/ 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.

Comments
Admin

Hello everyone, we’ve published a new debate covering our investigation into district heating: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/district-heating-problems-gas-electricity/

Admin

I have a flat in London where the heating and hotwater are supplied, with huge cost of £1.44 per day standing charge and nearly 6.91p per kwh, so if as in august while we were away the standing charge alone was £46.34, and just £2.83 for 41Kwh we used, this is extortinate

Admin
Matt H says:
11 July 2015

I am not sure if I am posting this reply to the correct place, however, I get district heating supplied by my local council but I am paying £86 per month for this alone, it is extortionate.

What can I do about this?

Admin

Matt you can do nothing but pay their extortionate charges, every council is now doing this because of the government cuts. Probably with the government looking the other way. If you mounted a challenge in the courts, then your council would use unlimited council tax payers money to pay for legal manoeuvres and stall your case until you ran out of money and would be forced to abandon your legal action. Unfortunately parking charges and parking tickets and speed cameras as well as district heating charges are the favoured method of councils to raise money. The councillors high flying lifestyle and obscenely high expenses have to be paid for some how

Admin

Hi There my landlord ( hackney council) is try to push for us to have a communal heating system, they insisted that will cheap to run, but we will have to pay £ 0.55 a day to start with, the installation had start and they are doing a terrible job. We had a leak already even so the system is not fully working. They block sunlight in the corridors and air passage outlet, is really out of order.We had contact the MP but the work still going ahead, they never done a proper consultation. Because we had more then 50% of the tenants plus the leaseholder saying we don’t want, they now are offering to do a kitchen and bathroom. But this was already in this years budget.
Can we not do something to stop social housing landlords acting as they not have to keep us informed or take in consideration our concerns. In the end of the day we are the one that end up paying more, leave in the property and we are also tax payers.

Admin
Gav E says:
29 March 2016

Snap that’s the exact same amount (£994 per year now) Ealing Council recently introduced this and actually backdated it to 2013 and recouped £1500 that I ‘owed’ them. totally criminal. now my service charge to the council has doubled in the last year.

Admin
nick higgins says:
11 July 2015

Matt.

You r lucky

£200 a winter month my billls are. Solar electric and biomass district heating.. Thanks to charter housing , south wales .

Admin

I live in a Southampton council flat and the council charge me £480 per year for my under floor heating which is electric supplied by southern electric. the heat is off in the daytime from 7am until 2pm. I have to use my own convector heater to keep warm at extra charge. I electronically monitored my heating last winter and if I had been paying for it on my domestic supply I would have paid £160. If a private landlord was reselling electricity to his tenants at 3 times the cost he would be committing a criminal offence. the council get away with this by calling it communal heating. This is disgusting, fat cat counsellors in their ivory towers overcharging the elderly and vulnerable probably to cover their extortionate expenses

Admin
He Len king says:
5 October 2015

Hi I live in a estate in camden in kiln place we were the first to be charged heating by the council putting in idivudual heat meters in our property’s which we have a card to pay with in the local shop we used to pay through our rent it used to be £3 a week it was called communal heating the council would turn it off in the summer then put it on in oct . In kiln place we were the only estate to have these heat meters installed we were told it would be cheap and better to run we were conned and hoodwinked in my opioin I’m now paying about £20 a week in summer winter it’s about £35 . And I’m still paying £3 a week heating standing charge in my rent !! I’ve just complained about that as I feel I’m paying twice over there’s no one to help council tenants have no rights I feel we are vulnerable I have been to the cab and various other solicitors to challenge what they are doing but the citizens advice are part funded by the council so will not go Aganist the council unless you have the thousands to seek a solicitor to take them to court you can forget about it . Camden council by the way the most corrupt council in the uk

Admin

Hi, we are gathering data. Our MP and the CAB are interested in the results. Please compete the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NSMXW2M and pass it on to your neighbours

You may also be interested in our FB page https://www.facebook.com/groups/districtheat

Lets fight this together for the benefit of the environment and our pockets and not for the benefit of money garbing conglomerates with monopolistic power over us!

Admin
Gil Mutch says:
9 December 2015

It seems we are all in the same boat, I am paying £30 + per month and have not put the heating on! Better though than my previous experience with Southwark Council where I paid nearly £900- p a to be cold, the heating being mostly off or just on. Latest green guidelines promote district heating and the government back it, the large energy companies have jumped on the band wagon and we are paying for these initiatives. What can we do about this latest rip off?

Admin

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Admin
Tom says:
30 April 2016

Lovely idea in theory, but my experience as a Southwark leaseholder is dire.

Frequent breakdowns ( 6-12 per year). Frequent radiator bursts due to dirty water (six in three years). And to top it all very expensive. £12k in three years for a small 3 bed flat .

Admin

Hi Tom, I am under Southwark to, twice this week the district heating has broken down. In mid January when its below zero degrees. I had to put electric heater on. Its either the heating or hot water that goes. We get no explanation either or apology or refund.

Admin

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Admin

I wonder if it’s capable of working during very high demands? Too avoid criticism is it best to switch the energy centre offline and waiting for demand to drop?

Admin
Glenn says:
10 May 2016

In Leicester the district heating costs over £900 per year, constantly breaks down and is near useless in a cold winter. The claim of CHP is that it’s cheap. It’s very expensive considering it’s a very limited utility. Not only that, because it is attached to rental costs failure to pay will result in homelessness. Awful, system that runs as an extremely threatening monopoly with no scope for tenants to lower their bills in times of hardship.

Admin
R Morley says:
5 October 2016

1 bed flat in Erith covered by Evinox for gas and hot water

ridiculuous costs of :

Heating/Hot Water charge per kWh (Kilo watt hour) 7.37p
Communal Facility Charge per day 121.80p

against

British Gas which costs :
Unit rate 2.730p per kWh
Standing charge £65.70/yr

Admin

Not only that you must ask how effective is the heat unit supplied? What are the weaknesses using the heat unit for the customer?

Did you know some heat units consume more heat than what you really need because of the configuration.

Admin

I wonder to what extent these apparently exorbitant district heating charges are reflected in property values and hence through the market price or rental level. If the economics of the market place are working properly such homes should be considerably cheaper than an equivalent property where there is freedom to choose the heat source and supplier. I guess the market is not working efficiently because there is a serious imbalance between demand and supply creating significant distortions. Until equilibrium is restored this can only get worse.

Admin
NewOwner says:
17 January 2017

Moved into new flat with district heating 50£ per month for one person living in small flat. No option to change supplier ever. They offered their Adviser will come and help me…supposedly tell me to stop showering or turning the heating on in the evening and just sit in the cold?? Joke. Get someone please to have their ass kicked!

Admin

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Admin
Musiclady says:
27 January 2017

Am I happy with our district heating service. NO! Its controlled from a main centre somewhere and twice this week the council have turned it off for repairs and its below zero in January currently and had to put on electric heater to keep warm. Its always breaking down and we get no explanation as to why. They charge this on top of our rent weekly for heating costs. We have had no hot water before either, every year they have problems and its not just once, more like several times a year. We get an electronic voice mail call stating, your heating is off in your area we are investigating, thats it. they dont even use a real person to phone to explain why as that way they dont have to answer questions of unhappy residents. Plus our heating is also very low even when turn rads up higher. It takes a while for the water to get hot as well. Talk about all eggs in one basket, one falls the lot goes. Is is cheaper really, or the same when averaged out over a year. Its estimated not actual. They turn it off in the summer yet we still pay same rates.

Admin

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james Forrest says:
21 February 2017

Can anyone tell me how 1kWh of energy is calculated for a Biomass district heating system. I know how to convert 1 metric unit of gas into kWh’s but I am struggling to find out the price difference between gas central heating and Biomass central heating.

Admin
roni says:
5 March 2017

We are in a block of flats in Southwark with communal heating. We are leaseholders and pay the service charge. The heating costs about £1,400 to £1,700 a year for leaseholders. Plus we have just had the boilers renovated and that was a bill of £5,000 estimated and could be more. Two years ago we paid over £600 for new burners and they have been ditched. This is per flat, ours is a small two bedroom. The council tenants pay for the heating and hot water in their rents which are still under £6,000 a year. What a bargain. Ok critics will say leaseholder benefit from the value increase, but that only comes into play when we move and assumes we choose a cheaper property. I should say that on top of the heating we pay charges for other services and two years ago paid £12,000 for a new roof and six years ago £11,000 for new windows and doors. When the programme of renovations is complete next year, we will required to pay into a “sinking fund” and build up a pot of money for the council to use. They did the same thing in the 1990s and had to pay it all back when challenged in court. Then they just collected the money and never spent anything.

Admin

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Bill Carroll says:
25 July 2017

I own my property and had CHP installed free as Government initiated.
In the contract we are told we are responsible for radiators and pipes
power supplier responsible for all other apparatus. The contract is
ambiguous now leaves us with bills that we were not expecting as the
supplier is refusing to honour the contract and indeed has said they
will change it without consultation

Admin

I think it’s about time groups / organisations start to measure the effectiveness of the heat units installed in dwellings.

The last year or so I’ve been conducting various observations and measurements and discovered DH requires more energy than alternatives. One simply test is note the meter reading on a daily basis. Generally speaking we talk about heat loss across the network but what about the loss from within the unit?

Maybe the which? Magazine would like to get in touch and I can show during December my unit was no more than 40% successful transfering heat.

I

Admin

I think we should start differentiating between CHP and CHPDH they arent the same . CHP is a home system capable of generating hot water/central heating AND electricity whereby this (supposedly ) saves HMG in electrical energy needed for the whole country .CHPDH is the district version of it , where a central located heating system supplies heat to households in that area , they arent the same. Both though are “approved ” by HMG as they,again , purport to save national energy . Along with that is the ongoing development of the single house-contained CHP systems which is ongoing with various designs the latest being fuel cell. So this isnt a simple matter its complex. With all the combined intelligence of the regulars here I completely fail to understand why nobody has replied to Bill Carrol . Any contract drawn up between two parties is legally fixed in what is contained in the contract , therefore in MY view Bill has a watertight case against the contractor for not sticking to the contract. Why has nobody told him that ?? I have a book of English contract law it has kept me in good stead for many years so I would like to hear why some think Bill HASNT a case ??

Admin
Glenn says:
4 December 2017

In Leicester CHP generates electricity for council offices, but not tenants. So nothing is saved on electricity. I deal with old people and they get showers fitted, but the showers are run on electric immersion heaters. Thus it ups their electricity bills. A dreadful system.

Admin

Glenn – Whilst many heat providers claim district heating is reducing the cost of heating they are also failing to declare the basic energy demand of the preinstalled heat units. In some cases the units needs more energy than traditional methods therefore the cost and co2 savings go out of the window.

The which magazine did a special district heating report but failed to measure the heat unit performance. When they do decide to conduct a test they must measure the energy of a 5minute shower or measure the cost of increasing the hot water temperature in a tank by 15c

Admin
Glenn says:
11 December 2017

They also breakdown a lot in cold weather because the pipes burst constantly. I’m not against taking environmental measures seriously, but it seem to me that these heating schemes are constantly expanding and inflicted on more people, but are just not up to scratch.

Admin

During and prior to 2014 E.ON published information about that heat networks. They clearly promoted “price promise guarantee” and “fair price policy” that their low carbon solution heat networks would not cost more than alternatives. Thousands of homebuyers purchased their new homes with the belief they were part of a growing heat concept the had a financial and an environmental benefit – However there is a catch!

I wrote to the Which? Magazine after discovering their DH special report and some concerning issues relating to district heating. I wanted to highlight a number of fundamental issues encountered by some E.ON Heat customers the magazine did not include in the special report but the magazine was not interested because I was not a member. The consumer magazine wanted me to subscribe.

Anyway I took my heat supplier to the small claims court and judgement went against E.ON – they were order to payout approximately £300 for every year of using their heat network. My case argued the comparator used by E.ON was a misrepresentation to the equipment and service provided. For instance the small to the largest property paying the full heat service charge on our site is a Studio to a 2bed flat. The comparator used by Eon is based on five combi boilers rated 1x 28kw, 2x 32kw and 2x 38kw. It appears two boilers are more suitable for a 5bed house and not a newly built energy efficient small flat!
Also the comparator used was against a gas combi rather than a regular gas boiler – this is significant because the supplied equipment does not include things like a central heating pump or a pressure vessel- these items are external and not covered by the heat supplier on going maintenance. By misquoting the gas boiler type meant not only using a more expensive boiler model but the estimated lifespan for a combi is documented in a DECC report as 11.2yrs and a regular as 18.9yrs. By misrepresenting the boiler type provided a higher annual replacement valve by as much as 109%.

Raising issues relating to the Heat Trust (ie. they too only compare the price based on combi boilers and fail to factor the performance/behaviour of the heat unit provided).

I resubmitted my witness report outlining how the heat unit mechanical consumes more energy than alternatives, avoidable heat unit losses and a reasonable cost comparison relating to the equipment.

It is totally irresponsible for EON and the Heat Trust. The concept of district heating was to reduce CO2 but our heat unit configuration leads to inefficiency and probably reducing any environmental benefit in comparison to alternatives.

I have read an article in a National newspaper where a customer complained about high heat consumption and technicians failed to identify the problem. Eon received a £1.3m grant from the government in 2015 for research. Guru systems also received a health cheque for their work, interestingly Guru’s director Casey Cole is also director of the Heat Trust and a FairHeat a company that researches heat networks. Whilst millions pounds worth of Government grants are issued it seems quite bizarre a heat customer without a research budget can explain why the customer in the 2017 article encountered such high usage and how to resolve or at least avoid such issue. Customers could slash their heat bills but are the heat companies and experts willing to introduce such idea?

Interestingly EON did not submit any reports relating to the local energy centre. In fact to support their environmental story the Eon submitted a guardian newspaper article suggesting the uk could have benefits following the Denmark model! No historic data. Eon informed customers of receiving annual energy centre reports but after 4years I have not seen one relating to my site nor did one appear to support EONs defence.

If EON or the alleged customer Protection scheme was to inform customers of the issues identified in my case such could raise EONs original ‘price promise guarantee’ to the unsuspected customer! Customers are not been provided fairly with the technical information that causes high usage – an area the Heat Trust does not cover yet those associated with the scheme are involved in some form. I do wonder who is the Heat Trust really protecting????

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Admin

Hello Ian, the regulator is consulting on District Heat Networks at the moment – would you like to share your information with us at all and we can pass this on?

Admin

THe regulator attended the first hearing and Judge Bard put the question “is that Heat Trust used by the defendant reliable”

The regulator must be aware of my case!

It appears the use of an oversized heat plate, poorly insulated heat box and a control valve that is hindered by a opening delay the heat box acts like a cooling unit hence why customers encounter a higher usage!

Every time a customer activates their hot water cycle they firstly encounter a cooling process before temperature raises in the cylinder. This is causing higher bills and co2

Admin

It’s been 5 months now since highlighting the issues to the heat supplier. Will the customer protection scheme known as the Heat Trust adjust their online calculator and introduce a heat-only comparator?

Admin

Thanks for letting us know Ian, can we share anything directly as well? We’re more than happy to.

Admin
Patrick Taylor says:
9 February 2018

Keep up the good work IB. Seems to me that this scandal needs the widest possible coverage as unwittingly people may be buying into problems if the rent affected flats or mortgaging for a home that is blighted.

Just a refresh of some evidence:
fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/MFN_OQ_EON_28-4-17_FINAL.pdf

As for good journalists the Guardian is the best by far for spreading the revealing wrongs – but then only to Guardian readers. Private Eye has so many fish to fry …. though faintly I think that in the past they may have mentioned it.

Admin

The purpose of District Heating was to reduce co2. It was promoted with the claim “lowering the cost of heating”. The alternative cost calculation is conveniently based on the customers final meter reading.

The Heat Trust website states:
“The Heat Cost Calculator is not looking to assess the efficiency of the heat network. It aims to provide general indication of what you could expect to pay for heating and hot water in a similar sized property that used an individual gas boiler. It has been created for information purposes only and does not provide a bespoke assessment.
It does not, therefore, factor in the performance of the heat network or the HIU.”

What hope have we got!

The heart of comparing heat methods is firstly to measure the performance/behaviour of each method. 3,000kwh of District Heating does not necessarily mean 3,000kwh worth of electric energy or 3,750kwh of gas. In my case by ignoring the performance helped inflate the alternative cost unfairly – such made district heating look ‘competitive’ – in fact using a fairer comparison showed we were paying almost double to using a regular gas boiler. Such data was used in our case that judgement went against E.ON Heat in the small claims court. By understanding how the HIU configuration behaviours I noticed on average the heat cycle needs twice as much energy in comparison to alternatives. So it’s possible 3,000kwh of District Heating could be 1,500kwh of electric or 1,667kwh using a 90% efficiency rated gas boiler.

I’m more than happy to discuss this further with the Which? Magazine team if the consumer magazine is keen to verify the issues identified are not fairly calculated within the ‘customer protection scheme’ comparator.