The UK’s 900,000 heat network consumers will judge regulation to have failed if it does not deliver cheaper, fairer and more reliable heating systems, all fit for the future.
That’s the warning today from Heat Trust to Whitehall and to regulator Ofgem.
Responding to a joint consultation by Ofgem and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero on their planned statutory protections, the national consumer champion outlined areas in which it intends to hold regulation to account on behalf of consumers.
They include ensuring consumers do not pay an unaffordable premium for being on a heat network – requiring transparency, monitoring and regulation of the root causes of high heat bills.
So is driving improved heat network reliability on both networks existing and planned, through requiring minimum technical standards, backed up by sharp enforcement teeth.
Ensuring heat suppliers are held to account for standards of fair, transparent and good-value customer service is also an area flagged by the Trust.
The protection organisation says informed, timely and targeted enforcement action are needed where these aren’t met. Clear, independent dispute resolution via the Energy Ombudsman’s office is needed, says the trust, when things go wrong.
The watchdog’s key demands included ensuring that:
- a clear culture of regulatory compliance exists from the outset
- housing and energy regulations work in harmony, not conflict, to protect consumers That’s critical, it says, since the overwhelming majority of heat suppliers are landlords.
- Britain’s most inefficient, most expensive heat networks are targeted for the speediest upgrades and repair to improve their efficiency
- Where service failures give rise to compensation, heat suppliers cannot simply recover these costs from consumers
“Since Heat Trust’s launch in 2015, we have consistently called for government intervention, to ensure heat network consumers have equivalent rights and protections to traditional gas and electricity consumers“, its director Stephen Knight said.
“We have continuously advocated for statutory regulation of heat networks and believe this can’t come quickly enough.
“Consumers must be able to have confidence in heat networks, if these networks are to help decarbonise heat through the government’s target of serving 20% of homes by 2050.
“Many heat network consumers get a reliable and value-for-money heating system. But sadly too many suffer high prices, unreliable systems and poor customer service. The experience of consumers facing huge, uncapped, price rises during the energy crisis has been especially difficult. Because heat network consumers cannot switch supplier, it’s vital that regulation delivers tangible improvements in terms of price protection, reliability and service quality.
“Our voluntary consumer protection scheme continues to lead the way in heat networks best practice and we’re delighted that the proposed statutory protections recognise this by building on our own standards of customer service. As a voluntary scheme, we cannot regulate price or technical standards and so it’s crucial that regulation addresses the root causes of consumer detriment in these areas.
For more on Heat Trust’s arguments, see here.