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Selecting a MCS Umbrella Company: Quality or Profit? 

June 14, 2024

MCS umbrella companies have an opportunity to make a bigger impact than just shifting units or even decarbonising homes, with the right support we can ensure higher quality, lower running costs and long term comfort.   As more gas installers are transitioning from boilers to heat pumps we have a responsibility to ensure far more than just the right paperwork is filed in the right order.

MCS Gate Keepers

All umbrellas are not built the same though, before an installer chooses their support company they should check whether they have shared goals and ethics.  Are they focussed on performance, efficiency or just profit?  What are their reviews like, do they have qualified designers and are their designs insured?

Background: Quality and Accountability in renewables

For about twenty years I worked as a “hands on” heating engineer in both commercial and domestic gas, later on in that part of my career (and way before I got “off the tools”) I also installed a handful of air source heat pumps under contract for an umbrella company, for an ECO scheme.  I wasn’t asked by the company for any evidence of quality, experience or competence, I also wasn’t given any design support or guidance to follow, beyond the manufacturer’s installation manual in the box.  

Thinking back, there were also no system upgrades so the emitters weren’t increased in size to allow for affordable low temperature heating.  The units luckily were hybrid with a combi gas boiler so at least the setup would allow them to default to cheaper gas in the depths of Winter.

This is how I had always thought of an MCS umbrella company operating, I don’t think I’m alone in a lack of belief in the credibility of an installation done by a subcontractor, especially one who is paid a set fee to install a system, sold by people who have no intention of a long term relationship with the homeowner.

Installer Opinion: Skills Shortages and Support for Installers

We know MCS umbrella companies have historically held a negative reputation with installers, they are seen as gatekeepers for Government funding rather than a driving force for quality.  I previously shared that view, so when I was in the position to build one I had clear ideas of how we could provide real value.

We also know that there is a skills shortage, a significant one in renewables installation at around 9x more heat pump engineers required in order to meet Government targets (NESTA).  While there are excellent and experienced people out there who undertake their own MCS paperwork, many of the soon to transition workers have a steep learning curve before they can be fully autonomous.

For many really decent installers, the paperwork and design element is difficult to manage while also doing the physical work.  I remember when I was self employed it was hard to even keep on top of basic emails, let alone hours of documentation, heat losses, applications etc.

These points necessitate some kind of support business, not for everyone clearly but especially when the umbrella is flexible to only fill in the elements that are needed, this is an important service to uphold standards, if it’s done right….

Quality control: Customer Experience Beyond MCS

Part of the inherent problem with MCS companies is that MCS itself does very little to protect the customer experience beyond compliance, although there is a lot of arduous paperwork and contracts which promise ramifications if the installer fails to deliver on some aspects, there is nothing to ensure an affordable, reliable, long term solution.  This is even more evident in many umbrella companies as the heat pump is installed by a subbie on limited earnings who is simply sent some stuff and told to get on with it.

Our primary goal is to uphold the quality and efficiency that MCS should be more keenly focussed on, we don’t feel that we should simply be gatekeepers for incentives (Boiler Upgrade Scheme at time of writing) but provide training, support and materials to ensure the standard of our network reflects the high standards we deliver with our in-house engineers.

One of the ways we do this is to guarantee our installation will meet or exceed the figures in your performance estimate, bizarrely this is not something commonly discussed, some companies have a scop guarantee which is the same for all properties but it makes more sense to us to support the system already in place.  MCS installers do have to create a performance estimate as part of the compliance but unless a customer later complains, the performance is never looked at again by the powers that be.

Roundup

At the time of writing this (May 2024) MCS are in the process of implementing some significant changes, the recent consultation has highlighted that more stringent checks will be made on installers who are not meeting the standards.  My hope is that as a part of this overhaul we see MCS asking for better results for the actual installation, while I agree that ensuring the right insurance, applications etc is important, the most important part should be the performance, efficiency and safety has all been undertaken in accordance with the estimate provided in the first place.

Installers who are shopping around for an MCS service should check out the options thoroughly, ask some difficult questions, find out what their aims are.  Most self employed installers want to have long term relationships with their customers and may have spent years nurturing that relationship so don’t jeopardise it by working with the wrong 3rd party solution. 

VitoEnergy will continue to provide the service we believe to be important, ensuring high quality and optimised systems installed by our excellent partners across the UK.

If that sounds like something you want to be a part of then get in touch and join the green revolution!

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