/ 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

Stumbled upon this discussion searching for a solution to our CHP woes….

We moved in last year to a new built home in Highams Park built by Tescos and we residents have been fighting with Tescos and Switch2 over the heating and hot water charges.

Our Heating and Hot Water is supplied using a CHP system run by Tescos and billed by Switch2, have heat meter installed.

Usage Charges:

0.778p per Kwh
93p Standing Charge.

We have around 260 homes in this complex and on a good warm summer month our bills average around 50 a month and in winter it shoots up around 140 to 150.
We have got no proper replies to our queries regarding the charges and all we were said is that the charges are nominal.
When we bought the property we were sold under the idea that the CHP system is enery efficient, eco friendly and is going to cost us less than that if we went with a normal gas supply, but now its nothing near to the so called cheap and eco friendly.

The point we dont understand is that when Tesco buys gas in bulk and we are using the by product of generating electricity, why is it costing 7.7pence a unit when the whole sale gas isint going to cost more than 4p and who is paying for all the electricity thats generated.

This whole situation has put us in a fix as we have no regulation on the supplier and we cant choose a different supplier.

A similar comparison with a direct gas line would cost us half the amount we pay incuding the yearly comprehensive boiler maintenance plan.
Would nice to know from which on what you have found and if there is any way forward given that more and more homes are being built with this money minting scheme.

Hi,

I’ve recently moved to the same development and would be interested to know if you guys have got anywhere with Switch 2? I’m more than happy to jump on board with any discussions too.

Thanks

Louise Strong does not work for Which anymore, her email is bouncing back, has anyone got an alternate contact?

Mark says:
10 October 2014

I recently found out from a neighbour that Eon, the company that operates our communal heating system, have a low usage tariff along with the normal one. Of course, they don’t bother actually telling anyone about this on their website or any letters they send you.

Their low usage tariff takes the monthy standing charge from down from £25 a month to around £8 a month, but the unit price per kWh is doubled. If you tend not to use much heat this could save you quite a bit, so it might be worth contacting your supplier to see whether they have a similar deal.

Thanks Mark,

Our supplier does not have such a scheme, but even if they have such a scheme, does not benefit us normal users who would be better off on Gas.

Bill Watts says:
10 October 2014

This Discussion is invaluable evidence to provide policymakers with information about the realities of this type of heating. I am trying to get BBC radio 4 “costing the earth” to take an interest in this. It would help if people wrote to them encouraging them to take a look at this.

The fact that Louise Strong is no longer at Which? shouldn’t affect this.

Jolene says:
28 October 2014

We have recently bought a flat in a new build complex, we are being charged £1.20 PER DAY service charge before we use any heat or hot water!! This was a non negotiable contract set up without the costs put forward to us.

Has anyone successfully challenged their service charges? I have a neighbour who is writing to the director of the housing association that is responsible for the maintenance on our blocks.

Would be good to hear some peoples experiences.

The whole scheme seems a scam, the builders or sellers of the new houses know for sure that people wont back out due to this, and then they add a 2 page contract document to be signed, well no sale if you don’t sign, so there is no option here and all this is done in the name of cheap energy, environment friendly and all such BS.
and finally we consumers end up in this unregulated entangled mess.

I have contacted the CMA Gov UK and they seem to be helpless in this matter and have asked me to contact ofgem, called up ofgem and they don’t seem to have any clue of how this system works or even who is responsible and they are helpless again.

And the final result, we have no one to go to at this point in time.

We at the highams green development have been fighting over this issue for the past year and a half and haven’t had any progress so far

Mike H says:
28 October 2014

It is the Mayor of London (specific to London Developments) and the Planning Authorities that are responsible. This is part of the Zero Carbon by 2025 initiative which is a legally binding agreement for this country.

If you wish to see where this actually originates, look at the “London Plan”, “London Heat Map” , “Decentralised Energy for London” documents. Google search will show some good results.

The downside to this sensible proposal is the monopolistic ESCOs currently serving the developments. You are correct it is not regulated and for a good reason. If it was regulated and uptake of the scheme was optional for residents, it is likely the scheme for the ESCO as a profitable business would not be beneficial, thus there would be no interest in supplying such schemes and the Mayors’ ambitions on this form of decentralised energy would be in tatters.

Unfortunately this is becoming the norm on all new developments. I am quite confident there must be at least 100,000 affected residents. Perhaps a petition to Whitehall will start a debate in the Commons….or not.

My advice, opt for the low service charge options and watch your consumption like a hawk. Ensure you use your equipment correctly i.e time clocks, dont put your immersion heater on, dont boil needless amounts of water, be effecient with the washing machine, Switch the lights off. Unfortunately this type of behaviour is going to have to become the norm…

Clearly shows the how well the Gov cares about people like you and me, its the big organisations that drive them….. do they give a monkeys if someone rips us off…… nah…

How can they prove us all that this system is Eco friendly as they seem to advertise it when it costs 3 times more than normal. Its just to get the so called eco targets on paper, who cares if it does any good to the environment as long as it fills their accounts with cash.

Justin says:
28 October 2014

I’m disappointed this thread has been going on so long now and there has been no movement from Which. I think it is pretty obvious this district heating business is ridiculously expensive and I doubt a reasonable person would disagree, so I am really surprised to see no action from Which.

Mark says:
28 October 2014

I’ve asked Which? about this and they replied that as Louise Strong no longer works for them, nobody is currently looking after this issue. I doubt that anyone other than Which? finds this acceptable, but unfortunately, just like the organisations Which? criticise, it seems they don’t really care what we think.

EssKay says:
29 October 2014

Like a lot of others on this thread – I recently moved into one of these new developments with a district heating scheme and have been horrified to see the absolutely extortionate bills for very modest usage. My bills for heating and hot water are 2-3 times higher than in my last property.

In the rest of Europe, these schemes actually result in *lower* costs to consumers (they are after all supposed to be a “green” by product of industrial/commercial energy use).

In rip off Britain however, they are simply seen as another way of profiteering from consumers by the ESCOs – facilitated by local councils eager to meet their meaningless, box ticking targets and developers greedy for kick backs for the privilege of installing such systems.

Our supposed “regulator” – OfGem – gives them a green light to do it with the complete lack of any rules, regulations or even simple oversight. As others have commented, you can’t even get out of these agreements as they are often locked in for 20/25 years.

In which other country would this complete disregard for consumers be acceptable?

Jolene says:
29 October 2014

Could we take it to Watchdog?

There’s defo a strong topic in this thread. Every new build seems to have these systems installed and every buyer will be shocked when they get their first bill through the door.

Similar issues here in a new London development with communal heating/hot water.
Annual service charge is around £360 and energy costs £0.76 per kWh.
The system delivers hot water at under 50% efficiency (which is why the cost per kWh is so high). I am dubious whether the system REALLY is THIS INEFFICIENT or a money making strategy by the supplier.

NO CHP THANKS says:
6 November 2014

not a surprise at all when you are forced to heat hundreds of meters of communal pipes to get the central heated hot water to your flat first.

Also, seems no one is counting any penny that they got charged on electricity yet. Consumers are forced to sell electricity generated from CHP at whole sale price back to the grid and buy it back at retail price.

Well done ESCO!

Maggie says:
7 November 2014

just got my first bill for hot water and heating!
In a 123 day period my metered charge was £26.06. -great!
Service charge was £173.05. – WHAT!!!
That’s £1.40 per day. That works out to over £500 per year. What chance lower energy bills?

revolution says:
10 November 2014

As much as I sympathise for those residents tied into these contracts, the sad truth and reality is that this is a policy driven initiative and consequence based on the principles of more ECO friendly and green objectives. The Govt’s own requirement to meet carbon targets has provided the foundation for these types of energy systems. Misleading data and evidence has suggested these to be potentially more energy efficient – which possibly may be true – yet factoring in the maintenance and service costs for delivering this energy then lead to any disputed efficiencies being wiped out.

The lack of regulation and long terms setup of these types of schemes means unlike a traditional supply where you can at least switch suppliers, the reality is you end up being tied down with a highly expensive monopoly provider.

Housing Associations and developers will take the brunt of consumer complaints and dis-satisfaction however the truth is as a result of government policy and legislation, they either have to comply with these communal systems and expensive ‘green’ technology or simply not be allowed to build.

The hard truth is adopting a greener and more sustainable approach to energy is always going to come at a cost. In the case of these energy systems – neither suppliers, providers or housing associations can absorb the costs. It ultimately gets passed down to the end users.

This needs addressing urgently but bar a wholesale review of both UK and EU energy policy, this isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon. Solution? Avoid communal flat builds where possible.

George Parr says:
25 November 2014

government and policy makers, the gla and london boroughs in particular, have been badly advised by vested interests over many years. a lot has to do with the uk wanting to be seen to be taking the lead in implementing eu energy legislation. its all politically correct meddlesome green crap so beloved by eu lovers/greens/liberals
property developers are only interested in shifting properties, district heating is nothing more than an inconvenience along the way. they are more bothered about the high proportions of affordable homes being imposed by the gla as a requirement for planning permission. they really only want to sell property to millionaire canary wharf workers who dont give a stuff about energy costs. escos are only in it because its a monopoly, they will have made a handsome profit long before that ends. hefty standing charges is a way of keeping revenues up. dont expect government, especially in london to change its position anytime soon

Trudy Stewart says:
22 January 2015

I live in a village on a Country Estate and in June last year, work was completed on a district heating scheme within all the houses in the village. The system has been very problematic but my biggest problem with it is the expense. We received minimal info from our landlord and in December, I received my first bill for £365. Since then (even though the property was empty for 12 days) I have supposedly gone on to use another £167 worth of heating.
One of the radiators had a leak from the day it was installed (fixed yesterday) and almost every day, there is 1 problem or another with the system from low pressure to overheating temperatures.
Yesterday I took a reading and it was a 4 digit number. This afternoon, the Evinox Viewsmart display screen went black and the red fault light started flashing. It was back on within 5 minutes but the heating consumption is now a 9 digit figure!
I would be interested to know if anyone else has experienced similar problems. I also cannot understand why, from talking to one of my neighbours, I am being charged 3 times as much as him although we both use the heating for a similar amount of time each day and have the same amount of radiators “on”.
There are a number of unhappy customers/residents within my village and it is by no means turning out to be the cheaper fuel alternative we were promised.

Hi Trudy,

I am an Evinox resident/’victim’ too.
I’ve been in my flat for just over two years, and Evinox are the communal heating suppliers.
I had a similar problem when I first moved in, and communal heating was completely new to me.

The Evinox monitor malfunctioned quite a few times. One Winter, the hot water and heating stopped working entirely and my place was ice box; the temperature on the screen jumped from Celsius to Fahrenheit into the thousands. It took them far too long finally fix the issue. There was no urgency or understanding. It turned out that all they needed to do was update the software.
The customer service team are pretty incompetent too, if I remember correctly, over the first YEAR of having issues with them, I must’ve spoken to 3 or 4 different administrators because the staff turnover was so high.

I would suggest that you call them and ask them to revise your bill and send you a breakdown of how much you’ve ‘used’. Chances are it’s their fault, and be prepared that they’re not very likely to take any responsibility or admit liability.

Best of luck and I hope it works in your favour.

L

Concerned DH user says:
5 March 2015

Even abroad in The Netherlands they’re fighting the same battles as us in the UK on District Heating.
Read this via Google’s Translate option, it will give you a rough overview of what is happening here.
It seems they are more organised than us in the UK and have legislation protecting heat users which is being reviewed due to the monopoly position it creates.

http://nautilus-amsterdam.nl/?post_type=nieuws&p=2109

Anna_Sol says:
9 March 2015

My mother lives (she is the owner) in a two-bedroom property in a new development where heating and hot water is supplied through a communal heating system by EON HEAT. Her standing/service charge is 99.959 pence per day(!!!) and since August 2014 the heat bills totalled £310, of which over £210 was for the service charge. She finds it extremely high, considering that she lives alone and is hardly at home as she works full time (Mon-Fri 9-6).

We questioned the high standing charge with EON, but were told that they could not lower it. We are also unable to change the supplier for the next 25 years.

I am glad to have come across this forum and hope for some resolution to the problem. It is outrageous to be paying so much just for standing charges and not to be able to change the supplier!

The name of the development is Romford Reflections – in case there are other ‘victims’ close to us.

anon says:
26 March 2015

…….Just to add to the comments from Trudy and Liyah, our experience of the Evinox service is extremely poor. We have been subject to their lack of service for 5 years,
>billing is sporadic and the management agent has to really push to get information as they don’t want to talk directly to us
>staff changed in the early years and even now it is difficult to get any meaningful response; managers don’t call back
>The heating has been out of action since late Jan and the issue has still not been resolved after several visits and cost of replacement parts
>they appear to be stopping service contracts on units over 5 years and I can’t find other suppliers that can work on the unit so even if you did want to get someone else to look at the unit they aren’t out there.
it is turning out to be a very costly system and I would avoid in given the opportunity again

NO CHP THANKS says:
31 March 2015

http://www.standard.co.uk/business/money/on-the-money-households-face-high-costs-and-low-satisfaction-with-district-heating-10147222.html?origin=internalSearch

Evening standard reported this issue today. It seems a lot of information is provided by Which?, as I know that Louise has moved on in her Career, can someone suggest who is leading the investigation on this issue?

Also, I was told by DECC that Which? would publish its report on this, when will that be?

Hello No CHP Thanks,

As you mentioned Louise has left Which? and I’ve taken over her responsibilities, including our work on district heating.

Which? published the findings of our year-long investigation into district heating yesterday. To read the report click here: http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/turning-up-the-heat-getting-a-fair-deal-for-district-heating-users—which-report-399546.pdf

If you have any questions about the report please do get in contact with me, via matthew.aylott [AT] which.co.uk

Regards,

Matt

NO CHP THANKS says:
1 April 2015

Hi Matt,

good to be in touch.

Why this is not published property as other guide on Which? Press please?

given the size of the issue, I think it deserves more attention and proper publication but not simply a link that can’t be search from google or http://www.which.co.uk

It would be great if you could help to make it more formal.

Regards,

NO CHP THANKS

Recommendation 6:
Tenants and buyers should
receive clear and accurate
information – including on
price – before they commit
to living in a property on
a district heat network

I have always been puzzled that the legal profession working on behalf of purchasers are not implicated for allowing for these poor deals to go unremarked. It would seem to me that unless they take a disclaimer from the purchasers that they understand the risk of a sole supplier arrangement they have been negligent.

NO CHP THANKS says:
1 April 2015

Solicitors should share the blames for sure as they failed to highlight irregularities to buyers.

I spent time asking mine to explain lease to me and ask under what setup EON can charge me the money.

As you can expect, I gave up in the end, as the solicitor was nothing but paper trail pusher.

This is something that only mentioned briefly in Which? report.

I personally think more examination and research can be done on the relationship between landlord and ESCO (our famous pair here Barratt and EON I think). But not much done in the Which? report.

Adrian says:
1 April 2015

As soon as a party is sworn in we should start an e-petition. I too can’t fathom why EON can justify charging £1 a day service charge. I’m in a new build in South London and got a shock a few months after moving into my part buy 2 bed flat and got bills in excess of £70-£80 a month just for heating when supposed to be living in a Eco friendly, low cost new build flat. EON electric is run as a separate entity so no discount for having dual fuel with the same company like you would have if you owned or rented house or old style flat.

It is. I thing other than greed, a way for the big companies to make money. It’s criminal at a time when people have been struggling with high bills. There are far too many people being affected by this and until some form of petition to the government is done to trigger a debate and review, people will continue to suffer.

In 2 years EON have not come out once to service my HIU. That’s £720 profit from one flat for doing sweet FA.

That would be £9,000 over 25 years.

What a joke

NO CHP THANKS says:
1 April 2015

I am living on a site of 700 flat, that is £200k a year on service charge. Guess it would be similar for you, that is a lot of money from “service charge”. And, as mentioned above, obvious fact is when the system is new, it is very likely that there will be left over on these money by year end. These should be reserved aiming for major equipment replacement at some stage, but we are never told about the balance right? Then, what if EON default on us, just leave the site with our money?

Don’t expect much from your HIU service my friend. It would just make you feel worse.

A guy showed up tweaking the heat meter slightly on a day. The only think that is useful was, the flow rate was too fast, so he adjusted it down.

The way heat meter works is like this, it detects the temperature difference on in flow and out flow, then use sonic sound tech to check the water flow rate, so amount of water flow * temperature difference = energy used.

Good, the flow rate was too fast, so I guess my bill was too big till the meter was properly adjusted. You can argue that when the speed is fast, temp difference is smaller, but given it still circulate in a few meter of pipe and there will temperature loss, I am fairly sure you will be over charged rather than under paid.

I have started a Facebook Group, please come and join District Heat Stakeholders https://www.facebook.com/groups/682548048557402/. Let’s see what we can do together

NO CHP THANKS says:
1 April 2015

One more thing to share with you all.

We are put on to this set up because the government want to reduce carbon emission right?

I found filed energy report about my site on council website. As part of obligation in S106, ESCO has to file energy usage and carbon emission yearly.

The fact is from jul12 to jun13, both Biomass boiler and CHP machine were not running at all. So, there is no carbon emission reduction and I was paying a very expensive price for the ESCO to run a big gas boiler for me. That is not even as efficient as I do it in my own flat, as it got to heat all the communal pipes!

There is no action from council at all.