Heat pump warning as ‘nonsensical’ missing rule threatens ‘disastrous ramifications’

The Government has been warned that a missing requirement for certain heat pump installations could have “potentially disastrous” consequences as not all engineers need to be highly qualified. Under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, a Government programme offering £5,000 grants to slash the staggering £10,000 average heat pump installation cost in half, engineers installing the low-carbon boiler alternatives must be what is known as MCS certified.

Heat pumps have been a key focus of the Government in recent years as it scrambles to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and improve energy efficiency across the country, particularly since energy prices have soared following the war in Ukraine.

However, the sky-high installation costs may have been putting many Britons off from switching their old gas boilers out with the low-carbon heating alternative. While the Boiler Upgrade Scheme helps to address this, not everyone’s heat pump will have been covered by the scheme.

This means that many installers will not need the MCS, a mark of quality that installers must have if they are to ensure that equipment meets good standards of performance and are technically safe.

This is because there is currently no mandatory qualification on top of the minimum NVQ Level 2 qualification needed for engineers installing heat pumps outside of the Government scheme. The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), an industry trade body, has warned that this could have potentially “disastrous ramifications”.

Kevin Wellman, CEO of the CIPHE said: “Competency is essential. So, the idea there’s no minimum legal standard for all heat pump installations is nonsensical. With proficient installation, heat pumps can provide low-carbon heating which saves money and has a positive impact on the environment. In cases where poor installations are carried out, there could be disastrous ramifications.

“Plus, there may even be an influx of legal claims years down the line. We are all vulnerable if plumbing and heating work is poorly executed and, if plumbing and heating professionals are not appropriately trained and a legal standard put in place, the consequences could be severe.”

But this comes after the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a £9.2million energy efficiency training scheme. The programme will help establish 9,000 training courses for heat pump and energy efficiency installers across the UK.

Mr Wellman said: “Steps like the BEIS investment and updates to the Scottish Heat in Building Strategy are extremely positive. However, this must be underpinned by a mandatory minimum standard for all heat pump installers, including those installed outside of the upgrade scheme.

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“Given that many boiler replacements are distress purchases, there will be a percentage of the population who cannot wait for government grants to come through. In these incidents consumers may be vulnerable to poor installations.”

There are currently around 1,300 companies certified to install heat pumps, while there are only around 4,000 qualified engineers, according to estimates.

This means the industry needs to find around 5,000 to 7,000 engineers every year from 2025 until 2035 to meet the Government’s target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, according to the innovation foundation Nesta.

Mike Foster, head of industry trade body the Energy and Utilities Alliance, has previously told Express.co.uk about the “dire” shortage of heat pump engineers.

He warned: “Part of the problem the heat pump industry is grappling with is the number of heat pumps that are being installed by people without the MCS qualification that the Government suggests.”

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But to get that MCS, Mr Foster said he was told that this costs around £2000, putting off those who need to be trained and would also need to take time off to earn that qualification.

Codrina Cretu, Senior Analyst of Nesta’s Sustainable Future mission said: “A shortage of trained heat pump engineers could put a spanner in the works of the government’s net zero target.

“We will need thousands more heat pump engineers trained every year to make real progress in providing low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers and meet the increasing demand for qualified installers, but this won’t happen while there is a risk of engineers spending more on training than they will make from it.

“Governments in the UK should look at trialling cash incentives to get more people and companies training heat pump engineers, as well establishing direct routes to training via low carbon heating apprenticeships and college courses.”

Mr Wellman added: “I certainly agree that we must bring more installers on board and the CIPHE celebrates the efforts of BEIS in this area. Without more qualified professionals, current installers will need to work 25-hour days, eight times a week to hit Net Zero targets. That is simply absurd. As such, Government and industry must continue working together to attract new recruits while promoting ongoing training for those already in the industry. Quantity must be balanced with quality.”

BEIS has been contacted for comment.

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