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ECO3 to introduce Trustmark amendment despite HHIC warning

HHIC is seeking installer support to lobby against amendments to affordable heat programme that will come into effect from next year and require Trustmark accreditation for ECO boiler installations

The government will implement the Trustmark endorsement scheme as a core requirement of the third Energy Company Obligation (ECO3), despite fierce ongoing opposition to the changes from some heating industry bodies over the potential disruption to boiler installations.

Domestic insulation and energy efficiency work undertaken as part of the revised ECO scheme will require installers and specialists to meet the requirements of recently introduced PAS2035 standards for all retrofit projects. This would impact work to replace heating systems, leading to fears about the negative financial and technical impacts of the amendments on already qualified boiler engineers and installers and their overall ability to undertake projects.

An official response to a recent consultation on the ECO3 implementation said that Trustmark, which is an accreditation fully backed by government, would serve as a means to introduce quality and consumer protection protections into ECO3. The revised initiative, which will last until 2022, is intended to support a shift toward more affordable, decarbonised homes through the adoption of alternative heating appliances, smart technologies and energy storage functions as appropriate.

The official response document said, “Taking note of evidence from the consultation and addressing concerns about industry readiness and increasing costs of implementing the updated PAS standards, government intends to bring the amending regulations into force on 1 January 2020 to allow more time for businesses to register with TrustMark.”

Additional implementation steps will include granting an extended transition period to ensure certification and compliance with PAS2035 that will end on 30 June 2021, according to the response document. TrustMark would meanwhile ensure it has an updated framework that would require guarantees to be set out for all work undertaken under the ECO scheme for at least a minimum of two wears.

Amendments will also be introduced via the ECO for first time central heating (FTCH) provisions. This will include granting an increased lifetime for certain FTCH projects and allowing the introduction of central heating in properties with a lower value energy performance certificate (EOC) rating of F and G.

The government said, “We will also introduce a requirement that homes receiving FTCH will have to have their cavity walls and lofts/roofs insulated where such insulation is possible.”

“This will further support low income and vulnerable households to heat their homes adequately and save money on their heating bills whilst also ensuring that cost effective insulation measures are installed. We will not, however, allow FTCH to be installed as in-fill under local authority flexible eligibility.”

Disruptive’ policy fears

According to the government, a total of 110 responses were received as part of the ECO3 consultation, the majority of which it said were positive about the impacts of the changes planned.

However, the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) trade organisation has warned that the combination of introducing both PAS2035 and Trustmark as part of the ECO would serve as the most “disruptive” policy change for the heating industry in decades.

In urging members and other industry members to pressure MPs to demand a rethink of the government’s plans, HHIC said that it continued to be concerned that only 0.4 per cent of the 130,000 engineers included on the Gas Safe Register were registered with the ECO scheme.

A HHIC briefing document said, “if we allow it to filter in unchecked, it could radically transform how heating engineers not only carry out their day job but whether they can operate at all. This is not scaremongering, we urge industry to not to sit back. Take action. Write to your MPs, make your voices heard.”

Other pressing concerns raised by the organisation were that businesses would be required to pay to undertake installation work under the ECO scheme and also take part in additional training. The organisation has also argued that the amendments risked putting a burdensome level of extra administration and red tape onto installers that were already qualified.

HHIC has argued that existing mechanisms to ensure the quality and efficiency of retrofit work on heating systems were already available in the PAS2030 standard. However, it said that these standards were failing to be effectively enforced and policed resulting in poor installation work.

The organisation said, “Heating professionals are highly accredited. They work hard to gain accreditation, and there are already many tools in place to indicate quality. For example; Gas Safe Register, CIPHE, manufacturers’ accreditation and training and the Competent Persons Schemes.”

“Gas Safe registered engineers also use Benchmark, a scheme that operates with the support of boiler manufacturers and provides a checklist for a safe and reliable installation, as well as supporting consumer protection.”

Although the amendments would only apply to work performed as part of the ECO, HHIC said it feared that the amendments could also now find their way to being included as part of ongoing reforms of the Building Regulations.

HHIC has also published a letter template for concerned installers and other specialists to adapt in order to raise concerns about the changes with their MPs.

Concerns about the ECO3 proposals have also been shared by trade association OFTEC that has previously argued that the affordable heat initiative for retrofit homes risks undermining confidence in similar government schemes intended to support decarbonisation of the industry.

OFTEC registration director Adrian Lightwood said earlier this year in the organisation’s consultation response that government needed to rethink plans for ECO3 and how to improve the energy efficiency of homes.

He said, “Government needs to get buy-in from various trades, otherwise crucial retrofit energy measures will once again fail to gain traction.

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