Energy providers such as British Gas and EDF use our fear of losing heating or hot water to jack up prices of boiler breakdown cover.
Yet with just 10 minutes' work, you can cut almost £100 a year off the cost, with a cheaper standalone insurer. This guide shows you how.
In this guide
Who needs boiler cover?
There's absolutely no point in shelling out for cover if you don't have to - it depends on what company is in charge of heating your home. Quite simply...
Only homeowners need to consider boiler cover.
If you rent, it's not your responsibility.
There are a few other things worth knowing. There's more in our Home Insurance guide.
- Some property types can't be insured. For example, mobile homes, bedsits and commercial properties are often excluded from cover.
- Get a gas safety certificate. Whether you own or rent, insist on one of these when moving in. Then each year you (or your landlord) should have safety checks carried out by a Gas Safe-registered fitter on boilers and other gas appliances.
- Is it covered by your home insurance? Some contents insurance will include boiler cover, either as standard or a paid-for extra. Check with your provider beforehand to avoid being double-covered or use our Home Insurance guide to find an insurer that would.
- Renting? How long would you be in the cold for? If you rent or live in social housing, you don't need to buy cover. But it's vital to establish how long you'd be left in the cold if the heating and boiler were to break down BEFORE you sign the contract.
If it'd take two days or more to get fixed, ask for that time to be cut. After all, if you're paying rent, you're entitled to have a home that, at the very least, is well-heated.
- Older boilers may not be insurable. Most plans require a boiler to be below a certain age, usually seven years-old, when the cover is bought. Others will request a boiler inspection before granting cover. If yours is old, you may want to consider the cost of buying a new boiler.
Even if you do get cover, your boiler may be excluded from being replaced if it goes totally kaput. You could also find your old boiler system doesn't meet the standards requested by your insurance provider, in which case you'll probably have to pay extra to get your heating system revamped before being offered cover.
What level of cover do you need?
Not all policies are the same, so when picking one, always double-check the conditions to check the policy suits you, and make sure you're not under or over-covered. But first, here are the big things to consider when picking a policy...
Do you want boiler-only OR boiler + central heating cover?
There are typically two types of cover offered. The first, cheaper option covers your boiler and its controls, and the second one includes full central heating cover on top (including radiators, pipes etc.).
Some plans can be extended to include plumbing, drains, electrical wiring and the cost of yearly inspections or a service - though the more that's covered, the more you'll pay.
Home emergency cover can be cheaper - though pays out less
If you don't want to pay for full-on boiler insurance, a potential cheaper alternative is a home emergency policy.
Here, the number of different items you can claim for is wider than boiler cover. They can include central heating and hot water; emergencies, such as burst pipes, blocked drains, leaking roofs or, broken windows; and overnight accommodation. But the maximum amount covered if you need your boiler fixed is much lower.
The more likely your boiler is to break down, the more cover you need
The amount you can claim in the event of your boiler going up the Swannee varies from product to product. Don't assume cover is unlimited, so always read the small print. Some only pay for costs up to a certain level per claim and per year (usually £1,000 or £1,500) or limit the number of call-outs within 12 months.
So, assess the likelihood of problems. If you're in a new house with relatively new, reliable equipment, then a cheap policy covering the bare essentials and modest payout limits should do. But if you've an old, unreliable and noisy boiler, then go for more comprehensive cover, with higher maximum claim amounts and as many annual call-outs as possible.
Keep boilers in good condition - consider an inspection
Most boiler insurance policies don't cover the cost of safety inspections. But neither will they pay out if your boiler's croaked because it's not been properly maintained.
An annual service is an effective way to avoid these problems. But unless your cover includes this, you'll need to factor in £50- £80 for a standard boiler efficiency inspection and possibly more for a condensing boiler.
Do you need 24-hour cover in case of emergencies?
Plans usually provide a 24-hour, 365-day helpline to call when you have an urgent heating or hot water problem. They usually cover the cost of the call-out, repairs, parts and labour.
It's possible you'll only be covered for the first two or three hours of labour costs - so double-check before the call-out. The last thing you want is a hefty bill if it takes all day. Also, not all companies guarantee they'll send an engineer the same day.
You won't be able to claim for the first 14 to 30 days
Almost all plans include an initial no-claims period, which varies from 14 to 30 days. It's not unreasonable, it stops people signing up to plans on the day their boiler breaks down.
Before you start looking for insurers, one big fact is utterly vital.
You don't have to use your energy provider's boiler cover!
Just because you get your gas or electricity from one supplier doesn't mean you need its insurance too. Energy providers often craftily try to link the two, but that's usually nonsense. This is an open market and you want to get your hands on the best policy at the cheapest price. Also remember to regularly compare to ensure you've got the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs.
By avoiding energy providers' cover, you can almost halve the price, saving nearly £100 a year. Helpfully, a few specialist web and phone services (see below) will do the comparison for you. Just give them your details and you'll get a result in about 10 minutes. The price will depend on your boiler and fuel type, plus the level of cover. You may want boiler-only, or central heating too.
CHECK THE TOP COMPARISON SITES FOR CHEAP BOILER INSURANCE
The comparison sites below are good for boiler cover comparisons, but not necessarily for other products. Check the Cheapest Gas & Electricity for advice on those products. The comparison sites below cover almost all of the major boiler insurance providers in the market.
uSwitch for range and power
The widest, most powerful comparison is offered by uSwitch*, and it only takes a couple of minutes. Enter basic home and boiler details and it will return quotes based on the age and model of your boiler, excluding policies that won't cover you.
It doesn't cover every insurer, so it's worth trying a couple more below to ensure you get the widest reach.
Extra comparisons to increase your quotes
Here are a couple of extra comparison sites worth looking at to increase the number of insurers searched but they only list policies worth investigating further - they don't provide quotes based on your info.
Energyhelpline* is a less functional search and includes fewer providers. But it's still worth checking as it covers different firms to uSwitch.
If you've time, check MoneySupermarket's* listings to see if any policies suit what you're after.
HOT DEALS COMPARISONS MISS
While comparison sites offer a large chunk of the deals available in the market, others are only available directly from insurers or brokers. If any of the providers below are among your cheapest on comparison sites, use the links below to buy instead and take advantage of special deals.
Get a Vax handheld vacuum with Npower
Buy a Boiler Care or Boiler and Central Heating Care policy from Npower* and get a Vax 9.6v Handheld Cordless Vacuum Cleaner. The vac will arrive within 120 days. The offer is not available on £4.20 per month care plans
A home emergency policy looks at more than just boiler cover. Central heating and hot water, burst pipes, blocked drains, leaking roofs, broken windows and overnight accommodation are likely to be included. But the maximum amount that'll get paid out if you need your boiler fixed is much lower.
AA Home Membership from £4.49/month
As well as being breakdown specialists, AA also provides a home emergency product called AA Home Membership. You have the option to choose central heating cover, home emergency or a combination of both.
The Home Emergency Response policy provides cover for your internal plumbing, drainage, electrics, windows, keys and locks but only if it is an emergency.
The Home Emergency Reponse premium starts from £4.49 a month and increases to £7.49 a month for the Home Emergency Reponse Plus policy, which includes routine repairs for plumbing, drains and electric, with a £99 excess.
Swinton Home Emergency from £5/month
Swinton offers two options: a £4.99 a month Home Emergency policy and a £6.99 a month option which adds cover for windows, locks and roof damage. Both currently offer three months' free cover.
HomeServe Cover8 from £9.50/month
HomeServe offers a number of home emergency products with varying cover levels. The most comprehensive on offer, HomeServe Cover8, offers emergency protection central heating, plumbing and drains, electrical wiring and you get a free annual boiler service.
However, in February 2014 HomeServe was fined £30.6m for mis-selling insurance, although it has assured us it has changed its practices. Give us feedback based on your experiences.
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Alternatives to buying cover
There are ways to avoid shelling out every year for an insurance policy, ranging from an expensive one-off investment to the equivalent of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
If you want to pay out as little as possible for cover, the best option is to self-insure. Instead of paying for a policy each month, put the same amount into a Top Savings Account to build up your own emergency fund. If you have a problem, the cash is there to pay for it; if you don't, the cash is yours.
The ideal - if unlikely - scenario is that you self-insure until the day before your boiler breaks down, then buy cover just in time. Yet if you're not Nostradamus, you can play the odds by self-insuring during the early years of your boiler's life - when it's least likely to go kaput - then after three years or so, bite the bullet and take out insurance.
Get a new boiler?
There may come a time when the cost of having an old, faulty or inefficient boiler prompts the question: Should I get a new boiler?
Be warned. Boilers are very expensive - starting from about £500, and can easily cost thousands. If it gets to the point where you're exhausting the terms of your boiler cover, it's probably a sign that you should be looking.
If you decide to take the plunge, see our Green Deal Mythbuster guide - it tells you how you can get a new boiler and pay for it from the savings it makes. Also check out our Grant Grabbing guide to see if you're eligible for help with heating costs.
The cost of repairing, or replacing parts within a boiler, vary and when added up can be a huge cost. As an idea, the average emergency call out is estimated to be £35 per hour, replacing a pump £264, faulty fan £416 and a replacement gas valve at £355. A replacement boiler costs significantly more.
Those with fairly reliable boilers and a home insurance policy which covers home emergency call-outs may simply want to opt to remain uncovered (see Cheapest Home Insurance guide).
Let's be very clear. This is all about realistically examining the risk of a breakdown, whether you're able to lay out the cash when needed, and how important the peace of mind of being covered is for you.
Safety is, of course, paramount, so ensure your gas appliances are regularly checked by a Gas Safe-registered engineer (and consider getting a carbon monoxide detector).
What happens if my insurer goes bust?
This is actually a bit more complicated (annoyingly) than standard procedures when companies go bust. This is boiler cover falls under one of two types: insurance policies and service agreements.
First, is yours insurance or a service agreement?
Working out whether your policy is insurance or a service agreement is crucial to understanding the protection. It's also annoyingly tricky.
If you're using a comparison site, then they often state the level of protection. If not, make sure you ask the provider directly, and check if it's listed on the Financial Conduct Authority's register as an insurer.
If a service agreement, you've no protection
Service agreements - such as Npower's boiler cover - aren't regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). So if the company goes under, you've no recourse to a compensation scheme. There's no central pool of cash to claim your money back from.
Any protection you have relies on the provider's solvency - how likely is it to go bust? The risk is minimal with massive energy companies, but if it's a small insurer you've not heard of before, perhaps you should think twice.
How it works if yours is an insurance policy
If it's proper insurance, providers regulated in the UK are covered by the same Government-backed Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) as banks, meaning if they go into default, you're protected. There are two main ways in which it protects you.
If you need to claim from a bust insurer
The FSCS's main objective is to "maintain continuity". This means if your insurer goes bust, it will try to find another provider to take over your policy, or issue a substitute policy. But if you have any ongoing claims, or need to make a claim before a new insurer is found, the FSCS should ensure these are covered.
If it goes bust and you paid upfront
If you've paid for cover for a year, but the company goes bust after a month or two, then you would lose out.
To protect against that, if the FSCS can't transfer your policy to another provider, you'll be given a period of time to take out alternative insurance, and 90% of any money you've already paid will be refunded as compensation via the FSCS. To help explain, here's a quick example...