British Gas dispute pours cold water on speedy boiler repairs

Mike Wright
·4 min read
Striking British Gas engineers picket the offices of CENTRICA - Getty
Striking British Gas engineers picket the offices of CENTRICA - Getty

British Gas customers are being told they will have to wait up to month in the cold snap to get their boilers fixed after the walkout of hundreds of engineers.

The company has told some homeowners to hire independent engineers and plumbers for repairs and then claim the money back to avoid long waits, customers said.

Some say that they have been left out of pocket with bills of up to £400 while they await reimbursement from British Gas.

British Gas said while its services had been affected by the recent walk-outs it was still managing to attend over 97 per cent of emergency jobs within 24 hours.

The news comes after around 500 engineers quit the energy company last week due to a dispute over new contracts.

British Gas has been accused of employing "fire and rehire" tactics after engineers were asked to sign contracts that would effectively mean working more hours for the same pay.

Centrica, which owns British Gas, said this week around 2 per cent of its workers left the company after failing to agree to the new terms. The dispute has also provoked a spate of strikes from engineers in recent weeks.

However, the disruption has also left customers facing long waits for boiler repairs as Britain has been in the grip of a cold snap last week, with temperatures plunging to -3C and much of the country seeing snowfall.

British Gas customer Ian Cundell, a planning surveyor from Milton Keynes, said he was told he would have to wait until mid-May when his boiler broke last weekend unless he hired a third party engineer.

The 60-year-old paid £400 for an emergency plumber to visit and is still waiting for the money to be reimbursed by British Gas.

He told The Telegraph: “It was a Sunday and it was snowing (when the boiler broke down). I would have been without Gas until the 10th of May if I had not arranged to have it done privately.

“Once I’ve got my money back I will rapidly become a former British Gas customer.”

Meanwhile in Cornwall, music teacher Rachel Beale was told she would have to wait until May 13 for repairs when her boiler broke on Monday.

It was not until she says that she started to complain on social media that the company sent an engineer round.

Ms Beale, 63, said: “Everything sank (after being told how long she would have to wait). I live on my own and I closed my eyes and thought ‘please don’t ask me to wait until May’.”

She added: “I was really cold, I was cold through and though. It was warmer in my shed in the garden.”

A former British Gas engineer, who left the company last week and asked not to be named as he was still negotiating his severance, said he had seen from recent follow-up jobs desperate customers being quoted “obscene” amounts after British Gas had told them to turn to independent traders.

He said he had seen some customers quoted up to £900 for remedial works as traders know they are effectively billing British Gas.

The engineer added: “It is difficult for the customer if they have been without heating for two weeks and they are going to get the money back from British Gas. No matter how long it takes, they are going to pay whatever price they are quoted, especially if they are elderly or there are young babies on site.”

British Gas said the disruption of the strikes meant it was having to reschedule ‘non-urgent’ appointments and in some cases have suggested customers turn to third parties to have works done quicker.

A spokesman for the company said: ‘‘We’ve seen over half a million customers since the start of this year and while we have had to reschedule many non-urgent appointments, such as annual service visits, due to restrictions of lockdown – we are working hard to catch these up.

“We’ve prioritised vulnerable customers and emergencies during this difficult time and are getting to 97.5 per cent of these types of customers within 24 hours. We have maintained this level of prioritisation during the period of strike action led by the GMB union. We know inevitably there will be some customers who we have let down during this disruption and we are doing everything we can to put that right.”