Boiler Scrappage scheme! is it worth it?

Boiler Scrappage scheme!

Homeowners considering signing up to the government's £400 boiler scrappage grant have been warned it could prove "financial madness" by Britain's best-known plumber, who also says many modern condensing boilers simply aren't up to the job.

Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers, says most people would be far better off avoiding the scheme if it involves ripping out an inefficient, but functioning boiler. He warns that new models can be problematic, expensive to repair and often don't last.

Mullins, known as the plumber to the stars with his company's vans usually found in London's wealthiest areas, also questions whether the £50m scrappage scheme will help the people who most need it. He argues that it gives the well-off an unnecessary grant.

Under the terms of the scheme, households in England can get a £400 grant towards the cost of installing a new A-rated condensing boiler. To be eligible, most households have to be prepared to spend the typical £2,000 cost of replacing their old but working boiler. Only the over-60s can trade in a defunct model.

To get the cash voucher your existing oil or gas model has to be one of the 4m G-rated boilers. If it has a pilot light it's probably eligible.

When the scheme was launched earlier this month, the government said it would help 125,000 homes, and save as much carbon as taking 45,000 cars off the roads. It quoted Energy Savings Trust figures showing that those taking it up would see their gas bills fall 30%, cutting the average household's energy bill by £234 a year.

So far around 16,000 households have received a £400 voucher. However, there are growing concerns that thousands of functioning boilers will be replaced with more efficient, but less reliable or durable models, that in some cases will last just a few years before they have to be replaced.

Mullins says consumers should know what they are getting into before they sign up. "Boilers of old would typically last 10 to 15 years, if not longer. But some of the new condensing models just don't last, and when they go wrong they are complicated and expensive to repair. We have been ripping out boilers that have done just three to six years' service, and have become uneconomic to repair," he says.

"Clearly condensing boilers are much more energy efficient, use much less gas and are better for the environment, but if you look at the scheme purely in economic terms, it is madness to spend around £2,000 to scrap a boiler that's working perfectly well."

He wonders who the scheme, which is not means tested, is designed to benefit. "Labour's £400 subsidy is only going to help people who could have afforded a new boiler in the first place. They say it will help poor families cut their heating bills by £200 a year, but where are they going to get the other £1,600 from?"

A glance at the various plumbing and DIY websites shows that many buyers are unhappy with their condensing boilers. It also bears out a recent Guardian Money report that found reliability levels vary enormously according to the manufacturer.

Some postings claim poor installation is responsible for a large share of breakdowns. However, some models appear to have known weaknesses. The recent spate of cold weather call outs to the owners of condensing models because of frozen outlet pipes, hasn't helped.

Clearly, there is little point in spending £1,600 on a boiler that is only going to last six years – even if it does reduce your annual gas bill by more than £200. Also, to get that saving you've got to be spending at least £780 a year on gas. Many people living in small homes are unlikely to get anywhere near the promised savings.

Choice to be limited to A-grade models

Pimlico Plumbers says that for anyone needing to replace a broken boiler, two brands – Worcester Bosch and Vokera – stand out as the most reliable. Its views mirror a recent Which? report, which named Worcester Bosch, Vaillant and Vokera boilers as the most reliable, although 26%-29% of the consumer group's members with those brands had reported some kind of problem during the previous four years.

 Only A-rated boilers can replace old ones Carl Arntzen, director of the Worcester Bosch Group, says that from October, UK consumers' choice of boilers will be limited to A-rated condensing models following a change to building regulations.

"Condensing boilers got a bad reputation for reliability when they first appeared in the late 80s and early 90s, but they have dramatically improved in recent years and we think the models we produce today are more reliable and longer lasting than the models we were selling a decade ago." He says the claimed 30% efficiency savings are based on trials by the Energy Saving Trust.

If you are going ahead, it will pay to research the reliability of any boilers on your short-list. Installers tend to have favourites and you should check them with a Google search, which should show up known weak spots.

In the long run it may pay to choose a more expensive boiler. The brands above do cost more, but who wants to spend weeks without heating in the middle of a cold snap?

Boiler fix required a kettle of hot water

Thousands of condensing boilers stopped working during the spell of sub-zero temperatures, but in many cases, the fix was just a kettle-full of hot water away.

In most cases, the problem was caused by condensate (moisture from the flue) that had gradually frozen and was blocking the outlet pipe. Boilers are designed to shut down if the pipe becomes blocked, to prevent damage.

The problem caused thousands of call-outs to British Gas. The company responded by putting a page on its website advising customers what to do, complete with a YouTube video clip showing viewers how to defrost their pipes. Once the ice plug was removed, the boilers would have restarted.

Installed free … but what about the £573 repair bill?

When disabled pensioner Heather Campbell had a new condensing boiler installed, organised by her local authority, she was delighted.

However, just three and half years later, the housebound 65-year-old, who lives in south-west London with the help of a carer, has been presented with a bill of £573 to get her Glow Worm 30cxi working again.

It broke down on 27 December and she called out British Gas. Despite two attempts, the engineer could not fix it.

Local plumbers, ThermoServ, then came to her rescue and got it working but only after replacing the motherboard and the display – at a total cost, including labour, of £573.

Campbell says: "I was only able to pay the bill because I had recently received a tax rebate – although British Gas has since agreed to pay almost half the bill as its staff appear to have made matters worse.

"If it happens again, I simply won't be able to pay to repair it – I've lost confidence in it and have since bought a fan heater just in case."

Her story raises the question of whether vulnerable consumers, who have a boiler given to them, also need free backup for the lifespan of the unit. A spokesman for Coldbusters,­ part of CEN, the body which installed her boiler, said customers­ are now given two years aftercare, although this was not the case when she took delivery. After that, it is down to the householder to pay for servicing and any repairs that are required.  Warm Front, the national scheme which similarly provides boilers to those in need does the same.

business Electricity

25th January, 2010

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