Local domestic heating oil campaign

The Environment Agency and Defra in partnership with Portsmouth Water and OFTEC (the Oil Firing Technical Association) ran a campaign to convince domestic heating oil tank owners to check and replace tanks that were old and had a high risk of polluting local groundwater, rivers and streams. The campaign was developed in direct response to pollution incident data that showed local drinking water sources were at significant risk from failing domestic oil storage tanks and pipework.

Subsidised by Portsmouth Water the campaign offered householders free domestic heating oil system inspections in priority catchments. A 50% grant, capped at £2,500 per household, towards a replacement tank and fitting, was offered if the inspection indicated this was needed. As a result of the campaign 25 tanks posing significant risk to the environment were replaced, meaning 25,000 litres of oil less likely to pollute local water environment.

The team produced a step-by-step guide for water companies to adapt the campaign for their area and a toolkit to make it easy for other water companies and local environment regulators to run a similar campaign.

Why you might need a local campaign

You should consider campaign if you’re seeing high numbers of domestic heating oil pollution incidents that are putting drinking water sources at risk and where there are homes that use oil for heating and cooking. Often there are likely to be domestic oil storage tanks that are old and are at risk of polluting local groundwater, rivers and streams.

The campaign we are describing aims to invest funds now to ensure the future safety and security of drinking water supplies.

How it works

The campaign works with householders in targeted areas to show the importance of continued warmth, security of supply and avoidance of potentially large financial losses if a spill happened.

Working with registered competent persons, trusted by homeowners, people were given face to face advice about their tanks at the same time as their annual boiler service. The face-to-face advice was shown to be the most effective way to persuade homeowners to have their tank checked and where necessary replaced.

Making it work for you – Water company step-by-step guide to running your local campaign

Following these steps will make your campaign as easy as possible to run.

  1. Aim to secure people who can have time dedicated to this work and capital budget. This budget can be used to incentivise householders to act. Allow around £100 per household for a free inspection, and up to £2.5k (capped) for a 50% grant towards a replacement system.
    We suggest you carry out this step alongside step two so you have an idea of the funds that may be needed if you plan to offer grants towards replacement heating oil systems.
  2. Whether or not you’ve secured capital budget, list the postcodes within your water supply area where your campaign will have most impact; where you have both the most vulnerable water sources and the highest incidence of domestic heating oil use. To do this:

a. Identify your most vulnerable water sources (eg list of named groundwater Source Protection Zones 1 and 2, surface water catchments).

b. Use www.nongasmap.org.uk to identify where households are most likely to be on domestic heating oil.

3. Use your list of postcodes to download contact details of local heating oil technicians on the ‘Competent Persons Scheme’ (CPS). You can do this by visiting https://www.competentperson.co.uk/ or by visiting individual organisations registers, for example https://www.oftec.org/consumers/find-an-oftec-registered-technician.

4. Discuss partnership working with your lead contact at your local environmental regulator. They will be able to advise you on the most appropriate team to support you. Environmental regulators hold data about pollution incidents that have been reported to them, you may be able to use this data to prioritise your oil care campaign to protect the environment.

5. If you’ve secured a capital budget for free inspections and replacement works, go to step 6. If you haven’t got a budget go to step 16.

If you have secured capital budget:

6. Nominate one water company officer to build relationships with competent person technicians, answering their calls, keeping records, being the named contact on letters and emails. We estimate this to take 20 days total over 3 years, or less if you run it for a shorter time.

OFTEC can alert suitably qualified registered technicians of opportunities under the domestic oil tank care campaign via its regular e-newsletters. Contact marketing@oftec.org to arrange this.

7. Edit and send the ‘Customer Nudge Letter’ to your customers in the target postcodes. Some will respond direct, for others it will reinforce technician advocacy, boosting your conversions by a good margin.

8. Download, edit and send the ‘Technician Invite Letter’ and your localised version of the ‘Map Of Eligible Zones’ to your list of local heating oil technicians. You can use the Defra Data Services Platform at https://environment.data.gov.uk/ for English data to download layers for use in GIS to produce your tailored maps.

In Scotland – Environmental data | Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

In Wales – Natural Resources Wales / Access our data, maps and reports

9. When the competent person technicians respond, ask them to complete the ‘Contract’. This includes an agreement for 30-day payment of invoicing for works. Send them several copies of the ‘ Nudge Leaflet’.

10. And off you go! When on routine inspections, the technician tells customers about the scheme and hands them the ‘Nudge Leaflet’. The technician rings you to check customer eligibility (ie, if they are in one of your high-risk sites eg, in an SPZ1). Once that is confirmed, the customer chooses their technician (generally the original technician but they can choose any technician on the scheme).

11. The technician conducts the free inspection, using ‘Inspection Guidance for competent person technicians’ or equivalent.

12. Once works are complete, the technician invoices the customer and you (the water company) for the respective contributions, and we advise you honour paying within the agreed 30 days to maintain trust and credibility.

13. Contact technicians registered with campaign at least monthly to keep them engaged and check in on progress. This gives you the opportunity to learn and adapt if you need to.

14. Review the number of inspection and replacement applications and pollution incidents resulting from domestic heating oil on at least a yearly basis and compare with pre-campaign.

15. Share progress and learning with National Water Company Catchment Management Group.

If you haven’t secured capital budget:

16. You will not be offering free inspections or a grant for replacement tanks, but you can still run a targeted awareness raising campaign for your chosen postcodes.

17. Nominate one officer to manage the campaign, customer enquiries, being the named contact on letters and emails. We estimate this to be approximately 6 days FTE over 3 years.

18. Edit the ‘Customer Nudge Letter’ to remove all reference to subsidised inspections/grant. Do the same with the ‘Nudge Leaflet’. Send both to customers in target postcodes. The purpose of this mailshot, without financial incentives, is to motivate the customer to familiarise themselves with their tank and legal responsibilities by appealing to their driving motivations of continuous warmth and comfort, security of supply, and avoiding the risk of potentially large financial losses if a spill occurred.

19. Download, edit and send the ‘Technician Invite Letter’ and your localised version of the ‘Map Of Eligible Zones’ (ours was produced by the local Environment Agency team) to your list of local heating oil technicians, asking them to give out the leaflet when on routine inspections in those eligible zones.

20. Ask the same local technicians on at least a 6-monthly basis for any customer feedback on the leaflet. This will illustrate your commitment and maximise their engagement.

21. Share progress and learning with National Water Company Catchment Management Group.

Campaign toolkit

The toolkit has all the documents you will need. They are copies of the original documents that were used in the campaign with Portsmouth Water and OFTEC. They are mostly MS-word documents so you can adapt them for your local area, all text in red should be amended for your company and the competent person organisation you work with in your area.

The campaign uses ‘nudge’ tactics. You can find out more about nudge at:

We used the following nudge tactics:

  • the sticky note graphic with a clear call to action
  • the use of a named sender, and recipient
  • the use of ‘you’, ‘me’, ‘I’
  • making it easy: early key message, removing unnecessary information, simplifying procedures with a simple step by step.
  • stating intrinsic (personal to the individual) benefits rather than extrinsic benefits to others/’the environment’.

Using case studies, based on real examples, that illustrate loss avoidance and intrinsic benefit.

1 Customer Nudge Letter (use this for your customer mailshot when you are offering financial incentives).

2 Nudge Leaflet (this is the version Portsmouth Water used when offering the full financial incentives – free inspection and 50% off replacement tanks).

3 Nudge Leaflet Text For Editing (text version of above PDF). You will need to delete any reference to free inspections and 50% off replacement tanks if you are not offering financial incentives.

4 Technician Invite Letter (financial incentives version). You will need to delete any reference to free inspections and 50% off replacement tanks if you are not offering financial incentives.

5 Map Of Eligible Zones (provided as example). This is best produced using ArcGIS.

6 Inspection Guidance for competent person registered technicians (for technicians to use and send to water company when completing free inspection).

7 Contract agreement for OFTEC technician Companies as used by Portsmouth Water and OFTEC for technicians taking part in oil tank 50% grant in England. You may use this as a template, but develop your own contract with your legal team noting that the law may be different in the devolved nations.

8 Parish Magazine Article (we used this to reinforce messaging in our mailshot/ technician advice).