/ Home & Energy

District heat users – are you happy with your service?

District heating pipes

There are around 210,000 households who get their heat supplied through a heat network – known as district or communal heating. But little is known about people’s experiences or the prices they pay.

Homes or other buildings with district heating get their heating from a central source, such as natural gas or biomass boilers, with the heat then being transferred through a network of hot water pipes.

To meet its carbon reduction targets, the Government is planning for many more households to be on a heat network in urban areas. The last time we discussed the issue on Convo many of you had strong views on this topic and you’ve continued this discussion in recent months. Robert Vesty told us:

‘Me and my partner moved into a one-bed apartment at the end of November and we have just challenged the DH supplier about the costs. Many residents were shocked, as we were, to receive high bills. We were only told at the last minute that the DH scheme would be how our heating/hot water would be supplied, and while I’m all up for it in principle, I feel that the companies supplying it are ripping us off.’

District or communal heating challenges

We’re keen to find out more. District heating schemes are a monopoly and consumers have little choice but to remain with the same supplier even if they are dissatisfied. Also, unlike consumers with gas or electric heating, the supply of heat to homes on heat networks is not regulated and these consumers do not have access to the Energy Ombudsman. So it’s hard to know who to turn to when things go wrong. Ana is concerned about the lack of regulation:

”The Government should regulate the market first, and make sure they are not sending affordable housing dwellers into fuel poverty.’

I’m keen to hear more from you, so please continue to share your thoughts below as your interest has prompted us to take a deeper look into district heating.

Vikki says:
22 May 2018

I’m shocked at the cost of the community heating bills I receive. A two bedroom new build flat (very efficient according to the EPC) is costing the same as my 3 bedroom detached house use to. Current seeing charges of £1.03 per day standing charge plus usage

Seems that the country’s largest consumer group is unprepared to make it clear where it stands on this issue or take it up more seriously. I could be doing it an injustice and it is secretly beavering away – But regrettably I suspect it is not.

The Which? Magazine ought to step back from the various district heating experts and alleged customer protection schemes and knock on a few customer doors and actually measure the effectiveness of the heat units and configuration provided. I cannot sit back and allow customers to constantly be referred to the Heat Trust for a comparison to what their heating could have cost! It’s quite clear to me the Heat Trust does not factor the effectiveness of the equipment this is of great concern especially if customer heat boxes include a delay reacting valve. If customers preheat their hot water it’s likely the first two minutes the customers central heating pump is circulating without and heat supply from the energy centre. This could mean heat from the customers hot water cylinder is transferred to a non active cool heat plate. Once the heat is supplied heat vents from a the customers HIU that is likely not to have any insulation surrounding the casing. After the heat cycle it appears the delay reacting valve remains open for a further four minutes! This occurs during a period heat is not being transferred to the customers heating system. Combining these factors all contribute towards an ineffective heating system that was presented to many new customers with “price promise guarantee” that it should not cost more than alternatives. The Issue is the heat trust managed by experts has yet to explain fairly about the delay valve – why is that? If only customers understood the issue they would actually discover a major part of their heat usage relates to wasting energy inside their storage room and allegedly distracts how unsustainable the heat network could be for the end user

Patrick Taylor says:
14 August 2018

An insider tells me of a distrct heating scheme where a thermography company was employed to try to find “suspected” leaks in the underground pipes. They failed. Interesting to know if the residents have been informed that there is a major problem. I suspect they are paying for it.

The industry definitely needs to be regulated and the sooner the better. https://www.change.org/p/ofgem-legal-regulation-of-communal-or-district-heating-industry

Paul McInerney says:
4 December 2020

Was a great system up until late 2017 when business supply standing charges increased 1200% over a two year period when we went from paying £55 a year to £55 a month in standing charges.

Paul McInerney says:
4 December 2020

…and we are a residential address. The landlord is the business (housing association) acting on our behalf but the supply contract is a business tariff!

Patrick Taylor says:
5 December 2020

It seems to me that examining systems overseas or in the UK that actually function without excessive costs would be hugely useful. Perhaps out of its £90m plus income Britains’ celf-proclaimed consumer body [charity] could actually fund a paper on this problem.

Incidentally from managing blocks of flast I am aware that if you have a significant number of vacant flats then the economics of a system designed for a certain output would be affected.
I am also aware that a lot of London flats were sold to oversea buyers as investment properties and left unoccupied to be flipped later. I do not know if this applies to some schemes much more than others.

Residents may be in a position to find out how many flats are unoccupied or unsold to acsertain if this is a cause of increased indivduals costs.

Hillpark GHA biggest district heating . Leaked all over my bedroom from the flat above in the first 6 months , leaked into my kitchen a year latter . It has been making a ridiculously loud banging noise every night for the last 2 months and nobody can sleep . It’s grim .