracy and accountability. It would be in everyone’s best interest if we could also provide our clients with the regulatory certainty they crave.

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