Things you never knew about boiler cover

Photo of a plumber checking a boiler
Mario had certainly smartened up for today's call outs...
"While engineers would carry some parts for common problems, most of the time customers would have to wait a day or so to get the problem resolved"
  • | by Emily Bater

The boiler has broken, your home is rapidly becoming an ice box and the prospect of a shower chills you to the bone.

Whether you're in a panic or as cool as a person whose boiler has broken will depend on whether you have the right boiler cover in place.

But taking out cover won't necessarily protect you in the event your boiler breaks down…

Cover levels differ widely

Cover levels across companies and products vary – some products offer the lowest level of boiler-only cover, while others protect your home's whole heating system.

For example, Npower offer three levels of cover, starting from £4.20 a month for the first year for the basic level of service and going up to £15.50 for the most comprehensive level, while Homeserve offers five levels of cover, ranging from £2.00 a month to £19.50 a month.

Some providers make you pay an excess for each callout, others don't.

Your price may rise next year

New boiler cover customers are often offered protection at a lower price, which may then increase substantially in the second year. Cover usually auto-renews and many customers don't get round to switching.

When researching boiler cover offered by five of the 'big six' (Eon doesn't currently offer a boiler plan), only Npower's website sets out how much its cover was likely to increase or decrease in the second year – or rather what the 'undiscounted' price is, as some providers would put it.

SSE told us it doesn't have a policy of increasing the cost of boiler cover after the first year. However, it does offer discounts or free periods in the first year as an incentive. Npower also said that it lowers prices in the first year as part of an "introductory offer".

British Gas on the other hand operates what it calls a "risk-based pricing approach", meaning that for some customers prices increase while for others they drop.

Boiler and home heating cover specialist Homeserve and Npower were the only providers we spoke to that clearly stated the likely price of cover in the second year to customers on their websites.

Your boiler may not be covered

Check your boiler cover doesn't exclude your heating system before taking the policy out – some providers have an approved list of equipment that they service, and some refuse to cover boilers that are over a certain age.

Policies sometimes include regular servicing, others insist you see to this yourself or the cover won't be valid.

If no one will cover your boiler, you need an alternative strategy.

You can go local

Calling out a local engineer when you need them might be cheaper than paying for monthly boiler cover as long as repairs are straightforward. It could be quite the opposite though – a new circuit board, for example, could cost upwards of £200 before fitting.

Also, bear in mind that a major advantage of pre-arranged cover is that when your boiler breaks, there'll usually be an engineer at your door within 24 hours.

In the middle of a cold snap, with no boiler plan in place you could find yourself at the bottom of a long, cold waiting list for an overstretched local engineer. Yet according to former 'big six' employee Sam Flook, who worked as an inbound customer service adviser, a cover plan could be no guarantee of speedy service either.

He says that while his priority was to help customers, he felt the company was focused primarily on sales.

"I'd tell customers who had problems with their boilers that an engineer would come out either between 8am and 1pm or 12pm and 6pm, knowing that wasn't true. Either engineers would arrive hours later or not at all, because they'd been told to go home.

"While engineers would carry some parts for common problems, most of the time customers would have to wait a day or so to get the problem resolved."

Sam says that in his view, his employer's focus was always on sales, and engineers would attempt to sell customers non-vital services, such as a 'power flush'. This is a tactic seemingly used by a number of boiler cover providers, judging from the anecdotal evidence of disgruntled customers.

You can self-insure

Putting a regular amount aside in an emergency fund will let you save for repairs. This can make sense if your boiler's newer, but if it's older you might be better off with a boiler plan – unless your boiler's too old for cover.

According to a survey by Gocompare.com, only 27% of people said they'd have enough money set aside if they had to pay a £300 bill to get their boiler fixed. Of those asked, 23% held specific boiler cover, while 10% would have to pay by credit card.

Don't forget your home insurance

Your home insurance may cover your boiler – check before buying additional protection.

Gocompare.com's Jeremy Cryer said: "Check your policy for home emergency cover – your boiler might already be protected. But, while insurance covers the failure of, or accidents to, essential services to your home, policies generally exclude problems which result from systems not being properly maintained."

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