/ Home & Energy, Money

Is your boiler engineer actually a salesman?

Boiler being serviced

We’ve heard from homeowners who’ve sold products during a boiler service. Would you be happy to hear their recommendations – or are they just taking advantage of the situation?

We surveyed more than 1,500 Which? members and found that around one in five have had a boiler engineer try to sell or recommend extra products during their most recent boiler service.

Which firms are worst?

The figures differ sharply between companies. Four in ten British Gas customers told us their engineer had recommended or tried to sell them products the last time their boiler was serviced. And more than three in ten Npower customers said the same.

At the other end of the scale, fewer than one in ten Worcester Bosch and Corgi HomePlan customers said their engineer had tried to sell or recommend products to them.

So what products were being pushed? We found that the most recommended products were gas detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, followed by a new boiler and then a power or system flush.

But these are not the most-bought products when an engineer makes a recommendation. The items that customers are most willing to part with their cash for are filters and new heating controls.

Would you buy from an engineer?

Most customers said they were given enough time and information to make a considered choice about whether to buy a product. But it’s still important to make sure you’re not rushed – if in doubt, shop around to check you’re getting a good deal or go to a Which? Trusted Trader for a second opinion.

What do you think of engineers doubling up as salespeople? Would you consider buying new products if they were recommended, or are the companies just using it as an opportunity to make more money?

Psmith says:
7 November 2015

The person that services your boiler is a technician not a professional engineer


The Gas Safe Register refers to Gas Engineers. It’s just common usage, like using ‘chemist’ to describe a pharmacy. I’m far more concerned about companies trying to sell goods and services beyond what we have asked for – which goes far beyond the focus of this Conversation.


Chemist and Pharmacists are a different issue. Both require degree level training and accreditation. Engineer requires a degree level course, but technician does not. It’s the same as using Doctor to describe the person who runs a holistic health clinic. These titles matter, because they embody standards and requirements for those holding and entitled to use Engineer and Doctor. Technicians, on the other hand, may well also be salesmen. The fact that the title Engineer is used by the Gas Safe Register in a loosely defined and inadequate sense doesn’t make it acceptable.


We often mis-use the term “engineer” in the UK. An engineer is not just practical in the application of his (or her) knowledge but understands the science and mathematics that underpin that knowledge and is thus skilled in innovation, research, design and allied topics. Some continentals, particularly the Germans, use the term correctly for those belonging to the profession and as such they have a higher status than we often give them. I wonder how many more students might enter the field if they felt it was both a profession and held in some regard?


I don’t want someone who services my boiler to try to sell me anything, thank-you. I agree that it’s worth recommending carbon monoxide alarms for those that don’t have them and checking that existing ones are working and in-date, but there is no need to sell them. I have heard of cases where customers have been recommended to pay for power flushing that was not needed and even to have their boiler replaced with a more efficient one when it would take years to recoup the cost. It is a problem that the average person will not know whether work is necessary or the service guy is trying to earn a bonus for generating more business.

Why do we need ‘status’, Malcolm? Whether we are trained to design space ships, do brain surgery, service boilers or are ‘unskilled’, we deserve respect if we do a good job.


“Why do we need status, Malcolm”. Status not in a snobbish sense, but in recognition of the role professional engineers have. I believe many people may be put off engineering as a profession, particularly when choosing college and university courses, because they may not understand what professional engineering is about.

We need qualified engineers – electrical, mechanical, chemical and so on to help recreate the manufacturing wealth of this country. So we need to attract more young people into the discipline.


Science probably benefits more than engineering from subjects taught in schools – biology, chemistry, maths and physics – but unless children have parents or relatives in science or engineering they are unlikely to be able to appreciate the career opportunities, especially those outside industry. With the decline in manufacturing industry in the UK, perhaps we should focus on education in its many forms, including in-service training for those in the commercial sector. Many eschew higher education or vocational training in favour of more money and a company car.

I would be interested to know if it is mainly the larger companies that push customers to buy additional goods and services.


Couldnt agree more malcolm you are not alone in saying this industry backs you up to the hilt. Because of the “flattening of British industry ” by you know who -quote -I dont understand engineering -no prizes for guessing correctly this country is left in this state . When -say a mechanical engineer was repairing a piece of factory machinery he usually had a “helper ” this helper was a semi-skilled individual -classed that way by the unions and management as they were not technically capable of diagnosing and repairing complicated machine tools now the same “semi-skilled ” individuals are doing just that that isnt being snobbish ,I hate snobs but its being realistic as to the capabilities of an individual. The government has no option because of their previous political decisions but to implement this new way of working hoping it wont cost too many lives the same is happening in the NHS.


The thing is that Mechanical Engineers don’t repair things. They design them, supervise their installation to the correct standards, plan and manage projects and groups to achieve a desired engineering outcome but repairs are done by mechanics and technicians – not Engineers. Engineers work with computers, not spanners, and are paid accordingly. Malcolm’s point about status is spot on: if school leavers saw Engineering as the profession it is instead of the trade they assume they might be more inclined to choose it as a viable career option. Perception matters, and I believe that the use of the title Engineer should be reserved.


For years we have had boiler engineers, heating and ventilation engineers, and so on. Electricians often describe themselves as electrical engineers. That’s hardly likely to change. I don’t think anyone is going to confuse a ‘boiler engineer’ with someone with a degree or two, who was part of the design team.

To attract school leavers to study science may need a little creativity. For example, some university chemistry departments have boosted their intake considerably by offering degrees such as Chemistry with Forensic Science, exploiting the popularity of forensics in TV programmes. Successful recruitment in science has a lot to do with looking to find ways to relate to the interests and experience of potential applicants. Recruitment of students for a range of biological science degrees has also benefitted from many TV programmes on terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Computer science degrees often include some study of computer games.

All I was attempting to do was to defend Ellie from criticism for using the term engineer, and now we are well off-topic. 🙁


It seems sensible for someone servicing your boiler to suggest things that might be of use – particularly safety such as gas and carbon monoxide alarms (latter essential in my book). Providing there is no hard sell it is for many people a prompt to gt something they might not have thought about.


The last time the gas “engineer” called he tried to sell me both types of alarms as the local social work dept. has labeled my wife “vulnerable ” those items were installed in 3 rooms (6 items in all ) by believe it or not the local Fire service safety officer free of charge. AS far as the argument as to engineer/technician I was amazed to find having surfed the web for job centres in many cities/towns that those saying that many are not trained properly is true . Multiple private job “finder ” companies advertising jobs to train for gas maintenance / repair one ad said =ex forces ?? train as a gas “engineer ” many more throughout the land none tried to make out it was hard technically to qualify or that years of training were needed. Once complete you were issued with the appropriate government certificate allowing you to repair gas boilers .


The selling of extra’s has been a notorious part of the British Gas pay structure for a long time. Probably going back into the 1990’s . The desire for a “commercial” profit at whatever the cost is illustrated here. It is an interesting old headline from 2013 about their cold-calling habits

I repeat my call that Which? provide a dossier on all major companies highlighting their good and bad points so that we can access corporate responsibility along with price when I consider a supplier. A simple Wikipedia interface with the major input controlled by staff would be a great asset.

For instance Virginmedia many assume to be related to Branson – this is not the case at all as he has not controlled it or had shares for a decade AFAIR. A US conglomerate is sooo much less attractive.


Most businesses that sells goods and services into competitive markets need sales staff. Where the work involves the sale of technical services then any and all staff involved with customer contacts may well be encouraged to act in sales capacities. Obviously this may include vehicle and home appliance service technicians.

But, I suspect, this conversation is really about “up-selling” – where staff are encouraged to push customers into paying for additional goods and services that might not actually be needed.

Like a good independent builder, a good independent service engineer probably won’t have any need to engage in up-selling – or any time to spend on it, because they’ll probably be “busy enough” with “proper work”.