Heat Trust, the consumer champion for people living on communal and district heat networks, has welcomed today’s announcement by government of its policy progress on the road to heat network regulation.

Heat Trust has long advocated for statutory regulation of the heat networks sector, which already serves over half a million households and could serve several million homes within a few decades under government plans for low carbon city-wide district heating networks.

Consumer protection regulations for heat networks were recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2018. They were included in the Energy Act 2023, which appoints Ofgem as the heat networks regulator for Great Britain. Today’s announcement sets out a policy path to regulation and a clearer picture of the consumer protection rules that will apply in future, which will be similar to those currently enjoyed by gas and electricity consumers.

The proposals cover areas including: pricing, quality of service standards, rules aimed at boosting transparency for consumers as well as measures to protect vulnerable customers, such as the elderly or those with health conditions, with providers required to keep a register of those most at risk. Further consultation is planned later this year on various aspects.

It is anticipated that the new regulations will start in 2025 (though when in 2025 is still to be confirmed), with a year’s initial period during which regulations will be phased in for existing heat networks.

Heat Trust currently operates a voluntary regulation scheme in the sector, which provides consumer protections for close to 80,000 households whose heat suppliers have signed up to its scheme.

Commenting, Stephen Knight the Director of Heat Trust, said:

“As the national consumer champion for heat networks, Heat Trust has long campaigned for the regulation of the sector and we therefore welcome this important milestone. Heat networks have a key role to play in the decarbonisation of heating in the UK, but customer experiences must improve if consumers are to gain confidence in district and communal heating systems.

“Whilst many heat network customers get a reliable and value-for-money heating system, sadly too many do not. Too often customers experience high prices, unreliable systems, and poor customer service. The experience of customers facing huge, uncapped, price rises during the energy crisis of the past few years has been especially difficult. Given that heat network customers cannot switch supplier, it is vital that regulations deliver tangible improvements in terms of price protection, reliability and service quality.

"There is still much work to be done to deliver regulations. If they are to take effect in 2025, then government needs to provide further clarity on all intended rules - and the planned timescales and milestones for implementing them - as soon as possible."

The government’s response to its Heat Networks Consumer Protection Regulations Consultation can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/heat-networks-regulation-consumer-protection.