James Walker: Check nuts and bolts of home heating cover

Boiler repairs can be very expensive
Boiler repairs can be very expensive
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Hard as it is to say goodbye to the summer, I’ve had to admit to myself it’s a bit nippy. I do try to stick to my own advice and pop a jumper on rather that the heating, but the Walker household has rebelled.

Like me, across the land, people are turning up the heat and trying to remember how to do things like bleed radiators or change the batteries in the thermostat. This is also the time of year when people start to discover the boiler isn’t working or there’s a problem with the pipes.

Millions of us have boiler or home emergency cover for precisely this reason. Boilers are expensive to replace and engineers and plumbers aren’t exactly cheap either. But these policies can be controversial too. Some of them are pretty poor in terms of cover and the help they provide. In fact, it was a problem with a boiler claim that led me to set up Resolver in the first place – the service was so bad I realised I had to come up with a way to help sort out problems simply.

So is it worth taking out the cover? Well, with average boiler call-outs costing around £400, it certainly can be. Stand-alone boiler cover is one thing, but you can also take out home emergency cover. This is designed to deal with a range of problems, but most commonly burst or blocked pipes and boiler breakdowns – though some policies cover everything from vermin infestations to home security. At the other extreme, some policies only cover the boiler, while others apply to the central heating and items that run off it too.

If you’re thinking about taking out boiler or home emergency cover, before you do anything, check to see what your existing home insurance covers. You might find you don’t need it. If you opt for home emergency cover, I’d suggest speaking to the insurer about your property before signing up. One of the most common disputes when it comes to blocked or leaking pipes is whether they are on your property (claim through your insurer) or outside it (usually the water company needs to sort this out). Confirming access points can save a lot of hassle should you ever need to make a claim.

If you’ve got insurance, dig out your policy and have a look at what it covers. Check to see whether you’ve been sold an insurance policy (regulated, which gives you more rights) or a service contract (an agreement with you and the firm). Bear in mind that insurance policies renew every year, so you can shop around for a better bargain – and you don’t have to sign up with the provider of the boiler or your energy services. Look for things like how quickly they’ll get a specialist out if you have a home emergency, what the excess fee is for making a claim, and take a look online to see what other people are saying about the business. Some policies have a “no claim” period – a short period where you can’t claim after taking the policy out. This is to stop people who are tempted to take out a policy after the boiler or pipes have broken, then make a claim immediately.

Emergency cover is there to give you some peace of mind should winter wipe out your warmth. Hopefully you won’t ever need to use it. But if you’re ever stuck in a cold house over Christmas, it’s invaluable. So don’t be left out in the cold by a poor policy.