Consumer champion hails success in raising standards for heat networks as complaints drop | News

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Consumer champion hails success in raising standards for heat networks as complaints drop

Heat Trust, the consumer champion for heat networks, says customer service standards are continuing to rise across the industry.

The independent customer protection scheme has hailed a successful fourth year of holding the heat network industry to account, with figures from its latest annual report showing that complaints regarding heat networks reduced by 54% in 12 months.

Heat Trust was launched in November 2015 to put customers at the heart of the rapidly expanding heat network market. It sets consistent customer service standards for the sector, building on standards set in the gas and electricity markets.

Up to five million homes could be reliant on the heat network infrastructure by 2050, a ten-fold increase from the estimated 440,000 homes currently on heat networks in the UK.

“We are pleased and encouraged with the progress demonstrated in our fourth report,” said Heat Trust Director Bindi Patel.

“The industry recognised the need to address challenges around customer experience and to put consumers at the centre of all future plans. The standards we have set through Heat Trust are helping to improve the market for the better and ensuring that people living on heat networks know what to expect from their suppliers.

“It is also encouraging that our contribution has been recognised across government.”

Latest figures show an average of 4.72 complaints per 100 customers in 2019 down from 12.9 per 100 customers the previous year.

There was also a drop in the number of complaints referred to the Energy Ombudsman – although of all complaints made to the Ombudsman only 9% were not upheld.

Heat Trust’s standards mean customers receive guaranteed service payments if they have experienced an outage that has not been restored in an agreed timeframe. More than £25,000 worth of payments were made to customers for this reason.

Research into annual heat bills by The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy suggests that, on average, an annual heat bill on a heat network is £100 lower compared to individual heating. However, billing and heat charges have continually been the topics customers most frequently raise complaints on.

Billing and charges accounted for 37% of complaints, closely followed by technical issues representing 36% of complaints.

The annual report highlights the importance of data collection and the need for industry wide performance metrics.

Joanna Read, Policy and Operations Adviser at Heat Trust, said “Each year we have been able to report on more and better quality data. Going forward we are seeking to gather further insights such as on debt and disconnection.

“This year we have collaborated with our Registered Participants to develop more meaningful metrics for outages such as origin of the issue, where there is a clear overlap with customer experience. However, wider performance metrics for the sector are needed to progress this work further.”

Heat Trust remains a voluntary scheme but is continuing to expand each year. It now provides protection to more than 10% of all residential and micro-business customers on heat networks, with 80 heat networks accounting for over 50,000 homes and micro-businesses registered.

The government has confirmed it intends to introduce statutory regulation and appoint a sector regulator to the heat networks industry, a move that has been welcomed by Heat Trust.

Ms Patel added: “Heat networks have been identified as enabling infrastructure in all decarbonisation scenarios set out by the Committee on Climate Change, but they must offer a good experience to customers if the market is to grow as projected.

“Heat Trust will continue to champion service standards in the industry and will seek to make sure that issues such as transparency over charges, clarity on terms and services and accountability over technical performance are part of a future regulatory framework.”