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‘Loyalty to British Gas cost me £629 for a year’s cover’

An engineer working on a gas boiler
British Gas HomeCare insurance includes a once-a-year service. Photograph: Adrian Weinbrecht/Getty Images

Having recently retired, I have been taking a keener interest in my outgoings. As I went through all the paperwork, I was staggered to see that Scottish Gas (British Gas) has demanded £629 to renew my HomeCare 4 agreement which covers my boiler, central heating and plumbing.

I had been paying it by direct debit which, more than likely, made me a bit lax in checking the renewal quotes and as result it must have slowly crept up.

I asked British Gas why I was paying so much but it couldn’t give me a satisfactory explanation. It did say that prices do include expected parts and labour, which could be required throughout the annual agreement.

I cancelled the agreement but, out of curiosity, I called as a new customer and was quoted £384 for the exact same cover. Is there anything I can do to highlight this and to make people aware they need to check renewals closely? I have managed to get much cheaper cover elsewhere. EH, Aberdeen

When I first read your letter I assumed that you must have made a mistake – how could a company be charging more than £600 to insure a gas boiler and heating system, with some plumbing cover thrown in, too?

Unbelievably, having checked with British Gas, it has confirmed that the price was correct. It even had the effrontery to claim that this was a fair price “relating to the risk insured”.

This is the most preposterous case of overcharging we have seen for some time. This policy includes an annual boiler service, but you can buy a new boiler for your annual premium. The fact that the company offers new customers the same cover for £384 somewhat gives the game away.

British Gas says: “Just like many other industries, we offer introductory pricing to provide customers with the opportunity to try our products for a reduced price which is clearly communicated through all channels at the point of purchase. In common with most insurers, our renewal prices reflect the varying cost of providing cover, and renewal prices are based upon our assessment of risk on a variety of factors.”

British Gas says it has 4 million HomeCare customers, so I would urge all of them to dig out the paperwork this weekend and see if they are similarly being overcharged.

Call up, cancel, and then renew if you have to. Or take your business elsewhere. SSE does a good rival service, or, better still, find a local plumber who knows your boiler, and pay on a case-by-case basis. You don’t need electrical cover, I’ve never known anyone claim on it.

Last week Citizens Advice called on the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the cross-cutting impact of the “loyalty penalty” paid by customers like you. Shocking.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions

This article titled "‘Loyalty to British Gas cost me £629 for a year’s cover’" was written by Miles Brignall, for The Guardian on Sunday 11 February 2018 07.00am

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