These scammers say I can get a ‘free’ replacement boiler. So why don’t they bother to check I qualify for the deals?
He introduces himself as Tom Cruise. Unsurprisingly he is not the Hollywood megastar but an Indian call centre worker. Still, his phoney name grabbed my attention for that essential millisecond.
And believe it or not, he is “not selling anything”. Instead, he wants to give me something worth £3,000 to £4,000, totally free of charge. How can I resist a deal like that?
A free replacement boiler
It’s not one of those “educational training courses for entrepreneurs” with their nonsense price tags, either. It’s a replacement boiler for my central heating. This, I know, would cost me around £4,000 – I once asked a local plumber for an estimate.
He asked me if I had central heating and how old my boiler was. It’s actually pretty ancient, around 25 years old, and not that fuel efficient. But it works, it’s easy and cheap to repair when it occasionally goes wrong.
While a newer boiler would be greener, that ignores – as these calculations almost invariably do – the environmental costs of building a new one and scrapping my old unit. And that new-style boilers don’t last as long.
Knowing I could get a new one for nothing would be useful, though, for when it eventually disintegrates.
Tommy promised to send someone over to audit my home. That way, he said, I would get the best boiler to fit the property.
I know you should, according to the saying, never look a gift horse in the mouth, but I thought I should ask if there were any restrictions, terms or conditions on the free boiler deal. Tommy replied that there were some minor qualifications, but all would be explained during the home visit by the “expert”.
I said I would research this and get back to him. He told me he could not take incoming calls – the 1471 came up with an impossible six digit long number. But he promised to phone back the next day.
The terms and conditions
There are deals for free replacement boilers. And mine would qualify for replacement on grounds of age and energy inefficiency. The grants are limited firstly to those who have an old, inefficient boiler.
There was just one tiny snag – the second criterion. To get the deal, I would additionally have to be on one of a number of state benefits, and even some of those would not necessarily gain a free boiler.
To get a free boiler, you then have to receive Child Tax Credit or Pension Credit, as well as have an old boiler which is inefficient.
You might also pass the benefits test if you are on means-tested Income Support, income-based Job Seekers’ Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance (these are due to be replaced by universal credit) provided that you also receive a premium for disability or that there is a child. If you are receive Working Tax Credit, you need to be 60 or over. As with all Government money, the rules are complex.
For those who meet all the criteria, free boiler grants are funded by the six biggest energy companies – British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE, – as part of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). This states that these companies have to meet targets for reducing the amount of CO2 generated from UK homes.
If you are on benefits and you qualify for the boiler offer, you don’t have to buy power from any of these companies, nor do you have to go to your own energy supplier if it is one of the big six.
The scams at play
So why did “Tommy” not start with two easy questions – do you have a very old boiler and are you on means-tested benefits? Why did he lead me to believe anyone could get a free replacement heating unit?
There are two possible scams here. The first is that the “energy expert” comes around, throws his hands up in horror at my boiler and offers to fit a new one “at a special discount”. There is no standard price for a boiler replacement – it can all depend on the power needed for the property and any plumbing complications as well as where you live. So the concept of “money off” or “we’ll pay the first £300” is as meaningless as all those half-price furniture adverts on television.
The second is trying to sell overpriced boiler breakdown insurance for supposed peace of mind in future. The beauty of owning such an old boiler is that I can legitimately tell British Gas when it cold calls that my unit is uninsurable. British Gas argues that it would cover it but admits that “repairs” would be limited to a set amount against a new boiler which it provides at its own price.
If you want a fair and reasonable boiler installation priced accordingly, with no hidden costs, we would recommend you look up APG Domestic Services who offer boilers on finance in Preston.