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Heat Trust – A Year In The Life

Posted by on in Heat 2016
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b2ap3_thumbnail_Heat-Trust-Logo-Plain.pngLast year’s Heat Conference saw the launch of Heat Trust, a stakeholder-led initiative to help consumers have confidence in the service they receive from district heating network operators.

Approaching one year on, Heat Trust now covers 45 heat networks with over 25,000 customers.

We caught up with Bindi Patel, Director of Heat Trust, to see how things have moved on in the past year:

 

Q: What’s been the reaction from the sector?

Really positive!  There is a growing recognition that, in order for the sector to grow, sector-wide standards are needed so that customers are protected and have confidence that their heating and hot water service is comparable to the rest of the energy market. Equivalence in the service offered to customers is important, particularly given that customers are unable to shop around.  If the market is going to benefit from public funding to reduce investment risk, it should be able to meet minimum customer service and protection standards.

 

Q: And what’s been the reaction from customers?

Around 40 customers have made use of the Ombudsman service so far, which is fantastic. It shows that customers are actively making use of the service that Heat Trust has put in place. Customers can, for the first time, refer their dispute to an independent third party who can look at both sides and provide recommendations based on the facts presented.

 

Q: How has the Trust helped to improve what the sector offers?

 

  • Putting customers first: Heat Trust has helped highlight the need to improve performance and to give customers a service that is equivalent to any other customer in the energy market. In particular, it has also highlighted to heat suppliers the need to tailor their service to their customers, for example, customers who need additional support or are vulnerable.
  • Helps put industry on the path towards better regulation: This is a sector that has very little, if any, standardisation in the service it provides customers. Heat Trust provides a framework towards industry standardisation that is common in other regulated market sectors.
  • Improving the sector’s reputation: By helping suppliers to adopt consistent service standards and providing access to the independent Energy Ombudsman, Heat Trust is helping to protect the reputation of the sector as well as raising the profile of district heating.
  • Increasing transparency in the sector: this is one of our key objectives and we are achieving it in a number of ways: by reporting on the volume and type of complaints that heat networks registered with Heat Trust receive; by requiring independent audits; and by providing a heat cost calculator for customers. Transparency will play a key role in building trust in the sector and improving the sector’s reputation.

 

Q: You mentioned the new heat cost calculator. Tell us a little about that.

It’s always been hard for customers to get a sense of the costs of district heating compared to an alternative.

The Heat Cost Calculator is the first publicly available online tool developed to provide customers living on district heat networks, with an indication of what it would cost to heat a similar sized property using an individual gas boiler.

The Calculator takes the amount of heat a customer uses (or an estimate) and factors in boiler efficiency, repair and maintenance costs, and the cost to replace a boiler at the end of its lifetime.

We are now looking to develop the Calculator further to provide a comparison with electric heating, as this is the most likely alternative for the majority of district heating network customers.

Customers deserve to know what costs go into their bills and we hope the Heat Cost Calculator will encourage industry to ensure they are communicating in a clear and transparent way.

 

Q: What are your plans for the next year?

We’ve made an excellent start by recruiting over 40 heat networks in our first year of operation. Next year, we will be developing the scheme further, particularly for heat networks where heat supplier agreements are not the norm. Our aim is to expand so that any heat network can register with Heat Trust if they are able to meet the standards set by the Scheme.

 

Q: What are the challenges you’ll be facing?

So far, we have focused on schemes where there is a heat supplier agreement between the heat supplier and the customers – it ensures there is a clear document that sets out the terms under which the heat supplier is providing heating and hot water to customers served by the heat network.

However, a lot of existing heat networks do not use heat supply agreements but specify provision of heating and hot water in a leasehold or tenancy arrangement. We will be looking at how Heat Trust can develop to include these schemes. Work is under way and we hope to report on progress soon.

 

Q: How can people get involved with what you’re doing?

We are keen to engage with as many stakeholders as possible. You can get in touch by email at info@heattrust.org or find us at industry events and conferences – including this year’s Heat Conference (Wednesday 23 November, London). We’re always keen to hear views and – of course – to encourage more heat network providers to sign up to the Heat Trust and give their customers the confidence they need.

Our thanks to Bindi Patel, Director, Heat Trust, congratulations on a busy first year and best of luck for the second!

If you would like to know more about Heat Trust or to access the Heat Cost Calculator, please visit www.heattrust.org.

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