Memorandum submitted by Age Concern Cheshire (FP 52)
I am writing to you - and copying the same information to a number of additional recipients
listed below- in response to a cluster of concerns recently brought to us by clients. The
Information and Advice Service provided by Age Concern East Cheshire aims to assist
clients with problems they might be experiencing. On their behalf, Age Concern East
Cheshire is making representations to Warm Front, to Age Concern England, and to
Members of Parliament.
You will be as aware as anyone of the considerable public outcry, following a period of
exceptionally cold weather in January, about apparent failures in heating systems and the
delays and difficulties in remedying those failures. There has been media coverage in the
past week of the matter. A significant number of those expressing concern are Warm Front
The examples I give are collected in the main over the month of January by our service; the
one exception is a client who 'complained' last year following a Warm Front installation of
I will start with that Client from 2009. As I have not been able to contact her today I cannot
name her, but can say that she is elderly and lives alone; she is on Pension Credit; she is
not confident about technical matters, but was delighted to hear that she might get a new
boiler via Warm Front, hoping that this would cut her fuel bills and keep her house warmer.
It quickly became apparent that she did not like the new boiler She fiddled with the controls,
believing it was running all the time and thus using fuel; she would turn it off; she came in to
ask us to arrange for another visit to her to explain the controls to her; she asked if she could
have her hot water tank back. We tried to persuade her to leave the boiler alone and to
monitor fuel use in the Colder months - but I have not been able to speak to her to hear
I deduce from that example that there will many older clients who will be equally puzzled,
and wonder if the lesson here is to provide better, simpler explanations of how a combi boiler
works, how it does (or does not) help with reducing fuel usage, and how it is best controlled.
That is, some simple instructions or guidelines to reassure clients. Also, I read that combi
boilers can be fitted with a small hoi water tank for clients who prefer the old system that
they have been used to.
This complaint is of a different nature.. Originally a client contacted us as he was having
great difficulty in getting a heating engineer who had expertise in attending to oil fired
systems in a park home, to repair a Warm Front installed boiler. The engineer who did
attend also - coincidentally - contacted us as he had made visits to this client and was
appalled at the standard of workmanship he found. His report to us takes the form of a letter
he has written, in which he complains to the original installation or maintenance company
about the quality of the work they had supposedly done. His question to us was in part how
to complain for his clients about poor or unsafe work done by another company, and about
the difficulties he had had getting responses from Warm Front.
As a separate point, and from his experience, he comments on the room thermometers and
programmers being installed by Warm Front contractors. Which he has found troublesome
for clients to the point that they turn off their boilers for example at night time, as they cannot
cope with the controls.
Although the engineer would give permission for his report to be used, the client is not in
agreement for me to copy this to you. The client is pleased to have his heating restored. and
to have found a local company to help him, but does not want to make a fuss. he says. He is
having to pay himself for the follow-up maintenance. However, he did tell me that 'four lads'
fitted the boiler two years ago. thanks to the WF grant, but there was no follow-up at or after
Mr X phoned us about his Aunt of 93. who had a Warm Front installed boiler put in about 5 or so years ago. Not only has this repeatedly caused problems. but maintenance contracts have not been honoured and the clients have incurred considerable additional charges in getting a local heating engineer to attend frequently. The boiler is now functioning only partially and Mr X was advised by us to ask Social Services for some warm alternative accommodation for his Aunt when the worst weather was being experienced. Both are costs which should not have to be incurred by someone of the Aunt's age and means. Mr X was particularly concerned at the comment from his plumber that the original boiler was of poor quality and had been badly installed. Notes attached.
Mr X has not disclosed his Aunt's name, but was very frustrated and aggrieved at his
Failure to get in touch with Warm Front or obtain any assistance with what appears to him to
be an irresolvable problem. There is no way the Aunt could afford an alternative boiler, which is now, he is advised, beyond repair.
Ms Y is a younger client, but she says her case flags up how easily older clients might be 'fobbed off' With inadequate information, poor systems and appliances, and be left with the impression that, as recipients of grants, they should be grateful for anything. In her instance, there have been lengthy delays (in getting a revised survey and appropriate appliances agreed), alongside the poor quality of information.
Notes from conversations with x are attached with her permission.
Ms Y's letter re her parents' experience is attached, with her permission This details delays, poor quality boiler and functioning, and - I understand - a very common problem with a condensing system, of freezing or blocking pipework. I read on-line that this 'fault' is able to be remedied, which makes one wonder Why it is so common.
I refer now to the Warm Front booklet, What to Expect from Warm Front
This invites the public to provide feedback to the organisation, and advises that feedback is
valued and helps to improve the service. It is for that reason that I write, as I would hope
that the Warm Front scheme could be as beneficial as possible to everyone in the most
Your booklet says you offer the 'highest level of service' and use 'fully qualified installers'
who have been checked for safety, reliability and their quality of work. WF operates strict
selection conditions for installers, it says.
There are clearly stated timescales within which work and assessments are made, and the
promise of two years of free aftercare such as a post-job check and annual servicing. There
are clear statements about instances where 'top-up' fees maybe charged, and the order in
which things should happen.
It all sounds very promising.
It seems such a shame therefore that a significant number of your customers feel let down,
irritated and aggrieved, and that members of professional organisations such as heating
engineers should be critical of work they are called out to remedy. The public has experienced delays, is puzzled to be offered contractors who operate from long-distances, does not appear to be receiving reliable aftercare, and - in some instances reported to us -not taking up the grants because the top-ups required are too high.
In summary, the points I pick up from the cluster of clients mentioned above, and their
• delays - not just in responding to clients 9n the telephone, but also in doing surveys or re-surveys. It is evident that WF was under considerable pressure and weather conditions were exceptional in January, which should have indicated that additional staff might have been needed to cope with calls from the public. Perhaps the scheme needs additional funding?
• poor advice - which those clients without the confidence to resist might take believing that it must be correct if given by an 'expert'
• poor attitude and pressure - that is, making clients feel they should be grateful and, because of the grant, obliged to take what is being offered, without options or adequate information. This could be deemed to be taking advantage of a client's age, vulnerability, or lack of technical understanding; ie no offer of options or alternatives, eg a tank plus a new boiler
• limited information - which might suit those who want a simple solution and don't want or can't cope with technical stuff, but which must be tailored to the client. There will be those who want to know more, without being accused of conducting an interrogation
• quality - several comments about poor quality and unreliable appliances or installations, some made by qualified engineers who can presumably be trusted to know what they are talking about
• maintenance":' reported failures to comply with requirements to attend regularly to service boilers, and in making repairs of a good and reliable standard. Assured annual visits seem to be very hit and miss, and follow up maintenance hard to get, so that vulnerable clients are left without essential heating and hot water for too long
In essence, it would seem to me to be counter-productive to install equipment that is difficult
for clients to control, that tends to have a reputation for unreliability or malfunctioning, and
becomes costly to service or maintain, when clients are forced to turn to privately arranged
visits from heating engineers. On this final point, I would suggest that clients would be within
their rights to feel entitled to some recompense for costs incurred.
Certainly they have felt aggrieved enough to approach Age Concern East Cheshire. I offer
their experiences in the hope that representation to Warm Front or directly through
Parliament might enable the Warm Front scheme to improve for the future.