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‘Give us £800 or your boiler cover won’t pay out’: British Gas pushing costly repairs on homes that already pay £300 a year

‘Give us £800 or your boiler cover won’t pay out’: British Gas pushing costly repairs on homes that already pay £300 a year

British Gas customers claim they are being pressured to spend up to £800 on their boiler.

Households who already pay £300 a year for boiler insurance say engineers tell them their cover will be invalid if they do not pay extra to have sludge removed from their pipes or have a Powerflush of their system.

Money Mail readers claim they have been told to have a ‘Magnabooster’ filter installed — to prevent sludge from clogging central heating — which costs £350 to £400.

Or they have been pressed into having an £800 Powerflush, which cleans dirt and mineral deposits from your system.

The hard sell comes when engineers call round to give homes an annual heating check-up. Customers who pay for HomeCare maintenance contracts run by British Gas have these reviews as part of the deal.

During the check-up, the engineer typically suggests the heating is not working as well as it should do or looks as if it may need work done to it, and so recommends one of the expensive procedures.

Homeowners are reluctant to fork out for this and have told of being frightened by the tough sales approach.

Engineers are paid commission on top of their regular salary for selling extra services. Former employees of British Gas say they used to get as much as 20 per cent commission on each sale. British Gas says this is not correct, but would not comment on how much these incentives are worth.

Small print in the HomeCare contract allows British Gas to refuse claims if the boiler later breaks and the customer refused one of these pricey extras.

Paul Wrightson, 63, a retired accountant from North London, says this clause made him feel pressured into paying £800 for a Powerflush he didn’t want.

‘Service engineers are acting like cowboy salesmen by frightening people into spending £800 on work that is often not required, with the threat the service contract will no longer cover repairs if the flush is not carried out.

‘When my system wouldn’t work properly, the engineer said it must need a Powerflush. I panicked that I would be left without hot water, so signed the papers.’

Salesman David Delvery, of Chingford, Essex, was told his £27-a-month HomeCare policy could be invalid if he didn’t have a Magnabooster.

‘It was made clear to me that if I didn’t spend this money, the next time the boiler stopped working it wouldn’t pay out,’ he says. ‘This felt like a threat, and it’s money I can’t afford. Surely the point of cover is to protect me from things like this.

‘My mobile kept ringing with British Gas staff asking about whether I was going to get the work done. I really resented this.’

More than 4.6 million households have signed up to a HomeCare policy, according to the latest annual report from Centrica, British Gas’s parent company.

Last year, the operating profit for the division of the firm that sells insurance policies and installs central heating was £312 million. It makes an average 18.6 per cent profit on each policy it sells and heating system it puts in. These types of policies are an easy sell for energy companies, especially to older customers who don’t want the risk of being left without heating or hot water.

And this time of year is one of the busiest for selling policies, as householders turn on their central heating for the first time after summer and run into problems.

More than a third of households have boiler cover, according to the comparison website Uswitch. And one in five suffered a broken boiler last year, with an average repair bill of £314. Boiler or heating insurance — offered by energy companies as well as the AA and Corgi — covers boiler repairs, parts and labour if your system packs in.

Most include annual inspections to make sure your boiler, radiators and pipes are working properly.

However, there can be exclusions in the policy. You may be covered only up to a certain cost, often no more than £1,500 a year, and most policies do not cover boilers more than 15 years old.

There are £50 excesses for claims and not all providers dispatch engineers immediately — what constitutes an emergency, such as a water leak or cold home, will vary between providers.

The 18 pages of small print in the British Gas HomeCare policy includes the loophole that it will not cover you for damage ‘if we have told you on a previous visit that improvements or a British Gas Powerflush are needed to help make sure your appliance or system works properly’.

John Thompson, chief executive of the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors, says: ‘With any service contract, you must always read every detail in the small print and look for exclusions. You must be willing to go through every page of the contract.’

A spokesman for British Gas says: ‘We take this very seriously. Our engineers follow a strict diagnostic routine to identify the root cause of a boiler or central heating fault.

‘Our advice is led by what’s right for each individual customer, not by any particular product or service.

‘We’re sorry that Mr Wrightson and Mr Delvery feel that they’ve had a bad experience and we can assure them we’d only recommend the best solutions for their needs.’

British Gas says policy-holders can pay a plumber to carry out the work if they prefer.

However, if a fault develops related to the flush, repairs won’t be covered by their policy.



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