This year and last have been significant years in the recent history of the BSL service and many of you will have experienced the highs and lows of this. With this in mind I wanted to share with you a ‘behind the scenes’ view about what’s been happening and how it all went. The first was the contract transfer from Gemserv to Woodsure and the second was
First a little context, in case you do not know. The BSL Advisory panel is made up of BSL members like yourselves, voted in by you. It meets quarterly to advise the BSL service and the government department BEIS on the day to day experience of members of the service, to ensure value for money for members and to provide member input to new developments and initiatives.
Last year if you recall the contract to manage the BSL service changed hands from a company called Gemserv and was awarded to Woodsure part of Hetas. The transition happened in the summer of last year and for intents and purposes went very smoothly, however much like to proverbial swan gliding elegantly across the water, there was a lot of frantic paddling underneath to make it all work.
A lot of work was needed to transfer all the IT systems and data (what you see as the BSL website) to the new organisation as well as all the call handling systems and processes. While Gemserv were extremely helpful with the transfer, much of this was new to the Woodsure team and getting to grips with the old system and ensuring that it ran on Woodsure’s platforms was not as straight forward as everyone would have liked. That said, Woodsure burned the candle at both ends to make this happen and both the IT and the call handling the systems were up and running seamlessly at the point of transition.
The good news is that Woodsure has just upgraded to a new portal and whilst there are still a few teething issues due to the extremely complex nature of the website, these should diminish over time.
Implementing the New Quality Laws
As you know this year saw the implementation of the government’s new fuel quality legislation which required that all biomass fuels sold to RHI supported boilers must be of an appropriate quality standard to remain accredited with a BSL number. This was the most significant development in the BSL service since its inception, impacting over 4,000 suppliers and 7,500 fuels.
Planning for this this started last year. The aim was clear – to ensure that every BSL Supplier was given fair and reasonable opportunity to comply by the deadline of the 1st April 2022 and that end users would not be adversely impacted. The project team was well staffed with “surge” capacity from the both the extended Woodsure and Hetas teams to help if needed.
Implementation began in January with emails going out and to inform suppliers of the deadline and what the new law required for suppliers to be ready by April 1st 2022.
There were several challenges the team had to overcome to get this over the line.
- Interpretation of the new legal requirements and how to implement them was still being refined during the implementation period. Any new interpretations needed to be agreed by BEIS and Ofgem before updated information could be issued leading to delays in responses and new FAQ’s.
- The complexity of larger applications increased the time taken to process and meet deadline.
- The large volume of work which needed to be handled in a short period of time and the number of consultancies offering fuel quality certification services delaying the quality assurance process and registration.
- The Ukraine war and the removal of Russian sourced fuels added a complexity that has not been planned for.
- A COVID outbreak in the Woodsure/HETAS team which took out 50% of the workforce for 2-3 weeks.
- Severe difficulties in recruiting new staff as experienced by many businesses over this period.
That said the single biggest challenge was to encourage us as members to take action!
In an ideal world the applications to get BSL fuels assessed for quality and registered as such would have happened evenly with steady stream of applications over the 2 months implementation period keeping staff busy but not overwhelmed. This was not to be!
In spite of 9 communications between the 24th of January and 25th March using a variety of different media (email, SMS messaging, the website and physical letters in the post) only 40% of suppliers had taken any action by a week before the deadline. In some cases, this was due to contact details being out of date or companies having changed name since registration, but mostly we seemed to be pre-occupied by other priorities.
When we as members did take action it seems we all did so at the same time, overwhelming the BSL helpdesk and the Woodsure and ENplus quality assurance teams. To illustrate, the communications which got the most traction were the physical letter sent out on January 24th and the BSL number suspension email sent out on the 25th March. The former resulted in 1,700 calls and 554 emails in the last week of January and the first couple of weeks of February. The later resulted in 3,192 calls and 576 emails in late March and early April. It is this which precipitated the extension for compliance until 1St June 2022.
As with all big projects there are several lessons we can learn from this and these will be captured in a review later in the year. There have also been a number of benefits including a measurable increase in understanding of what biomass fuel quality means and in the quality of fuels provided under the scheme which was a critical objective for the legislation.
Overall from January to June the BSL helpdesk team dealt with over 6,000 telephone enquiries and 4,000 emails, while simultaneously Woodsure were processing over 3000 fuel quality applications to be cross referenced back into the BSL portal. 1,210 fuels were removed from the BSL mostly for not demonstrating and fuel quality (702) or for non-payment (412). As of May this year the BSL had 6,360 fuels registered and 3,829 suppliers fully accredited for fuel quality, with just 340 fuels and 320 suppliers still in progress.