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Boiler trouble? Our cameras reveal the truth about repairs

Boiler broken down? About to call an engineer to get it fixed? When they put away the toolbox, how do you know your boiler’s been correctly repaired or you’ve been charged the right amount? We went undercover.

Everyone’s winter nightmare is that their boiler breaks. Our boiler went last year – cue electric heaters, lots of blankets and, yes, occasional trips to the pub to keep warm.

Fixing boilers can be expensive and it’s also crucial that it happens fast – so the cards aren’t exactly stacked in your favour. If the guy (or girl) fixing my boiler tells me it’s the valve, or the printed circuit board, or the controls, how am I going to know if they’re right or wrong?

Which? goes undercover

With this in mind we decided to go undercover here at Which?. We invited ten engineers to service a gas boiler to which we had introduced a minor fault and watched their job with hidden cameras. This was a fault that should be fixed during the service at no extra cost (we basically disconnected a lead which stopped the boiler from lighting – a five minute job). So, how did they get on?

Two engineers suggested that we needed expensive repairs when we didn’t. One independent engineer said he wasn’t sure what the fault was – he thought it was either the board or the gas valve, with repairs predicted to cost around £500.

Another said it would be at least £200 for the part but suggested we might be better off getting a whole new boiler. We also found that two others missed key checks when trying to service the boiler. So not only are some of these engineers suggesting expensive, unnecessary repairs, others aren’t carrying out basic checks.

Do you need boiler breakdown cover?

We’ve passed our findings to the Gas Safe Register and it said it will investigate any potential safety issues.

But we didn’t stop there – we also looked at whether it would be a good idea to get boiler breakdown cover. We found that cost-wise most people wouldn’t save money taking this out. This is because the average spent on servicing is £75 and you probably won’t need repairs.

However, we also know that most people who have boiler breakdown cover do so for peace of mind, so we surveyed Which? members to find out who’s best. You can read this in more depth in our boiler contracts review. Let’s just say than one boiler servicing company got a much higher customer score than the others in our survey.

So, if you have boiler cover, do you think it’s worth it? And if you’ve ever had your boiler serviced or repaired, did the engineer do a good job and charge you a fair price?

Bob H says:
26 April 2013

Recently I asked British Gas to come and look at my faulty boiler, and they told me, if it could be fixed within half an hour the charge would be a standard £89. When the engineer called, he said he had never seen one like it before, because it was a very old boiler, and parts would probably no longer be available, so he would have to disconnect it as it was dangerous. Is it right that I should still have had the £89 pound deducted from my bank account for the disconnection, rather than for any attempt at a repair.—- Thankyou ..

Zoe says:
1 May 2013

Please can someone offer me advice. My father a pensioner has a broken boiler, just stopped working. Phoned a few companies to come and have a look and were all busy, anyone the last one could come out. The boiler is about 7 years old and cost about £1800 at the time it was fitted. Anyway, the plumber told my dad what it was and they agreed a price including part of £300, then the plumber banged away at the boiler for an age and told my dad he missed it before but there is also a leak (wasn’t there before because it wasn’t wet in there but now it was when my dad was shown again) this part would have to be ordered in and would add another £600 on my dads bill, this has been going on about 6 days and the plumber came back today after finally getting the part and then informed my dad after a few hours of working that there was another fault and that part would be an additional £200. My dad has signed a form saying that the bailiffs would come if he doesn’t pay and also that the company take the old “broken” parts away. I think they are just conning him and told him to get a 2nd opinion but he said he can’t as he’s worried about bailiffs coming out and will just pay it, he really can’t afford it but this man seems like a cowboy although the company say he is their expert and wont send anyone else out. What can he do, he’s been a week without heating and hot water and is desperate to get it sorted. The plumber is going to come back again tomorrow.

Terry says:
3 May 2013

As a Gas Safe Engineer I am sorry you have had this problem, Please give me your postcode perhaps you are near me and I can help.

Brady says:
22 June 2013

Did this problem get sorted?? What area did the guy live in? I am also a gsr engineer. Doesn’t sound right to me

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

after a shift selling property in spain.

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

ah.gas safe.run by capita.the congestion charge people,now you know you are saved.

faizan says:
16 September 2013

Hi please could some give me advice. I dont have British gas insurance son I had to pay 500 for them to repair my boiler. Its now been 5 weeks and the same issue I had before the repair has arisen again. What should I do. I’m worried that if I tell them they will say its a different fault and charge me for another repair. I know the part he repaired comes with a year guarantee. But I think he may of fixed the wrong thing in the 1st place. What should I do.

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

the lottery.