Campaign group calls for extra conditions on heat network funding

Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action has called for additional conditions to be attached to government funding for heat networks to ensure consumer’s interests are protected.

Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) welcomed the announcement of a pilot scheme worth £39 million yesterday which is designed to drive through development of heat networks in the UK.

But the group said following a briefing with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), it believes BEIS is “concerned about whether what they fund now through the Heat Networks Investment Project could damage consumers’ interests or the industry’s reputation.”

It is therefore calling for a condition of funding through the scheme to be the obligation for applicants to first deal with outstanding technical and customer service issues in the schemes they have already built.

FPA said there is “often a massive gap between what is promised in the plans and what consumers end up having to live with,” and many consumers believe they are actually paying more for heating compared to a conventional boiler.

It added that the formula used to ensure ‘no customer detriment’ does not seem to “do the job”, the industry’s voluntary Heat Trust provides “minimal customer protection”, and there is “virtually no reporting” of CO2 savings being delivered.

It cites Myatts Field North network in London, owned by six energy supplier Eon, as an example of the type of ongoing technical and customer service issues that could damage the industry.

Head of scheme for Heat Trust Bindi Patel said: “The standards set by Heat Trust are designed to provide equivalence to those found in the rest of the energy market.

In line with obligations placed on gas and electricity suppliers, Heat Trust requires its members to maintain a Priority Services Register and provide additional services to vulnerable customers. Members of Heat Trust must also carry out regular inspections of heat meters (every 24 months), and provide clear and transparent bills to customers. And when things do go wrong, customers on heat networks registered with Heat Trust can refer their complaint to the independent Energy Ombudsman, exactly in same way as gas and electricity customers.

Heat Trust is currently working with Government and wider industry stakeholders to see how we can use the Heat Trust to offer cover to as many communal and district heating networks as possible, and in turn provide protection to their customers. Applicants to the new HNIP scheme will also now be required to join Heat Trust, ensuring that these networks meet a consistent set of customer service and protection standards.

The Myatts Field North heat network is registered with Heat Trust and we would encourage residents to use the Ombudsman process where a complaint has not been resolved.”

The heat industry has already warned that the accelerated development the £320 million government funding is likely to drive could exacerbate existing design and implementation issues.