Why Your MCS-Certified Installer Might Not Be As Competent As You Think

Heat Pump Installer

When it comes to selecting an MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) certified installer for your heat pump installation, the certification might seem like a hallmark of competence and quality. However, a deeper dive into the actual training and qualification process reveals a less promising picture, one that homeowners should be aware of before making a decision.

The MCS certification process for heat pump installers encompasses a range of criteria, including obtaining recognised qualifications (more on that in a moment), implementing a Quality Management System (QMS) and membership in consumer codes and certification bodies. While these requirements aim to ensure a standard level of service and expertise, the effectiveness and depth of the training component have come into question in light of countless subpar heat pump installations across the UK.

To be eligible for MCS certification, installers must obtain qualifications from recognised bodies, such as BPEC or LCL Awards. These courses are intended to equip installers with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet MCS standards. The BPEC course (you can buy the manual for the course from Waterstones for £62.50) covers the basics:

  • Heat pumps in context
  • How a heat pump works – principles and components
  • Insulation, heat losses and the effect of heating system design
  • Domestic hot water, buffer tanks and solar coils
  • Ground heat exchangers
  • Health and safety
  • Heat pump installation
  • Maintenance and fault finding

The course offering on the BPEC website appears to be light, and feedback from attendees of these courses has not been glowing.

We spoke to one installer who completed a BPEC course on heat pump installation. His experience was disheartening, to say the least: “It’s rubbish. It’s so, so bad. It cost me £800 and three days of work. I came out knowing less than when I went in, and I didn’t even know about heat pumps then. I in no way think I’m better than any other installer, but there were people on the course who had no idea. One asked where the analyser goes. One asked where you put the anti-legionella fluid. These guys failed the exams but then got through on the vocal question where you can’t fail. They are then able to go for MCS. It’s a complete joke. Just a money spinner.”

This firsthand account raises serious concerns about the efficacy of the training provided. If courses recognised by MCS fail to impart essential knowledge and skills, the value of the certification itself becomes questionable, and begs the question why MCS exists at all.

Another installer shared their journey to becoming ‘confidently competent’ in installing heat pumps, contrasting sharply with the current MCS-endorsed training pathways: “It took me at least ten years to be confidently competent… the current courses can be a few days, in total probably 3 x 6hr sessions over 3 x 8hr days. Whether the content has much relevance is another matter. It’s not difficult to see why the market is a mess. Those who are competent won’t engage with schemes. The poor work we see is the outcome from schemes accepting unskilled inexperienced people trying to establish themselves and often just don’t understand or realise they’ve made a mistake.”

This perspective highlights a critical gap between the time and experience required to master heat pump installations and the duration of MCS-recognised courses. The discrepancy raises questions about the depth and applicability of the content delivered within these training programs.

The MCS certification process, while comprehensive on paper, involves significant financial and time investment from installers. From course fees to application costs and annual subscriptions, the process is not only lengthy but also expensive, and a lot of these costs are passed onto homeowners. This has led to criticisms that MCS certification is more about generating revenue than ensuring installer competence and quality installations.

For homeowners considering an MCS certified installer for their heat pump, this information serves as a cautionary tale. The MCS certification, though suggestive of a basic compliance with industry norms, falls markedly short of assuring an installer’s hands-on expertise or mastery in heat pump technology. Critically, the training provided under this certification is insufficient for the complex realities of low temperature heating system installations, such as those required for heat pumps. Installers, with limited training, are often applying methods suitable for traditional boilers to heat pump installations—an approach that is fundamentally flawed and could significantly undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of these renewable energy systems.

Considering these insights, it becomes clear that homeowners must look beyond mere certification when choosing an installer for heat pump systems. It is critical to inquire about the installer’s direct experience with heat pump installations, consult customer feedback, and consider advice from trusted sources. Recommendations based on personal experience often provide the most reliable guidance. This highlights a pressing issue within the industry: the current certification process may not adequately reflect an installer’s proficiency and quality of work. This situation prompts a necessary and potentially controversial reevaluation of the effectiveness of existing certification standards in the heat pump installation sector.

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KenBone
274 kWhs
1 month ago

Totally agree, the industry as a whole is making red tape jumps and hoops, that should not be there. The practical theory ratio is way out of balance, an engineer wants to be an engineer. 
Any course that is online, 3 days at a training center proves that you can pass a course.
In my day the term was “I’ve served an apprenticeship" not “last Friday I attended a course and passed".
Now, you have all your shiny new badges and certifications, how many heat pump systems have you actually installed. ???? Unfortunately I feel it will never change, myself and others have been going on about this for decades.
Like many things, the industry needs scraping and starting again. 

MisterB
1052 kWhs
1 month ago

Dont get me started on Gas Safe …… not in terms of competent standards but in terms of it holding very competent people to ransom – its just an extortion racket in my opinion ….

JamesPa
4065 kWhs
1 month ago

Its, sadly, clear to me that the over-regulation simply doesn’t work.  It provides a get out clause for poor installers, who have done what the rules say but nevertheless supplied something that isn’t fit for purpose (a very prominent UK defence contractor once had a reputation (probably apocryphal) for delivering projects that were contractually compliant but unfit for purpose – its the same syndrome).  Worse still the current regime excludes the very people we need to be involved, namely local plumbers and electricians who value their reputations and exist in sufficient numbers to do the massive task that is needed.  Instead the market is populated to a large extent by pop up grant harvesters who employ rookie plumbers and designers, shielded by the glossy certificates.  Regulation also frustrates the innovation we need to deal with the wide variety of retrofit situations that exist.
So personally I think that the regulation should be reduced to the absolute minimum necessary to ensure (a) safety and (b) reasonable preservation of neighbour amenity (ie noise in most cases).  The market will then take over. 
There will still be some poor installs of course, but the reputations of the organisations who do the poor installs will suffer and they will be forced out of the market.  Furthermore they wont be able to hide behind the ‘rules’ when defending their position, the defence will be solely on the quality of the work.   Those who value their established reputation will do good installs, because they know that reputation matters, and will progressively take over the market from the grant harvesters.
I realise that this wont be a popular view (although I sense it is may be becoming more popular) but personally id much prefer to trust my local plumber whose reputation depends on satisfaction, than the special purpose companies that we are currently forced, in most cases, to use.

Transparent
Editor
7934 kWhs
1 month ago

It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn’t it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?
See this announcement.

image

DESNZ believe that’s the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.
It implies the low uptake is due to too few ‘approved installers’ rather than a low level of competence.

Toodles
4935 kWhs
Reply to  Transparent
1 month ago

@Transparent Education, Education, Education! Toodles.

Derek M
Editor
13481 kWhs
Reply to  Transparent
1 month ago

It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn’t it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?
See this announcement.

image

DESNZ believe that’s the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.
It implies the low uptake is due to too few ‘approved installers’ rather than a low level of competence.

Should it not be an ‘incompetent person scheme’? 😋 

 

JamesPa
4065 kWhs
Reply to  Derek M
1 month ago




It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn’t it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?See this announcement.
— Attachment is not available —
DESNZ believe that’s the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.It implies the low uptake is due to too few ‘approved installers’ rather than a low level of competence.

Should it not be an ‘incompetent person scheme’? 😋 
 

This is where lax terminology fails us big time.  Three days training, if you have basic plumbing skills, is almost certainly more than enough time to learn to install a heat pump.
However mostly its not the physical installation that goes wrong, its either design or commissioning.  These are very different skills (particularly in a retrofit scenario) and no way can you learn those in 3 days.  Furthermore you can only expect to learn those skills (in my view) if you have either a degree level education or equivalent experience, plus specific experience in problem solving.  Also design/commissioning keeps changing as the technology and understanding of the technology evolves, so CPD is essential.
The industry and these forums keeps talking about ‘installation’ (including by implication system design and commissioning) as a monolithic skill, but it certainly is not.
In other fields the separation between physical installation (requiring principally a high level of craft skill) and system design/commissioning (requiring principally a high level of intellectual skill) is explicitly recognised, but not in this area for some strange reason.
 

Toodles
4935 kWhs
Reply to  JamesPa
1 month ago

@JamesPa I rather feel that a successful installation is best achieved through team effort rather than a one man band job. Just imagine just one training scheme that everyone had to attend to be part of the NASA workforce! Surely a team effort where various parties each carry out their own specialism with very good liaison with all co-team members is the way to go. Yes, the Project Manager will have to have a good grounding in all aspects – but not as in-depth as the individuals within the team upon whom they would rely? Remember, the saying is: ‘There is no I in Team!’ Regards, Toodles.

JamesPa
4065 kWhs
Reply to  Toodles
1 month ago

Ideally you are right.  But we don’t live in an ideal world.  Our existing workforce is our existing workforce and expecting to transform its skill set overnight is not realistic.  Furthermore most of the time taken to design, install and commission a heat pump is the installation, so we want to engage the big existing workforce for this.  Better surely to play to people’s strengths. 
What I would hope might happen is that plumbers, electricians and system designers would create informal teams (just like every plumber knows and electrician that ‘they work with’ and vice versa).  This creates the team without having to create a formal structure.

Toodles
4935 kWhs
Reply to  JamesPa
1 month ago

@JamesPa Yes, I agree, Teamwork! Regards, Toodles.

Toodles
4935 kWhs
Reply to  Toodles
1 month ago

Follow up self with further thoughts;
During my working career, I saw a fair few failures of one sort or another whilst working in the DIY trade, the Glass Textile Industry, Precision Engineering and the World of Academia as a Technician and finally as a Facilities Manger of Technical Facilities with a team of Technicians under me.
Over that time, I observed that the vast majority of ‘Failures’ could be put down to ‘Failures in Communicating’ For a team to work well, there is a need for good communications. In my latter years, I was asked to stop doing what I had been doing for some 35 years as a technician and go into junior management at the University. One of the first things I instated was regular meetings of all technical staff to discuss any problems, review current workloads, plans for the immediate future and leave time for all technicians to speak their minds and lay out any problems they were having and listen to comments and suggestions etc. Other areas of Academia started making little rumblings about these meetings as I called them at lunchtimes and had food provided out of expenses. Some people could not see why Technicians should be given food on expenses! I retorted that it was all about communications and that successful accomplishment of the work would greatly benefit from the team effort. I stuck to my guns and the Head of Institute agreed with me and gave me all his support. Regards, Toodles.

Transparent
Editor
7934 kWhs
1 month ago

Ah….

Should I point out that the Competent Person Scheme isn’t anything to do with MCS.
It’s actually a long-standing provision within Building Regulations.

The Building Act allows for untrained/unqualified people to undertake certain skilled operations which would normally be the preserve of certified professionals (usually members of recognised trade organisation).

When I was doing extensive plumbing/heating and electrical work on my renovation project in 2004, a surveyor within the Building Control Dept of the Local Authority suggested that they would prefer me to operate within the Competent Person Scheme. That provision negates the requirement on me to employ a qualified electrician or a heating-engineer to undertake work for which I was deemed competent. Furthermore the work would no longer require inspection by a Building Control Surveyor.

The scheme’s rules change over the years, but it still exists.

It remains a possible route through which genuinely competent installers of heat pumps could be recognised to continue doing that work, but without first needing to receive training in all other types of heating (gas boilers/fires/cookers, solid-fuel Aga stoves etc).

If that’s of interest, then perhaps someone with more spare time on their hands than I, could research it further.
Since the provision is already recognised in law, it could be modified if ‘we’ proposed a particular derivative of it to tackle the issue of Heat Pump installation.

Transparent
Editor
7934 kWhs
1 month ago

I think you’re on the right track @JamesPa
The Competent Persons Scheme is already being promoted by MCS as a quick way to get more HP installers ‘out there’ and working.

… but because it’s being formally organised, they haven’t got the checks in place to ensure that the candidates already have the appropriate range of skills before they’re accepted onto the 3-day course.

The provisions under the Building Act were originally intended to work the other way around, and could still do so.
The concept is based on providing a method of approval for those who are already demonstrating competence.

 

Imagine:

A farmer offers a tiny half-acre field to the Local Planning Authority under the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA).

The LPA like the idea, and it’s supported by the District Councillor for that ward.
But it’s outside the areas identified for development under the Local Plan (the adopted Core Strategy).
The site doesn’t get included.

The Councillor and the farmer decide to push forward the site anyway because they have a real need to house workers in their 20’s who’ve grown up in the area.
They obtain a copy of the Self Build list from the Council. (All Councils are required to keep such a list of interested parties).

A meeting is held in the village hall.
This attracts a great deal of interest, and four possible self-builders are selected for the site, which actually has potential for 10 dwellings.

  • the herdsman for that farm, who operates the milking parlour
  • an apprentice electrician, currently having to travel 60+ miles/day to reach building sites for work
  • a newly-married couple; the wife is the daughter of the local GP, whilst the husband works in IT
  • another couple; the wife teaches in the local primary school and the husband is a mechanic in a garage

 

They form a Community Land Trust and apply for Outline Planning Permission.
This is granted unanimously as an ‘exception site’ due to the obvious housing need for genuinely local people.

The local news carries the story, and they are approached by two other people:

1: The British Legion have a member who is recently invalided out of the Royal Engineers.
He’s lost a leg due to a land mine, and will need housing and work within about 3 months.
His parents live in the adjacent ward for the same District Council.
As part of his rehabilitation, he will come with a package that includes money towards housing and employment re-training.

2: Another local family have a daughter aged 28 who left home, but got caught up in a city-based drugs gang.
Following a court conviction she’s been sent for detox at a clinic 250-miles away.
She’s about to be released under licence. Neither the Probation Service nor the family want her to return to that city.

The Community Land Trust agrees to both new applicants joining them.

They are introduced to an architect who occasionally produces reports for the Council.
She designs them a site layout for ten dwellings to be built using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for rapid construction.

They obtain full planning consent for the first six of those houses.
Each is to be equipped with heat-pumps and UFH.

image

As construction starts, the ex-REME quickly becomes accepted as the group leader.
He pulls in knowledge from others still in the army, and they re-design the heat-pump systems to have integrated storage batteries.
These will be charged by rooftop solar-panels, and a 3kW hydro-electric generator in the stream two fields away (with the farmer’s agreement).

The houses are built and the new residents move in within 6 months from starting.

The farmer immediately requests that similar heat-pumps with battery storage are installed at the main farmhouse and the cottage of his other farm worker.

The Councillor brings to site a representative of a Housing Association.
They ask the same group to build the remaining four houses on that plot, to be owned by the Association and rented out to people on the Council’s housing list.

 

… and I guess you can see where this is heading!

Not only have those households got a steady stream of potential customers, but they’ve also acquired a particular skill-set based around their re-modelled heat pump.

That’s the point at which they get granted Competent Persons Status within the scope of the Building Act.

It’s miles different to the strategy being pursued by MCS and central government.
Instead of being general-purpose trained/qualified trades-people, they are the designers and installers of a particular type of heat-pump system for which there is growing demand.

ChickenBig
2289 kWhs
1 month ago

I thought I’d chip in with some musings by Richard Erskine (of “Insulate Britain! Yes, but by how much?" fame/infamy) from 9th March 2022 where he believes that SMEs are the way ahead, breaking the job of heat pump installation into various roles. The ratios (1:2:10 of designer:electrician:plumber) seem to imply a fair number of people in the organisation (a couple of dozen).
 

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