/ Home & Energy

Could you warm to a district heating scheme?

A tiny house in someone's hands

District heating schemes could be a low-carbon solution for energy supplies, but customers are not protected by consumer regulations. Are you part of a shared heating scheme?

At Which?, we believe that for the energy market to be truly competitive, it needs to be far easier for people to compare the prices of different suppliers and switch to the cheapest one for them.

But for the 200,000 or so households who get their energy from a district heating scheme instead of through the wires and pipes of the National Grid, there is no choice of supplier. So with major interest in increasing the number of homes connected to district heating, otherwise known as a heat network, how do we ensure these people get a good deal?

What are district heating schemes?

If you’ve never heard of district heating schemes, they supply homes and businesses with heat through a network of pipes that take hot water or steam from a power plant (essentially a huge boiler) to individual properties.

Schemes can be powered by a diverse range of fuel sources, including low-carbon and renewables. Typical technologies used include energy from waste incineration, biomass fuel, and combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

CHP is an efficient use of fuel. Electricity is generated and the heat created by the process (which would usually just be waste heat) is used for another purpose, such as heating water that can then be pumped round pipes to heat homes. CHP can be gas-fired or fuelled by biomass. Therefore, district heating is potentially a more flexible and environmentally friendly way to heat more homes, as it is not dependent on just one type of fuel.

Turning up efficiency, but turning down choice

The downside is that directly connecting homes to a specific source of energy means it is virtually impossible to give people a choice of supplier. Households have very little control over who supplies their heat and the price they pay is not subject to the competitive pressures you find in a market where companies have to compete to attract and retain customers.

Households on mains electricity and gas are also protected by regulations set by Ofgem that suppliers have to comply with as a condition of their licence to supply energy. The same is not true for people on district heating. There is no consumer protection regulation at the moment and, therefore, no standards of service for the sector.

Are you on a heat network at the moment? Do you think you pay a fair price for your energy?

If you’re not on a heat network, how would you feel about living somewhere that’s connected to one? Does Ofgem need to step in to protect consumers, or could industry self-regulation be enough to ensure consumers benefit from good service and fair prices?

Aumen says:
4 June 2016

I definitely think that it should be regulated and also reviewed as to whether it is really carbon efficient. It needs to also be transparent as to what financial incentives are provided to Housing Developers/ Associations. There are now a lot of green electric providers and the carbon efficiency needs to be compared with this.

alan says:
2 August 2016

Our housing association has installed district heating/hot water. Since it was installed i have monitored it closely and it is approximately twice as expensive as my previous off peak system. This is a real problem for a low income family and we have no right to switch or opt out. Plus all tenants now have to prepay by adding credit to a meter. This is a totally backward step, CRAZY!

e dibb says:
21 November 2016

Dear alan we have the same prob ,does your area happen to be broomhill or another cube housing area thanks

Jonathan Bayliff says:
6 August 2016

I am Chairman of our Residents’ Association here at Officers Field in Portland Dorset, where 59 homes are supplied with heat via 3 district heating networks powered by biomass boilers with gas as back-up. We were told in our marketing literature the heating would be reliable and cheap but the opposite is true. We started paying 4.5 p/kWh but are now on 6.9p/kWh and have recently been told the true cost is actually 11.9 p/kWh so are facing a huge hike in prices. We also pay £300 per year in standing charge so the actual cost of our heat is around 17.5 p/kWh. We are currently in dispute with the developer, Zero C, and it is affecting the value of our homes. Recently a buyer was advised to pull out of the purchase of one of our homes due to the serious nature of this dispute. We have no redress so are preparing for a legal action with our developer, who we believe has mishandled the whole thing from the design stage onward. We have found another development in Chichester with very similar problems so we are comparing notes, but this does seem to be a very common problem – we are all shocked there is no get out and no protection from OFGEM. I suggest we write to our MPs and outline the problems and the lack of redress, so we get protection legislated ASAP. We are not taking this lying down and have a few ideas up our sleeve to encourage Zero C to take responsibility for this mess.

Agni says:
17 August 2016

Has anyone been ever happy with that heating system ? It works extremely well in Eastern Europe but after reading the comments I’m wondering what heating system to go for while buying a flat.


It has been very useful reading all of your comments. I have just moved into the new Bellway development at Drayton Garden Village. I am an energy professional, understand the pro’s and con’s quite well of the CHP supplying the heat. However, I do not understand why it is not regulated by OFGEM.

Our provider is EON, and one would think with their recent fines (misselling/pricing) they would have learnt from previous mistakes. I was almost certain they would not want yet another fine on their books.

I am yet to check the terms and conditions of my housing association to see if I am liable for the costs of the plant when the 25 year contract comes to an end.

I have written to OFGEM asking for guidance, and will update the forum if/when I hear back.

Steve Wyatt says:
6 January 2017

Hi Ams,

Thank you for your comments. I’m also with E.ON Heat and have a number of issues, which I’m unable to address. My case is with the Ombudsman and I’ve also written to the ASA, pending a response. I’ve also started to get legal advice to see next steps.

I was wondering if you’ve heard back from OFGEM and if so, whether it made sense for more of us to do the same, since collectively we stand a better chance.



frozenorangejiuce says:
15 December 2016

haveinh had oilfired boiler which i installed in rented home costing 11 pounds a week to run the heating on 24 hrs a dayfor 6 months of the year and been on district heating or 15 years .i imeddiatly found that my home cost 40 80 pounds a week to heat it the same .it just does not equate .unit cost started at 3.5now 5.5 .which seems reasonable but the house leaks heat .landlord refuses to do anything as its a big job and i would have to move out etc which im quite willing to do but hes not goverment want to helpbut he does not want his biulding touched .surely its mad that a subsidy is paid when heating is connected up to biomass and heat leaking house .where is the energy saving .re the planet .so the energy i save by not using it is where the energy saving comes in .ive heated one room for years by wood only which keeps me warm but rest of house can be freezing . im only financially able to use heating when its really cold now as ive got my pension and other benifits . but i still cannot use it like i would like as i dont have 80 pounds a week for heating .
the only proper way toheat a homelike this is constantly. ive tried ust haveing three radiators on but this does not seem to make any difference it still racks up silly amounts .12 pounds a day its not the cost per kwh its the house . unlessa a house is sealedand insulated properly no matter what cost per kwh your billswillalways be expensive as radiators never turn of with stats .ive given up i just hang out in living room aaaand do a quick dash for a pee occasionaly into the frozen north bathroom complete with frozen shut windows .
i used to visit mygreat aunt who had warm air central heating .she couldnot afford that in a wee flat .when you knocked on the door she would puton the heating then off when you left so i do not think she was so poor she could not use it .how many other pensioners do this?.at least ihave mywood burner which costs me 100per month for wood blocks but at least i know what im using and dont get ant surprise bills that would takememonths topay if ever . so the alternative is to go live in a box surrounded with insualtion but there are not enough to go round and def not in the country . soif you want tolive rurally you have to shut up and put upwith all of the above .

Vinny says: