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Quarter of Warm Front clients left dissatisfied

One in four fuel-poor households are dissatisfied with the central heating installation work carried out by WarmFront installers, data from an unpublished Government-commissioned report has revealed.

In April and May this year as part of its appraisal of the Eaga Partnership Warm Front (WF) Scheme, White Young Green (WYG), a Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs-appointed quality assurance assessor, polled 1,400 households to gauge their level of satisfaction with the scheme.

Out of 945 responses, 25 per cent – the highest ever – complained, citing either quality of work issues, poor customer service levels and outstanding remedial problems, WYG said.

An analysis of the complaints revealed that recently-installed central heating systems lost pressure; boilers were not fitted in accordance with surveyor instructions; and electric supplies remained in contact with gas pipes.

Pipes were also incorrectly lagged in lofts; radiators were undersized; and energy-inefficient boilers were installed, in contravention of scheme’s ethos.

WYG also discovered that floorboards were removed and not replaced; overflow pipes were not removed; redundant pipework was left protruding from floors; and workmen were leaving premises in a mess.

Applicants also complained that work could take up to 18 months to be completed; and complaints went unheeded.

Four companies – Eaga, WarmSure, atec and iguana – provide WF services. Approximately 270,000 WF installations have been completed over the past year, equating to in excess of 60,000 complaints.

An appraisal of the scheme conducted between August and September, reported that complaints dropped to 12 per cent although WYG noted that “a substantial number of complaints against the scheme, while dealt with, go unreported”, thus obscuring the true figure.

Eaga, the scheme’s administrator, disputed the figures: “The 60,000 figure is highly misleading and stems from a crude and inaccurate calculation taken out of context from a line in the WYG report which claimed complaint rates peaked at 25 per cent before falling back dramatically,” Rik Kendall, group media relations manager, said.

“It is important to consider differences in defining complaints. Eaga’s definition is “any expression of dissatisfaction with the product or service provided within our influence that cannot be resolved at the first point of contact”. Warm Front complaint rates remain very low, standing at 5 in every 1,000 jobs, equating to 0.5 per cent.

“It is not entirely clear what definition is used by WYG, but it is possible that complaints which are resolved at the time of the initial contact with an installer are included – despite the fact there was no need to escalate to Eaga.”

Mr Kendall continued: “We understand that on rare occasions installers will try to hide complaints where they should be escalated. Such actions have been kept to a minimum by our constant monitoring of installer performance in relation to quality, timeliness, customer care and value for money.

'Good performers are rewarded with work, while work is reduced or withheld from those who underperform. Experience has taught us this is effective.”

The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors, along with Age Concern and Anchor Staying Put, among others, is urging Defra to review the scheme and implement a rigorous installer selection and retention process.

Eaga said over the past year it had restructured its complaint management procedure and implemented consistent application of best practice but was willing to work with the industry to address the issues raised.