I signed up for a npower hometeam 50 central heating care contract at the start of February. Knowing that boiler repair can be expensive and that my boiler hadn’t been serviced since we moved in over a year ago, £15 a month didn’t seem a bad price for peace of mind, especially as it includes an annual service worth £75. Also, as npower supply my gas and electricity, I’d be entitled to 50% cashback at the end of the year if I didn’t call them out.
Towards the end of March – coincidentally, a week before my first annual inspection and service was due – the boiler failed and I called npower out. They offered me an appointment for two days later, so I agreed with my employer to work from home on that day.
The engineer arrived and set to work looking at the boiler. He thought that either the gas valve or PCB needed replacing, although he didn’t seem to perform any extensive diagnosis in order to reach this conclusion. He then started the annual service inspection, and at this point noticed that there was a small gap between the boiler and the flue because the original installer hadn’t properly attached the bottom of the flue pipe to the fan assembly. Unfortunately the flue pipe was cemented in place through the wall of the garage in which the boiler is installed. He said that npower could fix this, but as a pre-existing fault it would be chargeable at £200 and they wouldn’t necessarily do a great job as they are not installation specialists, so I would be better off getting a local gas fitter to rectify the problem, which would probably take around an hour and cost in the region of £80. The npower engineer said that once the flue had been fitted correctly, I should contact the call centre and book an appointment so he could come back and fit a new gas valve. In the meantime, he said he had no choice but to declare the boiler as “Immediately Dangerous” and disconnect it from the gas supply.
The engineer left, and I immediately contacted Custom Heat, a local (Rugby-based) gas installation company, about whom I had previously heard good things. They were able to come out the following day after 1pm, which I was pleased with as I was eager to get the issue resolved.
When the Custom Heat engineer arrived, he took a look at the boiler and told me categorically that there was no problem with the flue installation, and that the npower engineer was wrong to condemn the boiler. He reconnected the boiler to the gas supply, charged me a £72 callout fee and left.
I got straight on the phone to the npower call centre to explain this. The operator was very apologetic and promised that she would call me back by the end of the day. This didn’t happen, and when I called the following day to chase this, I was told they had no record of the conversation. So I explained everything in detail again, requesting that the information be added onto my account notes, and was given an appointment for the npower engineer to return five days later.
The engineer arrived and, to my surprise, he had no knowledge of what had happened with Custom Heat. He was still adamant that the flue was incorrectly fitted and therefore the boiler was unsafe. He demonstrated this by dismantling the boiler and shining a torch up from the combustion chamber into the flue, and we could both see that there was an escape of light. He said that unfortunately he’d have to condemn the boiler once again and wouldn’t be able to replace any parts until the boiler had been made safe.
So I phoned Custom Heat to explain the situation. The operator said she would get the engineer to call me back as soon as possible. Around ten minutes later, he called me so I briefly explained the situation again and put him on the npower engineer who was still on the premises. The Custom Heat engineer told him that he they would come out and fix the flue with no charge, and that I should call the office to arrange this, which I did. The operator initially tried to backtrack on the “free fix” promise, saying that there would be no additional callout fee, but parts and labour would be chargeable. I didn’t accept this and they did back down and send an installer out within 15 minutes. As luck would have it, the npower engineer was fortunately still here and he was able to explain his findings.
The installer was very good and completed the work within an hour and a half, albeit with some difficulty as the boiler was installed approximately seven years ago and the fittings had started to corrode in place. Unfortunately, by the time he’d finished, the npower engineer had left, so I had to book a third appointment with them, for three days’ time.
The npower engineer arrived, was happy with the flue, and started carrying out a proper diagnosis of the original fault. He decided that the gas valve wasn’t the problem after all, and it was actually the PCB. He didn’t have one with him, but was able to pick one up from a local supplier and fit it the same day, which did indeed get the boiler working.
So, after twelve days without heating or hot water (even the shower runs from the mains water), I was finally up and running again.
Clearly the original installer was at fault for not connecting the flue correctly, but I have no recourse as the central heating system was already fitted when we move in, and we were left no paperwork showing who installed it. Also Custom Heat were in the wrong for refusing to accept that there was a flue problem, and reconnecting the boiler without remedial work when the npower engineer had declared it unsafe. I can’t fault the npower engineer for erring on the side of caution and refusing the work on the boiler until it had been made safe, but things could have progressed much more quickly if the call centre staff had logged my issue correctly, and there wasn’t such a long lead time for appointments, which would have made the situation all the more unpleasant had it happened in the middle of winter.
Custom Heat deserve some credit for eventually fixing the problem for free, saving me approximately £60 in labour, although I’d have preferred to have paid and had it fixed first time around. They were also quick to come out on both occasions, unlike npower. I would hesitate to recommend Custom Heat based on my experience though, as they were happy to leave me with a visibly unsafe boiler.
I’m glad I had the npower cover, as it saved me paying £200-odd for a new PCB (although reconditioned boards are available on eBay for around £65) plus labour to diagnose the problem and fit the part. Fortunately my employer is flexible enough to allow me to work from home when necessary, so despite the inconvenience, I wasn’t out of pocket for four separate days I had to spend out of the office.
I haven’t decided whether I’ll renew my npower hometeam contract when it runs out. Most likely, I’ll switch to the British Gas equivalent which costs an extra £2/month for similar cover (albeit without the 50% cashback option), which could be worth it if they’re able to get out to me more quickly in the event of a boiler breakdown.