Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve had a problem with our boiler. After 53 days without hot water or heating the problem was finally fixed. It’s not my intention to name the companies involved. The Chief Executive of our service home plan company assured me personally that he will review the circumstances that led to our situation, and make changes to procedures where applicable. I’m happy with that. I’ve named and shamed on a couple of occasions in the past with respect to completely different issues, but I don’t think that would achieve anything more in this case, and many of our delays were actually caused by the sub-contracted boiler manufacturer.
So I can now write about some of the more ridiculous elements in what we’ve experienced, and you can hopefully enjoy them, without this post being a tirade.
It all started when our boiler needed it’s annual service as part of one of those home plan service agreement things. The service engineer found a fault with the boiler which he could not fix there and then, and stuck a ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker on the boiler.
I asked him what would happen next, and he said that the home plan people would be in touch with us to arrange for someone to come and do the work to (I think it was) the heat exchanger.
After he left, my wife and I got out our contract with the home plan. It was very reassuring. We now knew that we were covered, we need not worry, that they were there to help us, that there was a network of 5,000 engineers available, and that they were on hand to keep our home safe and warm.
There were delays, but eventually two more heating engineers turned up.
The second and third heating engineers said that they couldn’t fix the boiler, but recommended that the manufacturers, who would have all the spare parts, would be able to do so.
A couple of days later the home plan people phoned up to say that they were having trouble arranging for a heating engineer from the manufacturers to come and fix our boiler, as that company was very busy and their heating engineer was on holiday. They would call us back, but wanted to know if the heating engineer would need a ladder to access the boiler, and also if there was parking outside our house. I told them that no ladder was needed, and that there was usually parking available somewhere near the house. They asked a second time to confirm that a ladder would not be needed, which I thought was a bit strange. Later on I thought about this and reckoned that for health and safety reasons the manufacturer’s heating engineer probably could not go up a ladder. Well, I thought, that would not be a problem, as our boiler was on a wall only a few feet high.
A fourth engineer, from the manufacturers, turned up eventually. He had originally been booked for the previous week, two weeks after the third and fourth engineers had called, those two week delays having been caused, as I said, by the fourth engineer having been on holiday, but they phoned us in the meantime to say that he’d gone off sick, hence the extra week’s delay.
I’ll refer to the fourth engineer as ‘Red Robbo‘ for reasons that will become obvious to older readers of this blog. It became clear, eventually, that Red Robbo was far more interested in finding reasons for not doing the repair rather than actually doing the work. Like my friend Fat Mac, he seemed a bit of a throwback to the 1970s, when nothing ever got done for one reason or another
“Kudni git pairkt” Red Robbo complained vociferously, as he came in the front door. Red Robbo was a man of few words, and every one of them was delivered with a Scottish accent so thick that even I had problems understanding what he said.
I showed him into the kitchen, opened the cabinet door, and he looked at the boiler.
“Hiznae been install correk” he announced, gruffly. I felt it better not to follow that one up, but merely pointed out that it had been going strong (until recently) for some time.
“Whaurs yer draindoon?” Red Robbo enquired.
“Where’s my what?”
“Uzzara draindoon, ferra wa’ah tae drain frae?”
“I don’t really know. Where is it likely to be?”
He then accompanied me downstairs, where there is one radiator, which he vaguely glanced at, and then announced,
“Uzz kawney c wanz”*
We went back up to the kitchen, where he had yet another look at the boiler. He got out a sticker with ‘Danger, do not use’ written on it in large letters, and stuck it next to the sticker saying ‘Danger, do not use’ that the first service engineer had stuck on it, weeks previously.
Then he closed the cabinet door, turned to me and announced,
“Utz unna cubinet”
“Yes” I answered, “It’s in a cabinet. The cabinet was put there just after the boiler was installed, some time ago. Is that an issue?”
“Uzzcunna fux ut uffitz unna cubinet. Yeil hivtae hiv the cubinet takken aff.”
“You can’t take the cabinet off the wall?” I asked, with some trepidation.
Red Robbo looked askance, stuck out his chest for a second, and then said the following three words in perfectly understandable English.
“Health and safety”
My heart sank. Everyone in the UK knows the extreme finality of those three words and the utter futility of questioning them.
“Yuzzll needa jyner tak it aff” Red Robbo added, helpfully.
For a moment I thought about showing solidarity with Red Robbo and saying to him, in his own parlance, “Ufyeez gieuz a haun-up, Ukin mebbie tak if aff masel”, but I suspected that this would not solve everything, and that he probably still had some additional dry powder in reserve preventing a successful conclusion to our boiler problem, so instead I said,
“Oh! Health and safety. Well, I’m pretty sure that my wife and I could probably manage to dismantle the cabinet. Anything else?”
“Yuzz needa draindoon. Orgerra plumma tae find wan”
“Erm” I hesitated, “Are you not a plumber?”
You should have seen the look he gave me when he answered, “Umma heet’n enjuneer. Snay ma jobe tae fuxa draindoon. Ratzferra plumma.”
So, more than a month after the first service chap had stuck his ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker on the boiler, and with now two ‘Danger, do not use’ stickers on the boiler, and with the help of the fourth heating engineer to visit the premises, the progress made consisted of a discovery that the boiler was in a kitchen cabinet, and that the whereabouts of the drain down was unknown. And all that time we’d been without heating or hot water.
Before Red Robbo left, he gave my wife a piece of paper to sign. A signature was needed on a form to show that we had read, and understood, the second ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker that he’d just stuck on the boiler. The form was in semi-legal jargonese, and much more difficult to understand than a ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker, which I reckon is fairly self-explanatory. Then he asked her to sign his handheld mini-computery-looking thing, using a fingernail signature.
“What are you signing?” I asked, because the screen she was looking at had no writing on it whatsoever. Red Robbo explained, “Sjuz summat tae say at Uv bin here.” Then he left.
I decided to phone the home plan people and tell them that we were not impressed with the service we had received so far, and that our boiler was still not working. The home plan girl didn’t seem very helpful this time, and I was getting nowhere, and it was at that point that I made what may have been a mistake – I said that I’d like to make a complaint. The girl immediately passed me on to someone I shall call Suzie (not her real name), who explained that she was now our complaints manager. She was very reassuring. I went through our situation, and said that it was simply not acceptable. She agreed, and said that she had registered our complaint. I then asked Suzie what would happen next.
Suzie explained that our complaint would be investigated.
This meant that we would receive a letter in the post within three working days acknowledging our complaint, and that every endeavour would be made to resolve our complaint within two weeks, but that the process might take six weeks, and she added something about an Ombudsman being available as a last resort. It seemed to me that perhaps effort was now going into investigating the complaint, rather than fixing the boiler, but that’s just MHO.
My wife and I went on a short break to an Airbnb where there was a shower, and waited for the letter. Before we left the house, we looked up ‘central heating drain down’ on Google, and immediately found a picture of a drain down. Knowing what we were now looking for, we went downstairs, looked at the bottom of the radiator, and saw a drain down!
When we came back from the short break, it took us ten minutes to take the cabinet down from the wall. The boiler was now completely accessible.
So the phone goes, and it’s our complaints manager, Suzie.
“Is Mrs MacLeod there please?”
“I’m afraid she’s out. Can I help? I’m Mr MacLeod.”
“Its Suzie here, from your home plan. I’m afraid I can only talk to Mrs MacLeod, the account owner, for security reasons.”
“Hi Suzie, we spoke the other day. Suzie, Mrs MacLeod is at the swimming pool. This is the only way we’ve been able to have a shower now for seven weeks. What security reasons have you got for not telling me when our boiler will be repaired?”
“I’m very sorry, Mr MacLeod. I’ve left a message on Mrs MacLeod’s mobile phone.”
I was annoyed, but didn’t say any more. When my wife returned from the swimming pool she phoned Suzie, who said she’d had terrible trouble getting the boiler manufacturers on the phone but had eventually got through to them, and had been told that they couldn’t send an engineer for another week.
I’d had enough. It was now 49 days since the first ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker had been stuck on our boiler. I couldn’t stand the thought of Red Robbo going off on extended sick leave and then eventually pitching up sometime in the new year only to drive off again because he couldn’t get parked.
I did a little research and contacted the service home plan company’s chief executive by email. I explained that we were about to have visitors to our house, our elder son was arriving back from Ethiopia in four days with his girlfriend from Kenya. I explained some of the history of our situation, and that our guests from Africa would soon arrive. How bad would it be, I explained, if we were not able to offer either of them a shower, and that being used to the heat of the African sun they’d have to huddle together in front of our small blowy electric fire for warmth. What would his girlfriend think if this was an example of Scottish hospitality?
This did the trick. The company phoned up and said they were pulling out all the stops to get an engineer to us on the Monday, together with all the spare parts needed to repair the boiler. I was to contact the chief executive personally if the job didn’t get done on Monday.
My wife and I suddenly went all giggly at the prospect of being able to shower, without going to Porty swimming pool, within three days, and we also thought about how warm we would make our house for our returning son.
So anyway, it was the fifth heating engineer who finally fixed the boiler. Like a good engineer, he followed the problem back to it’s source. It wasn’t anything that the first, second, third or fourth engineers had said needed replacing. It didn’t need access to the ‘draindoon’, and it didn’t look as if the cabinet needed to have come off the wall. It was a £5 gasket that was needed, which he happened to have in his van. Thankyou Andrew, the heating engineer.
Now I’m going to have a hot bath.
* Translation: “A drain down is not visible to me”