The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published the final findings of its seven-month study into the heat networks industry, which set out to establish whether heat network customers are getting the right level of protection.
Heat networks provide homes with heat and hot water from a central source via insulated pipes, but unlike other energy services are currently not regulated. As a result, heat network customers in general have less consumer protection if things go wrong.
The CMA found many heat networks offer prices that are the same or lower than those paid by people on gas or electricity, and customers receive comparable levels of service.
However, a number of those on privately operated networks are getting poorer deals in terms of price and service quality, and there is a risk this problem could grow.
The CMA is therefore recommending that the regulator, once it is established:
- introduces consumer protection for all heat network customers so they get the same level of protection as customers in the gas and electricity sectors
- addresses low levels of transparency so customers know they are on a heat network and there are clear agreements or contracts between customers and heat network operators
- makes sure customers are aware of what they are paying as this is often unclear
- protects customers from poorly designed, built and operated heat networks by preventing developers from using cheaper options to meet planning regulations that end up being paid for by the customer over the longer-term.
The CMA has also published guidance for homebuyers and home owners around researching heating arrangements before moving into a new property, and living with a heat network in their property.