Energy providers such as British Gas and Npower use our fear of losing heating or hot water to jack up prices of boiler breakdown insurance. Yet with just 10 minutes' work, you can cut almost £100/year off the cost of arranging boiler cover, with a cheaper standalone insurer.
In this guide
This guide is for boiler breakdown cover - if you're after cheap roadside recovery for your vehice, read the full Car Breakdown Cover guide.
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Who needs boiler cover?
There's absolutely no point in shelling out for cover if you don't have to - it depends on who's 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 Tricks 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 who 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.
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.
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 usually two types of cover offered. The first, cheaper option covers your boiler and its controls, and the second includes full central heating cover on top.
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.
Older boilers may not be insurable - or you'll need to pay for improvements
Most plans require a boiler to be below a certain age 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, boilers over seven years of age may be excluded from being replaced if they go 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.
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. In addition, some providers prevent you from claiming between May and September, limiting your claims to the autumn and winter.
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. They 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/year. Helpfully, a few specialist web and phone services 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.
STEP 1: FIRST CHECK TOP COMPARISON SITES
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
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.
Some providers or their offers aren't always included in comparisons, so for full belt 'n' braces you should get a quote from some of these too.
E.on - Unlimited callouts
E.on's Central Heating Care comes in a number of shapes and sizes. You don't need to be a customer to get this cover.
The cheapest is £9.98 per month (and you pay nothing towards the cost of repair), up to an all-encompassing policy, including water and electrics, for £27.50/mth.
It's worth being aware this is actually a 'service agreement', not insurance - read How am I protected? for an explanation of what this means.
Npower (includes annual service/ boiler check)
Npower's Hometeam* Boiler Care Flexi costs £10.45/mth for the first year (usually £12/mth). It includes an annual boiler service & safety check, unlimited call-outs and repairs (£50 excess/call which is relatively standard). This is open to anyone, including non-Npower customers.
If you are looking for that bit more cover, with no call- out fees, the Hometeam Central Heating Care* contract will also cover the central heating system, and your controls, at £15.50 a month for the first year (usually £18 per month).
This is actually a 'service agreement', not insurance. Read How am I protected? for an explanation of what this means.
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 automatic inclusions. But the maximum amount that'll get paid out if you need your boiler fixed is much lower.
Direct Line - 15% off online
Direct Line offers 15% off its Home Response 24 policy online. It's not included in any comparison sites, so you must go direct to check its prices.
It's an emergency policy so won't cover everyday problems, but it does have a 24-hour call-out line, and covers electrical wiring, security issues and more.
Swinton Home Emergency from £5/month
Swinton* offers two options: a £4.99/month Home Emergency policy and a £6.99/mth option which adds cover for glass, locks and roof damage. Both currently offer three months' free cover.
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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 £150, replacing a pump £264 and a replacement gas valve at £355. And 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...