Well is it? I’ve had lots of conversations with British Gas in the last couple of months. Very few of them were jolly. Are they green? They would probably claim to be, pointing at their affordable warmth schemes and payments for people on low incomes. I’m not so sure. More on that later. They are undeniably a giant. I can tell you that their customer service is awful.
British Gas have been making the headlines recently in the UK and for all the wrong reasons. They recently hiked up their energy prices by a staggering 10.4% on electricity and 8.4% on gas. At the same time, 5 of their executives take home £16.439 million between them. I could see that the Centrica (the parent company) executives have reasons to be jolly. Inflation in the UK stands at a mere 2.7% (most of that’s probably down to energy price rises!). We’re told that price rises are all to do with the global energy market but that’s not quite true. Global gas prices vary widely from one country to another with the UK being one of the highest. The NBP gas price index is standing at about 65 pence/therm at the moment. Guess what it was in 2006? Yes, that’s right: 65 pence/therm. Somebody will naturally try to confuse me but to my mind if the gas price in the UK is the same as it was in 2006, how come we’re paying almost double what we paid back then?
Here’s what British Gas say themselves about making energy affordable for everyone:
At British Gas, one of our main concerns is affordable energy for all. This means making a positive impact on our customers’ quality of life and diminishing fuel poverty in the communities where we operate, as well as helping all our customers to reduce their energy bills. In difficult economic times, we believe that all UK citizens, irrespective of circumstance, should have access to safe, cleaner and affordable energy.
At British Gas, we are committed to providing the best service possible to our customers, especially those with specific requirements. Our Here to Help teams are part of that special commitment, and are in place to support customers most in need, especially those who are elderly, disabled or chronically sick.
Now I’d like to tackle them on this statement. You see, I applied for their affordable warmth scheme for a replacement boiler. I did have specific requirements. British Gas ignored them. I also suffer from chronic depression. They tried to give me a boiler that in my opinion as a professional engineer was not suitable for my purposes. Despite e-mails and several phone conversations regarding this, they would not give me, the customer, what I wanted. In the end, they told me that unless I took the boiler that they offered, I could not have a boiler from them. I am not now getting a boiler from them.
You are probably thinking that I was after the best, most expensive boiler that money can buy…I wasn’t. I was after a smaller and cheaper boiler than the one they wanted to force upon me.
Here’s how the sad tale of British Gas’s customer relations disaster unfolded:
1. A surveyor visits my house and offers a 28kW Vailant combi boiler. I am alarmed at the size and ask what minimum output the boiler has. The surveyor tells me that he has never been asked for that information and that he doesn’t know. This data is available from all boiler manufacturers. He said that he could order a 24kW boiler but it would not deliver hot water as fast. I said that it would be fine for me. I asked for the exact model of the boiler but he left without giving me details, saying over his shoulder that I could phone the team if I changed my mind about the boiler.
2. I researched Vailant boilers and found more than one model available. One of these had a 9kW minimum burn: too high for what I wanted. their 24kW unit would have been fine, though. Armed with this information, I rang the team and explained that I wanted to check the details of the boiler and change it for the smaller one if necessary. I was told that they had to stick with the boiler that the surveyor recommended. I was also told that the information about minimum output was not available. I was not told the exact model of the boiler.
3. I wrote an E-mail detailing my concerns. Here’s what they wrote back….err, they didn’t write back
4. I wrote an E-mail complaining. Here’s what they wrote in reply…err, no joy there either: they didn’t write back. To be fair, they did ring the next day…to arrange installation of the boiler. I asked what boiler I was getting and was told that the man didn’t know. When I asked if he could find out, he did and told me that it was the 28kW boiler. He could not tell me what its minimum heat was and said that I had to accept it or cancel the installation. Whilst I really didn’t want to cancel, I had no choice. I asked if there was someone I could phone about the matter and was given a number.
5. I immediately rang the other number. This time I was told that no information was available about my application at all, because it had been cancelled and the details were locked out for 28 days. I was pretty mad.
6. I speak to their complaints team and a very helpful sounding bloke tells me that he is very sorry about what happened and that he will make sure my application is re-opened. I asked him if he would give me the minimum output data because the 28kW unit they were originally offered could be fine by me. He said that what he would do would be to give me the 24kW unit that I knew was okay.
7. Buoyed by this optimistic outcome I waited for several days but when I had heard nothing from them, I phoned the following week. I was told that the person responsible would ring me back.
8. The next morning (today) their man phones…the same man who told me that he would get me the 24kW boiler. He told me that I had to have the 28kW boiler or nothing. Err, what happened to the promise given to me the week before? Not only that but he proceeded to tell me that it was because 28kW was what the house needed. Mentally, I consulted with the walls of my dwelling but as usual, they would not tell me anything with regard to what boiler they wanted. Further he stated that for a house the size of mine it had to have this boiler so that all of the hot taps could be run at once. I explained that I did not need that and surely it was what the customer wanted that was important. He said that they would be liable if future home owners complained about the boiler. I offered to write a disclaimer taking responsibility upon myself. He ignored this. Finally, at long last, when pushed he told me that the minimum burn was 9kW. The one that was too big.
I have gone to another company SIG for my boiler. hopefully they will listen to their customers. British Gas clearly don’t. I told him that I would write about them on my blog, so here it is. At that point he said that he was going to write a letter to me because I was ‘threatening’ British Gas. This is the first time they’ve ever offered to put anything in writing…I wonder why.
What conclusions do I draw from all this?
Well, firstly, there is something sadly wrong when the Company will not find the answer to what is a perfectly reasonable question.
Secondly, if a customer is given a promise, the company should not break it a few days later.
Lastly, I am seriously concerned about the motives of British Gas. They are definitely withholding information from their customers. Suspiciously, this concerns the minimum gas use of the product. I suspect that they are installing boilers that will force people to use more gas. They probably see the affordable warmth scheme as a way of paying their executives another few million a year.