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Heat Trust mulls expansion of heat network consumer protections

Amendments currently being considered would allow for existing heat networks serving housing bodies and councils to join consumer-focused scheme

The Heat Trust customer protection scheme is considering expansion plans that would see it support a larger number of heat network system users such as housing associations and councils to ensure more consistent service standards and improved take up. 

Plans to expand the protection scheme are being considered as part of a twelve-week consultation to look at ways of better ensuring dependable heat supplies and services by adopting similar standards adopted in the gas and energy sectors.  The deadline for submitting responses to the consultation closes on April 27.

Heat networks wishing to be part of the Heat Trust were previously required to have a Heat Energy Supply Agreement with every customer connected to the network. However, this requirement served to limit inclusion for a large number of housing association and local authorities.

According to the Heat Trust, these organisations largely do not have the required agreements to join the scheme. It said these agreements are often included as part of wider tenancy or leasehold arrangements.

However, a new proposal is being considered to allow existing heat networks without Heat Energy Supply Agreements to still register with the trust scheme if they can set out clear commitments to agree specific service standards and other terms. One such measure would be to create a customer charter.

Heat networks signed up under these terms would then be required to undergo the same independent auditing once at least every five years as is the case with existing members. However, audits may take place earlier should a significant number of complaints be received, or if a review is deemed to be beneficial to how a system is managed.

Customers using systems linked to the scheme can also settle disputes via the independent Energy Ombudsman under the proposals.

Heat Trust head Bindi Patel said that ensuring dependable supplies of heat was vital for a growing number of housing bodies and authorities that are assuming responsibility for proving heating services.

She said, “As technology advances and the heat network market grows, it is vital that customer satisfaction remains the top priority for providers. Heat Trust is already driving up customer service standards across the sector and we hope to be able to open up the scheme to more homes with these changes to our rules.”

The scheme presently covers 51 heat networks that represent 30,000 customers. Expansion of the scheme is intended to improve take-up heat networks that are expected to help government realise ambitions of its lower carbon ambitions outlined in the Clean Growth Strategy.

Published last year, the strategy estimates that 17 per cent to 24 per cent of UK heat demand could be met through heat networks if certain conditions were met.

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