New heat customer protection scheme gets green light

Thousands of community heating  customers can soon expect to be protected by a new industry initiative, marking an important step forward for the maturing district heating sector.

At a meeting of key stakeholders, including ENER-G Switch2,  Heat Trust was approved for launch following over two years of industry, Government and consumer group collaboration.

Dr Tim Rotheray, Director of the Association for Decentralised Energy, welcomed the announcement: “We are delighted that the scheme has cleared the final hurdle in bringing consumer protection to thousands of homes and businesses connected to district heating. As the role of district heating continues to grow in the UK, Heat Trust will be a vital tool to give peace of mind to heat customers. Consumers protected by the scheme will be afforded a new level of confidence in the quality of service they can expect and a free and independent arbitration service to rely on should there be a problem.”

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey confirmed Government’s ongoing support for the scheme: “Heat networks play a pivotal role in our transition to a low-carbon energy system, which is why we’re backing this new scheme that will give people access to the right help and protection. We are on the side of the consumer and have been clear that we will introduce tougher regulations if needed to ensure people are getting a fair deal.”

The Scottish Government Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing also welcomed the scheme: “District heating is a key part of the Scottish Government aim to deliver affordable low carbon heat, and in February I announced £2.7 million in loans for district heating projects that will deliver significant fuel bill reductions to customers.The Scottish Government recognises the need to develop appropriate regulation, commensurate with the scale of the heat market.”

Kirsty Lambert , Director of ENER-G Switch2 is a member of the independent steering committee that has founded the Heat Trust. She said: “As district heating schemes expand across the UK, it is essential to embed best practice and ensure that customers have trust and confidence in the service. We are proud to be a founding member of the Heat Trust and to commit to maintaining exemplary standards in providing metering and billing services to the communal heating sector.”

 UK District Energy Association Chairman Simon Woodward said:
“For district heating to work it must deliver for its customers. Today’s announcement is an important step forward for a growing and maturing industry.”

About Heat Trust

The district heating industry has worked with consumer representatives since 2012 to develop the proposals for Heat Trust. The Association for Decentralised Energy announced in March that it was formally backing Heat Trust. The Scheme is expected to launch later in 2015, applications will begin to be taken soon, but for now expressions of interest in joining the Scheme can be made to [email protected].

Heat Trust protection is aimed at heat energy suppliers who contract with metered or unmetered domestic and micro business properties where the heat customer pays their supplier directly for their heat energy. Although voluntary, the Scheme is supported by government, industry and consumer groups as an industry led, self-regulation initiative that recognises best practice.

Where appropriate, the level of protection afforded under the Scheme seeks to replicate that of gas and electricity customers. The proposals contain two key components:

1) Assessment criteria by which to evaluate the level of protection a Heat Supplier’s Heat Supply Agreement provides to the heat network’s customers; and
2) Independent adjudication, a low cost form of customer dispute resolution once heat supplier’s complaint procedure is exhausted.

The Scheme has already attracted significant interest from heat suppliers, and expects to provide protection to over 20,000 heat customers in its first year.