British Gas has been forced to apologise to hundreds of thousands of customers over its failure to fix and service broken boilers this winter.
The energy giant promised to improve its customer service after facing criticism for its new policy of allowing staff to work from home several days a week.
Customers have been left without heating and hot water as a cold snap approaches this weekend, with heavy snowfall and temperatures expected to drop to as low as 21.2F (-6C)
It comes after the announcement that energy bills will rise by £700 in April – a record jump of more than 50 per cent – amid a growing cost of living crisis.
British Gas customers with broken boilers say they have faced weeks of delays and cancelled callouts despite paying for the company’s HomeCare scheme, which charges from £14 a month to provide breakdown cover and an annual service to around 3.4 million people.
Some customers have faced their annual services being delayed many times over, with the company admitting that it is facing a “shortage of standard appointments in some areas”.
Requests for emergency callouts are also taking weeks to be fulfilled, leaving customers without adequate hot water or heating.
People were also complaining about similar problems in the autumn.
British Gas, which has received complaints from tens of thousands of customers, apologised for its poor service and promised to improve.
A British Gas spokesman said: “We’ve identified where the issues are and we are taking the right steps to fix them. Our customers are the most important thing. We are sorry and trust us that we’ll improve.”
However, the company has been warned over the issue by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The FCA said it was aware of the problems and is working with the company to resolve them, with British Gas expected to provide a timetable for how it plans to improve its service.
The scandal has not yet triggered a full investigation by the watchdog, which could ultimately result in removing the company’s permission to sell insurance or issuing a significant fine.
A spokesman for the FCA, which is responsible for regulating and investigating how financial services operate, said: “We are aware of the issues and are working with the firm to ensure these are resolved as quickly as possible and that customers are treated fairly.”
‘Time to get tough’ on British Gas
Sir John Hayes, the former energy minister, said it was “time to get tough” on British Gas.
“Firms need to be made to live up to their responsibilities and give customers the deal they deserve,” he said.
“It’s time to get tough because people are being kept waiting for far too long. Families with children are living without heating or hot water, and that’s simply not good enough.”
The problems have been blamed on staff shortages because of Covid, as well as strike action.
Chris O’Shea – chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas – has come under fire in recent weeks for continuing to work at home, despite the national energy crisis and growing customer complaints.
Anthony Vickers, 46, a data analyst from Basingstoke, has been unable to run a hot bath for his children, aged two and five, for over a month because of a problem with his boiler.
He first asked for an engineer to visit in early January and has twice had callouts cancelled within a day of when they were supposed to take place.
He has had the British Gas insurance policy since the middle of 2019 and pays £20 a month for the HomeCare plan, which covers the maintenance of his boiler and central heating.
The contract says an extra £60 must be paid for each problem that needs to be fixed – meaning that in total, once the engineer attends, he will have paid out £300 over the past year and more than £600 since the policy started.
His efforts to get the £60 charge waived because of the two cancelled visits were initially rejected by the company.
“We’ve got the choice of either having paid the money out, cancelling them and essentially having to start the process again, or we will just have to try and stick it out, try and get them out, and then I’ll cancel,” he said.
A British Gas spokesman said: “We are very sorry for the service Mr Vickers has received and this is not what our customers should expect from us. We will be waiving the £60 breakdown repair excess on this occasion and we have spoken to him to confirm an appointment for Monday.”
‘British Gas playing fast and loose with the rules’
Hundreds of customers took to social media with similar complaints, with some having routine boiler services rearranged for a fourth time.
Last year, research by consumer rights group Which? found that a policy with British Gas is worthwhile for just 0.4 per cent of customers. For other companies, it is cost-effective for one per cent of people.
Boiler repair can cost between £150 for a minor repair up to around £400 for the most serious issues. A boiler service starts at around £75.
Alexander Stafford, the Conservative MP for Rother Valley and member of the business and energy select committee, said he would raise the issue in Parliament.
“This is an absolute disgrace,” he said. “If you pay for a service, you should get it.
“British Gas are playing fast and loose with the rules and acting in a completely irresponsible way.”