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ESOS Phase 3 and its impact on Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts in the UK

Many multi-academy trusts (MATs) across the UK have been contacted by the Environment Agency regarding ESOS Phase 3 suggesting that some organisations may qualify for assessment. In this article, our energy consultants review the guidelines and offer advice to trusts on actions to take.

What is ESOS Phase 3? 

As we delve into the intricacies of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) Phase 3, it becomes evident that compliance is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, especially for organisations within the education sector.

ESOS Phase 3, as outlined by the UK government, mandates certain organisations to comply with energy efficiency assessments and reporting every 4 years. However, there are exemptions in place, particularly for public bodies, which begs the question: do schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs) fall under this exemption?

Do schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs) have to comply with ESOS?

Organisations subject to ESOS are those meeting specific qualifying criteria, primarily based on employee count and financial thresholds. More precisely, entities with over 250 employees or with a turnover and balance sheet total exceeding £44 million and £38 million respectively on the qualification date are obligated to comply. Yet, a crucial exemption exists for public bodies, as delineated in section 1.2 of the ESOS scheme guidance.

But what constitutes a public body in the context of ESOS? According to the Public Contracts Regulations, organisations can be classified as public bodies if they meet certain criteria.

The definition of public body (that is a contracting authority) is:

  1. Regulation 3 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the first compliance period, replaced by Regulation 2(1) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 for the second and subsequent compliance periods; likewise
  2. Regulation 3 of the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2012 in Scotland for the first compliance period, replaced by Regulation 2(1) of the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015 for the second and subsequent compliance periods

The Public Contracts Regulations broadly state that organisations are public bodies if: 

  1. they are established for the specific purpose of meeting needs in the general interest, not having an industrial or commercial character,
  2. they have legal personality, and
  3. c) they have any of the following characteristics:
    (i) they are financed, for the most part, by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law;
    (ii) they are subject to management supervision by those authorities or bodies; or
    (iii) they have an administrative, managerial or supervisory board, more than half of whose members are appointed by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law;

In other words, the undertaking must satisfy the criteria described in (a) and (b) and either (c) (i), (ii) or (iii) in order for it to be classed as a public body (contracting authority) and therefore excluded from the scope of ESOS.

Academy schools in England, being state-funded institutions directly financed by the Department for Education, may seemingly meet the criteria of a public body. However, the determination of whether a multi-academy trust qualifies for exemption under ESOS hinges on its specific financial arrangements.

What to do next

Check your legal status

For most MATs, the characteristics outlined in the Public Contracts Regulations align with their operational structure, suggesting they could be considered public bodies and thus exempt from ESOS compliance. Some trusts are, however, set up to run as businesses or carry specific charitable status. Therefore, it is advisable for trusts to seek legal advice to confirm their status definitively.

Confirm exemption with Environment Agency

In the event of contact from regulatory authorities, such as the Environment Agency (EA), MATs should engage in dialogue to ascertain the rationale behind potential compliance requirements and discuss the applicability of the exemption. Understanding the nuances of ESOS Phase 3 and its implications for educational institutions necessitates collaboration between legal experts and organisational stakeholders.

As noted in a recent webinar hosted by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) on Thursday 25th January 2024, MATs will need to complete a form to ensure that the exemption applies.


Navigating ESOS Phase 3 presents a nuanced challenge for schools and multi-academy trusts, requiring a thorough examination of their legal standing and financial arrangements. While the exemption for public bodies may offer relief, clarity on individual circumstances is paramount to ensure compliance or exemption from this regulatory framework. 

The full guidance on complying with ESOS Phase 3 can be found HERE

How Barker can help

If you are required to comply with energy efficiency reporting, Barker can assist you with your ESOS assessment. Our energy efficiency consultants can help you measure your total energy consumption and identify areas of significant energy consumption. We can also carry out energy audits that meet the criteria for ESOS, analysing energy efficiency and recommending energy-saving opportunities. 

Our energy strategists are experts at identifying opportunities for energy improvements and we can create a roadmap that includes practical and cost-effective energy-saving measures. From reducing consumption to generating renewable energy, the right energy projects can have a long-term impact on your carbon emissions. We offer a turnkey solution to improving energy efficiency and can support you with your energy transition. 

For further advice on this issue, please CONTACT US to speak to an expert.


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