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On 17 October 2023 the CMA announced that it has launched an investigation into Worcester Bosch’s marketing practices in relation to its ‘hydrogen-blend ready’ home boilers.
Building on the CMA’s programme of work focusing on consumer protection issues in the green heating and insulation sector, the investigation will consider whether the marketing claims made about Worcester Bosch’s ‘hydrogen-blend ready’ boilers may mislead shoppers into thinking that these products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.
In addition to Worcester Bosch, the CMA has also written to 12 other businesses that sell hydrogen-blend boilers, after reviewing their marketing, to warn them that they could be breaching consumer protection law and to remind them of their legal obligations.
Hydrogen is a more environmentally friendly alternative to natural gas and the UK government is currently considering whether a gas/hydrogen blend could be used in the gas network to heat our homes.
Since the early 1990s all gas boilers have been tested with 23% hydrogen before being sold in the UK and recent trials have concluded that existing boilers operate safely with a 20% hydrogen blend without modification. The CMA is therefore concerned that explicitly marketing boilers as ‘hydrogen-blend’ or ‘hydrogen-ready’ may give the incorrect impression that specific environmental benefits can only be obtained from these boilers and not standard boilers.
In the CMA’s finding report following its recent call for information in the green heating and insulation sector, it also found evidence of several businesses providing incomplete or inaccurate information about hydrogen use, making it harder for consumers to make an informed decision. This included not being clear about the uncertainty of hydrogen deployment, inaccurately describing hydrogen rollout in definitive terms, and not displaying important information about hydrogen rollout in sufficient proximity to product marketing.
The CMA has stated that it will focus on the following marketing practices in its Worcester Bosch case:
• Labels or text stating that Worcester Bosch’s boilers can run on a blend of 20% hydrogen and natural gas, which may give the impression this is a special feature despite all boilers in the UK being legally required to operate this way since the mid-1990s.
• Information and messaging on the use of hydrogen for home heating in the UK, noting that hydrogen heating is not currently available in the UK, and its introduction depends on future government decisions.
• Descriptions and information about the environmental benefits of ‘hydrogen-blend ready’ boilers which may falsely suggest that these boilers will reduce a household’s carbon footprint.
The CMA will now engage with Worcester Bosch and gather further evidence to consider whether it may have broken consumer protection law.
The investigation into Worcester Bosch further underlines the CMA’s ongoing focus on greenwashing and misleading environmental claims, which was reaffirmed in its 2023/24 Annual Plan.
This investigation also demonstrates that the CMA is not exclusively focused on sectors that are perceived as having a high environmental impact (for example fashion and FMCG); it is also willing to take action in relation to products and services that purport to help reduce carbon emissions without the evidence to back this up. It follows a similar approach taken by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in its Ruling against Magnatech, which focused on magnet technology in boiler systems.
It is also important to be aware that the risk of breaching consumer protection rules and the CMA’s Green Claims Code are expected to increase significantly when the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill comes into force, which will give the CMA much greater enforcement powers. This includes the power for the CMA to impose penalties of up to 10% of global turnover on companies that breach consumer protection laws without going to court.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2023. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.
07 November 2023
News 17 JUNE 2022