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Case raises doubts over Warm Front

An energy expert has condemned Warm Front after a “nightmare” battle to win financial help for an 85-year-old relative who urgently needed a new boiler.

Nuclear energy consultant Eric Lowe has raised concerns over customer care at the Government-backed scheme after he approached Warm Front for a £2,700 grant to replace a faulty 20-year-old boiler, which had no controls and let radiators get dangerously hot.

But, Mr Lowe claims, he was driven “round in circles” by “aggressive” Warm Front staff relaying contradictory information.

The criticisms come just weeks after Age Concern said it received 5,000 complaints about Warm Front in the last year.

Many of these focused on inadequate or contradictory information, delays, poor service and workmanship, and the need for pensioners to contribute financially.

Mr Lowe’s experience began in early August when Warm Front refused his elderly relative, who is wheelchair-bound and gets Attendance Allowance, a grant because she did not receive state benefits.

After taking advice, Mr Lowe learned that Attendance Allowance was a state benefit and his relative should qualify.

Warm Front agreed, began processing an application, and confirmed a site visit would take place within four weeks to assess his relative’s heating requirements.

The assessment never took place, however, and after complaining to Warm Front, Mr Lowe was told the application was not complete, had not been processed and would take at least six months.

“Warm Front also said that my relative was noted as the property owner, which was not true, and at no stage had we said that she was. They quoted that even if my relative got the grant it would take at least six months because of limited funds being available from DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to process the application.

'We should have been better advised by Warm Front. I hate to think if this had occurred to other people of a weaker disposition,” explained Mr Lowe.

Tony Brunton, chairman of the Industry Liaison Group said Mr Lowe’s experience chimed with his own: “The whole thing leaves a lot to be desired. I have seen people sent in circles but how do you deal with it?”

Eaga, the private company that runs Warm Front, declined to discuss specific cases, but said complaint levels are fewer than four in every 1,000 completed jobs. A spokesman said: “Heating installations are currently completed on average within three months.

'The performance of Warm Front, including the work of installers, is constantly monitored and if mistakes are made we will put them right.”

DEFRA also defended Warm Front but a spokesperson acknowledged that “with the large numbers of people being helped, there will be cases where things don’t go right”.

Anchor Staying Put, the network of not-for-profit home improvement agencies, makes numerous referrals to Warm Front and the organisation’s head Rob Pinsent says frontline staff have “significant concerns” with the operation of Warm Front and the quality of service.

He said: “We have concerns around the lack of confidence in prices charged for Warm Front installations, the increased number of top-up payments needed to supplement grants, poor workmanship, and a general lack of customer care.”