Claire Perry urges heat network operators to join voluntary trust scheme

The Heat Trust is an independent organisation seeking to drive up standards of performance of heat networks and improve the customer experience

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Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry is calling on heat network operators to join a voluntary scheme to raise consumer protection standards before legislation is introduced.

She has written an open letter urging all owners and operators of heat networks who are not currently registered with the Heat Trust and who do not offer equivalent standards to consider joining.

Heat networks deliver cost-effective, low carbon heat in the form of hot water or steam from a central source to consumer via a network of underground pipes.

They can cover a large area or even an entire city or be fairly local supplying a small cluster of buildings, avoiding the need for individual boilers or electric heaters in every property.

The Heat Trust is an independent organisation seeking to drive up standards of performance of heat networks and improve the customer experience through a voluntary industry scheme.

Heat networks registered with Heat Trust offer customer service standards comparable to those required by gas and electricity companies which include support for vulnerable customers and responding to faults and emergencies.

In addition, they offer guaranteed service payments for interruptions of supply and transparency in metering and billing and complaints handling, including access to the Energy Ombudsman, which helps resolve disputes between consumers and companies signed up to it.

Ms Perry said her department’s 2017 consumer survey showed “many of the 400,000 customers on heat networks are largely satisfied with the service, however, it also highlighted there are some schemes where the full benefits to consumers are not being realised and where the quality of heating provision is not up to the standards of alternative gas or electricity systems.

BEIS published its policy priorities for the future heat network market in December and is currently analysing the responses received – it intends to launch a full policy consultation later in the year, setting our plans for future regulation in light of recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority last year.

Ms Perry adds: “In the meantime, we recognise that there is a need and an opportunity for existing networks to improve their consumers’ experience and build on existing good practice – and do so now, rather than wait for regulation.

“I encourage all owners and operators of heat networks who are not currently registered with Heat Trust and who do not offer equivalent standards to consider joining. The quality standards that the voluntary scheme sets out will give your consumers important reassurance and protections.”

While some existing heat networks, including smaller schemes, may not be able to meet all of the standards under Heat Trust, operators are being encouraged to consider how they might best use those standards to inform improvements to their own networks ahead of the introduction of any minimum regulatory requirements.

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