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 to do it.
In this guide
Boiler cover need-to-knows
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. So the first question you need to ask yourself is whether you need it at all. Quite simply...
Only homeowners need to consider boiler cover.
If you rent, it's not your responsibility.
Even if you don't need to buy cover, always check with your landlord BEFORE you sign the contract what cover is in place so you know how long you'd be left in the cold if the heating and boiler were to break down.
Here are the rest of the key need-to-knows.
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 if you rent) 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.
Consider self insuring
If you've new reliable kit, saving monthly to build a cash fund to pay with may be cheaper.
Get an annual boiler service.
Most policies won't pay if your boiler's croaked as it's not been properly maintained.
Insurance & service agreements are different.
While the policies seem similar and what you get with them is similar, there is a key difference. With insurance, if the insurer goes bust you're protected by the FSCS. With service cover, you've less recourse it the firm goes bust. In this guide, we try to refer to insurance policies as insurance and service agreements as cover, so note that when reading the deals below.
Hopefully your policy explains what it is, but if unsure, if the provider offering the cover (not necessarily the same as the firm that sells it) says it is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, it is insurance. Check what happens if my insurer goes bust .
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.
The different types of cover explained
There are many different types of boiler and heating insurance and cover, so when choosing, always double-check what you're getting and closely inspect the conditions to make sure the policy suits you, and you're not under or over-covered. Here are the three main types.
This type of policy typically covers the boiler itself and its controls against breakdown. If the damage is outside the 'white box' that's when it falls under the central heating section. But a majority of central heating claims are because of a broken boiler.
Boiler cover with central heating cover.
As well as protecting your boiler, you get the added protection of damage caused to your central heating system (such as your pipes and radiators) as well as replacing central heating pumps, and more.
Broad cover - boiler, central heating, pest infestation and more. Yet payout limits for each can be low, eg, £500 for boiler compared to £4,000 on a standard policy - so if your boiler is the main concern this mightn't be for you.
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 and are usually free - in the first year only. 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 (which is more energy efficient).
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.
What is an emergency?
This varies from provider to provider so what we class as an emergency is not always one classed in the eyes of the provider.
As a general rule of thumb - if your health is at risk, your home is uninhabitable or further immediate damage could occur to your home, such as a burst pipe and you are unable to turn off the water supply, that is when it is usually classed as an emergency.
Is a blocked toilet an emergency? If it is the only one in the home, it usually is.
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.
Best buys: How to find the cheapest cover
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 at least one of the comparison sites 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. However, they only list policies and 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 and insurers 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 and take advantage of special deals.
10% off Home Energy Services cover
Buy HES Boiler and Central Heating Care* cover using this link and the MSE1 code to get 10% off in the first year making it £8.96/mth. If you have a central heating problem - for example, if your boiler goes kaput, it will send someone out to fix it.
Alternatively, you can opt for HES Boiler and Central Heating Care + Water + Electric* cover with the code MSE2 to also get a 10% discount making the premium £17.08/mth. Both these polices have 'no excess'.
Get a Vax handheld vacuum with Npower cover
Buy a Boiler and Central Heating Care cover 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
50% off HomeServe home emergency insurance
Buy the Homeserve Cover 8 insurance policy, which offers boiler breakdown, central heating, plumbing and drains, electrical wiring, and get 50% off in the first year.
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.
Swinton Home Emergency insurance from £5/month
Swinton is not on comparison sites and offers two insurance options: a £4.99 a month Home Emergency insurance policy and a £6.99 a month option which adds cover for windows, 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 insurance, 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...