Read Newsletter - Winter 2019

We believe that all heat networks should be required to meet the standards set by Heat Trust, and have long supported the statutory regulation of the sector. We therefore welcome Government plans (contained in the Energy Bill introduced to Parliament in July 2022) to bring in such regulation.

In the meantime, the Government has said that: "We want the Heat Trust voluntary scheme to have an important role in preparing the industry as we move towards regulating the market, and we strongly encourage heat networks to register with the scheme now to prepare for regulation."

Customers on heat networks that are not registered with Heat Trust are not guaranteed that their supplier will meet minimum customer service standards or allow them to use an independent redress service, like the Energy Ombudsman.

If your heat network is not registered with us and you'd like it to be, then why not write to your supplier to ask them to do so?  We have developed a model letter you could sent here: Heat Trust registration template letter for residents

If you have recently moved in, please see our list of suggested considerations for prospective heat network customers, for some questions which you could ask your supplier to see what they do provide. These should all be set out in your customer supply agreement (terms and conditions of your heat supply, you should have received and signed this when you moved in) or customer charter (separate document listing key terms and conditions of your heat supply for if your heating bills are included in your rent).

In addition, you have some protections as a consumer from existing regulations and requirements.

Existing heat network regulations

All heat network suppliers have to abide by the existing regulations, which cover only metering and billing: the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014.

Key points for you as a customer to know:

If you don’t have a heat meter:

  • You can ask your supplier if they’ve looked into installing a meter – suppliers are required to install meters where it is cost effective and technically feasible (there is a basic test to guide this, which is currently being developed) – with a meter you get more knowledge about and therefore control over your consumption
  • If heat meters aren’t cost effective or technically feasible, then a supplier must install a heat cost allocator (HCA) and thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) (this is a small electronic device fitted to your radiator which measures the heat output from that radiator, and the TRV should allow you to control the level of heat you consume)
  • If there is renovation going on to the building this is a key opportunity to install meters/ heat cost allocators

If you do have a meter (or HCA):

  • Where there are meters/ HCAs the supplier must ensure that they are continuously operating and properly maintained
  • You should be billed at least once a year based on actual consumption (rather than estimated consumption), as long as either you or your supplier has taken a meter reading
  • The bill must show how it was calculated, including both fixed and variable charges
  • You can request to get your bills electronically if you prefer, and then bills must be provided at least quarterly
  • Your bills should include at least:
    • Current energy prices charged to you
    • Information about your consumption
    • Comparison with last year’s consumption, if available, which should be as a graph
    • Contact information for organisations who could advise on energy efficiency improvements

 

Future heat network regulations

Both UK and Scottish Governments plan to introduce regulation of the heat networks market in the next few years.

Please see our Resources page for more information on future regulation in both the UK and Scotland. 

 

Landlord/ tenant rights (in England and Wales)

Some of this depends on who your heat supplier is. For example there are certain requirements that apply to social landlords, and others that apply if you are a leaseholder.

Landlords of all domestic rented properties must ensure that homes are fit for human habitation, and this includes a supply of hot water, and whether the home is too hot or too cold.

The landlord (private, council or housing association) is responsible for making repairs to heating and hot water. This is required under the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985). The procedure for dealing with repairs will vary depending on the housing provider, but they should tell you how long it will take to repair, and this will vary depending on the urgency of the problem (typically 4-24 hours for an emergency, 3-4 days for an urgent issue and 7 to 10 days or longer for a routine issue). Outages to heating and hot water may not be classed as emergencies, but some may make special provision for you if you are heat dependent e.g. elderly or ill. They may require a notification in writing (either letter or email). They may have additional requirements to these (statutory requirements) placed on them by the contract you have with them (contractual requirements), such as defining timings for undertaking repairs.

If they do not respond initially, try again, both in writing and via other means e.g. telephone. If they continue to be unresponsive you could contact the Environmental Health Department at your local council for assistance, as they enforce living standards in their local area.

If you are a leaseholder:

There are certain rules over what service charges the freeholder can demand from a leaseholder, which could be for repair/maintenance of heating/ hot water, and these have to be provided up front for the next 5 years and explain what maintenance etc. the freeholder is planning to do in that time with the money.

If you have a domestic letting under a short lease (< 7 years) the landlord must keep the equipment in the house used for space heating and hot water in working order and carry out repairs (Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, Section 11). As parts of heat network equipment lies outside of individual houses (e.g. pipes and energy centre) this may not be applicable to every issue with supply.

Landlords can also only pass on reasonable costs of maintenance and improvements to tenants, if they are charging in advance (Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, Sections 18 & 19).

Under most heat network supply agreements (if they’re longer than 12 months, charge over £100/year OR require over £250 contribution for works) then the Landlord needs to undertake a statutory consultation before passing on costs of works to the tenant (Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, Section 20).  

If you live in social housing/ housing association property:

If you are a tenant and you rent your property from the council or housing association, there are housing laws (Housing Act 1985, Section 108) that limit what local authorities can charge for heating to reasonable charges based on the cost of heating to the local authority. However this doesn’t apply if the interests of the landlord belong to a co-operative housing association.

If you’re in council housing and a repair is delayed you may be eligible for compensation under the Right to Repair Scheme.

If you’re in a housing association property then the housing association must ensure that your home meets certain standards, including that it is “warm enough”.

Landlord/ tenant rights (in Scotland)

If you rent privately:

If you rent privately from a landlord, your landlord must make sure your property meets the 'repairing standard'. This comes from the the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, which covers the legal and contractual obligations of private landlords to ensure that a property meets a minimum physical standard. It includes that the installations for the supply of space heating and heating water must be in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order.

The property must also meet the statutory Tolerable Standard. This includes that a home may not be fit to live in/ be tolerable if:

  • it does not have enough ventilation, natural and artificial light or heating
  • it does not have an acceptable fresh water supply, or a sink with hot and cold water
  • it does not have an indoor toilet, a fixed bath or shower, and a wash basin with hot and cold water.

If you live in social housing:

If you are a Scottish secure (or short secure) tenant of a local authority or housing association then you have the right to small urgent repairs under the Right to Repair scheme. This comes from the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. The scheme covers certain ‘qualifying’ repairs up to the value of £350, including loss or part loss of space or water heating if no alternative heating is available. You should report the need for a repair as soon as possible to your landlord, who will be able to tell you if it’s their responsibility and falls under the scheme, along with how long it will take and what will happen if it’s not covered by the scheme.

If you own your home:

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 has introduced the 'scheme of assistance' in each council area, which means you could go to your local council for assistance in maintaining or repairing your house. This assistance can be provided through advice and guidance, practical help, or through financial assistance by way of grants or loans.

 

Other consumer protections

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 protects customers against unfair contract terms and notices. The CMA says that generally, contract terms and notices are unfair if they put the customer at an unfair disadvantage. The law applies a fairness test that starts by asking whether the wording used tilts the rights and responsibilities between the customer and the trader too much in favour of the trader. For more information see: https://www.gov.uk/consumer-protection-rights.

Competition Law can also apply as heat networks can act like natural monopolies, with only one heat network operating in a given area. In such cases there might be a risk of suppliers abusing a position of market dominance. The CMA have produced a series of quick guides and films that explain the main things suppliers need to know to stay on the right side of competition law, which might help you.

Also relevant might be the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. These regulations set out what pre-contractual information must be communicated depending on where the contracts are concluded or offered, the right to cancel and cooling off periods among others.

There is also The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These regulations prohibit misleading actions or misleading omissions and the undertaking or promoting of unfair commercial practices.

 

Tariff options

Although you usually cannot switch supplier if you’re on a heat network, you might be able to switch tariff. Ask your supplier if they offer more than one tariff.

Some suppliers might offer tariffs which might work better for you and your consumption pattern, and might work better at different times of the year.

 

Financial support

You may be eligible to receive some money off your electricity bill if you meet certain criteria, for example you receive certain benefits and your electricity supplier is part of the scheme. This would not reduce your heating bill, however it would help with paying your overall energy bills. This scheme is known as the Warm Home Discount. Please see more details, including eligibility, here: https://www.gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount-scheme

You may also be able to request a ‘Breathing Space’ if you are struggling with debt. This would give you 60 days to sort your finances and give you access to professional debt advice. Please see more details here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-scheme-to-give-people-in-problem-debt-breathing-space-launched

 

Complaints

You should always make your complaint directly to your supplier first. Their contact information should be provided on your bill, or in your agreement when you first moved in.

Top tips

  • Keep a record of all contact you have regarding your complaint, including dates, and preferably who it was you were in contact with.
  • It helps to know what you would like as an outcome of your complaint e.g. a change in service, an apology, a financial compensation.

If your complaint hasn’t been resolved and you’re still not happy you could:

  • Ask if your supplier uses an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service.
  • Tenants of housing associations and local authorities can take complaints to the Housing Ombudsman
  • Contact your residents association if you have one for your building/ area
  • See if anyone else in your building/ area is also having similar problems
  • Contact Citizens Advice, Shelter, Money Advice Trust, Step Change for advice or support (both CA and Shelter have specific websites/ advice for Scotland)
  • Contact your local councillor or MP
  • Contact the CMA if you think your supplier is not complying with competition law
  • Contact the Environmental Health Department at your local council for assistance in ensuring your landlord meets their obligations to repair/ replace your heating and/ or hot water if you rent your home

Heat Trust’s third annual report was published this week, revealing that they now provide protection to 10% of the market. Reflecting on the experience gained over three years, the report sets out key principles to consider as regulation of the market is developed.

Bindi Patel, Director at Heat Trust said:

“Heat Trust has been working to support the adoption of minimum customer service and protection standards across the heat networks sector since 2015. Regulation is an important next step. With ambitions for a significant proportion of homes and businesses to be served by heat networks, it is essential that heat networks provide reliable low carbon heat and that customers receive the same protections as other energy customers.”

Other principles identified include the need to ensure consistency between different nations as Scotland proceeds with its plans for heat networks regulation, focusing on customer outcomes to allow flexibility on how services are delivered, and integration with wider regulatory developments. Bindi noted:

“Regulation of heat networks is taking place during a time of rapid transition across the energy market. It is important that heat network regulation is considered alongside other regulatory changes in the energy market, and that customers on heat networks can access and benefit from future innovation.”

The report provides a summary of performance of heat networks registered with Heat Trust over the previous year, revealing that technical issues, billing and charges were the most frequent issues raised by customers. Over the year:

  • There were 4,657 complaints recorded by Registered Participants
  • The majority of complaints related to technical issues (42%) followed by billing and charges (34%)
  • There were 63 planned interruptions and 745 unplanned interruptions
  • The majority of unplanned interruptions were due to issues affecting generation equipment

Variation in how different suppliers collect performance data emphasises the need for industry-wide performance metrics – a call first made by Heat Trust in its inaugural annual report.

This report also provides details on complaints that were received by the Energy Ombudsman. The data from the Energy Ombudsman covers 1st January 2018 – 31st December 2018. During this 12-month period:

  • There were 83 complaints within the Ombudsman’s terms of reference (TOR)
  • The majority of complaints were due to billing (60%)
  • Of complaints within the TORs, 63% were upheld by the Ombudsman and a further 23% reached a Mutually Acceptable Solution
  • A goodwill payment was awarded in 72% of cases, the average award was £105.61

For the first time, Heat Trust has been able to include data on debt and supply suspensions. The report notes that this is an area of importance and in particular, identifies areas for improvement to support debt management.

“Our work has focused on setting minimum standards and collecting data to build a picture of current practices. We continue to work with stakeholders across the market to support the sector and champion good outcomes for heat network customers. A government consultation setting out the first proposals on heat network regulation is expected next year. We look forward to sharing our experience and knowledge with stakeholders, governments and indeed a future regulator to support development of a robust regulatory framework.”

Ends

Figure 1

This graphs provides a overview in complaints numbers from 2016 to 2017.
A - D are data reported by heat suppliers to Heat Trust
E is reported by the Energy Ombudsman to Heat Trust
Please note, that it is not possible to infer that all deadlock letter result in a complaint to the Ombudsman, furthermore, customer have up to 12months from a deadlock letter to make a complaint to the Energy Ombudsman.

Complaints comparison

Figure 2

Sources of heat

Heat Trust's customer protection standards do not specify fuel source, so any heat network no matter the fuel type can register with us. To find out more about registering with Heat Trust please see our supplier pages, or for more information for customers please see here

Heat networks can source their heat from any fuel or generation process; this is sometimes known as being fuel agnostic.
Typical examples of heat sources for heat networks are: gas boilers, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants, wasted heat (from industrial processes, wastewater treatment etc.) and biomass fuelled boilers. More heat networks are now being heated by technologies such as large-scale heat pumps (usually water or ground), geothermal sources or even underground transport. We have highlighted some examples of these in the UK below. There are also projects in development in the UK and operational internationally using waste heat from mine water, deep geothermal, data centresgreenhouses and large-scale solar thermal (often with seasonal thermal stores) to power heat networks.

Often heat networks will have a thermal store (large insulated tank of hot water). These can either provide heating temporarily if the primary source of heat fails, therefore increasing the reliability of supply for customers; or they can supply heat at a time of high demand on the fuel source to help balance out demand. The time these can supply heat for depends on the size of the store, ranging from a few hours with small tanks to between seasons with large ground pits.

Gas

Currently most heat networks (90%) use gas as their primary fuel source, typically through one or more gas-fired boilers. The gas is usually sourced from the national gas grid, and of the UK’s total gas demand in 2018, about 50% came from the UK’s contintental shelf and 50% was imported. Biogas from anaerobic digesters, e.g. at sewage treatment works, provides the gas fuel for some CHPs.

Some just produce heat, like individual property boilers, however some gas plants produce electricity as well (burning the gas to create steam which turns turbines) and the excess heat is captured at the same time. This is known as a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant (which can also use fuels other than gas) and is often more efficient than generating electricity or heat independently of each other.

Name  Bicester Heat Network
Fuel Source  Gas CHP
Location  Elmsbrook, Oxfordshire
Size  800KWe CHP engine, 80m3 thermal store and back up gas boilers
Types of end users 393 zero carbon homes, a primary school, local shop, eco pub and community centre
Interesting facts Part of the UK’s first Eco-town, aiming to be zero carbon
Links to find out more  www.zerocarbonhub.org

 

Name  Bristol Paintworks 
Fuel Source  Gas boilers
Location  Bristol
Size  8 x 250 kWe modular gas boilers
Types of end users  221 residential apartments and town houses, studios, offices, a café bar and exhibition venue
Interesting facts  It is a redeveloped paint and varnish factory
Links to find out more  www.vitalenergi.co.uk/casestudies/paintworks

 

Wasted heat

Many industrial processes generate heat as a by-product. Heat networks can make use of otherwise wasted heat by transporting it to an end user that requires heat.

Energy From Waste (incinerator)

Name SELCHP (South East London Combined Heat and Power)
Fuel Source
Waste heat from incinerator (combusts waste from households to create electricity)
Location Southwark, London
Size 5km heating network for heat and hot water
2,500 Southwark properties
Types of end users   Residential
Interesting facts            It came from a consortium of three London Boroughs trying to tackle environmental problems and issues of landfill space, using waste that cannot be recycled for electricity generation
Links to find out more                  
www.selchp.com

 

Waste from transport

The London Underground produces waste heat, mostly from friction of the trains on the rails. Through adding a heat pump, the temperature can be raised to provide heating to a heat network.

Name Bunhill Heat Network
Fuel Source         Waste heat from London Underground (Northern Line)
Location Ventilation shaft of Northern Line of London Underground, Central Street
Size 1MW heat pump to heat an additional further 1,000 homes
Existing: 2MW CHP with large thermal store
Types of end users  Existing: 800 homes in Bunhill ward, as well as Finsbury Leisure Centre, Ironmonger Row Baths and offices on Old Street
Interesting facts Phase 1 has been in operation with a CHP since 2012. Phase 2 is to connect to the Underground in 2019.
During the summer months, the system will be reversed to inject cool air into the tube tunnels.
Links to find out more www.energyadvice.islington.gov.uk/bunhill-heat-and-power

 

Waste heat from sewage treatment works

Some of the processes used to treat wastewater, including sewage, involve anaerobic digestion of organic matter within the waste water, which generates heat as well as producing gas.

Name Stirling heat network
Fuel Source    Waste heat from wastewater treatment works and biogas CHP from the anaerobic digesters on site
Location Stirling, Scotland
Size  
Types of end users                               Key public buildings, including The Peak Leisure Centre, Forthbank Stadium, St Modan’s High School, numerous commercial offices and new build homes
Interesting facts

First CHP in UK to be used with heat from waste water pump system to deliver heat for a heat network.
It is expected to save around 381 tonnes of carbon a year.

Links to find out more  uk.ramboll.com/news/ruk/stirling-heat-network

 

Biomass

Biomass usually comes in the form of wood pellets burned in a furnace. These wood pellets can come from waste/off-cuts from the wood industry or virgin woodland.

Name Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Fuel Source Woodchip fueled biomass boiler for heat generation and a combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) plant using natural gas
Location London, converted Olympic Park (2012 games)
Size Initial capacity of 46.5 MW of heating and 16 MW of cooling in two energy centres
16km heating network and 2km cooling network
Types of end users                 Olympic Park, the Westfield shopping centre, residents of East Village and the neighbouring area
Interesting facts

It is the largest decentralised energy scheme in the UK
It heated the Olympic Park and Village during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Links to find out more  www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk

  

Heat pumps

Heat pumps capture heat energy from either ground, water or air, and then through a pump powered by electricity increase the temperature to heat homes and buildings. This increase or ‘upgrade’ in temperature works in a similar way to how a fridge is cooled but in reverse. Heat is generated through rapidly increasing the pressure of refridgerant gasses in a contained space, this increases the temperature of the gases, which can pass to adjacent water or air, piped onwards. At the scale of heat networks, only water or ground source heat pumps tend to be used.

Water Source

Name Queen’s Quay
Fuel Source 2 x 2.6 MW water source heat pumps, from the River Clyde
Location                  Clydebank, Glasgow
Size 2.5km of heating network
Types of end users       Local homes, businesses and public buildings such as West Scotland College and Clydebank Library and over 1,000 new homes
Interesting facts          First heat network powered by a river-source heat pump in Scotland
Links to find out more          www.neatpumps.com

 

Ground Source

Name Enfield Council: Ground Loop Array Heat Pump
Fuel Source Ground source heat pump
Location Enfield, London
Size 4km heating network
Types of end users 402 flats in 8 tower blocks
Interesting facts

100 boreholes capture the heat at depths between 197 – 227m
It replaced electric heating which was expensive

Links to find out more  www.smartsustainablecities.uk

 

Geothermal

In the UK the top 10 - 15m of ground is heated by the sun and acts as a thermal store. By running pipes of water through the ground at these depths, the heat will be transferred to the water, which can then go on to heat people's homes. In some places, such as Iceland, the heat from volcanic activity (and heat conducted upwards from the Earth’s core and mantle) can be captured which have much higher temperatures.

Geothermal is different to ground source heat pumps because electric pumps aren't used to raise the temperatures.

Name            Southampton District Energy Scheme (SDES)
Fuel Source  Large-scale CHP plant, supplemented by geothermal energy and conventional boilers; also provides cooling
Location        Southampton
Size Over 40 GWh of heat p.a
Types of end users TV studios, a hospital, a university, a shopping centre, a civic centre, residential buildings and a hotel – as well as public and private-sector residential developments.
Interesting facts Currently saving around 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions p.a.
Links to find out more  www.engie.co.uk/energy/district-energy/southampton

  

If you know of an operational heat network in the UK heated by an innovative low carbon fuel source then please let us know via our contact page.