A Southsea pensioner and her two teen-aged children were forced to live in near-freezing conditions for weeks after a Southern Electric Home Services approved contractor made a complete mess of replacing her clapped-out boiler.
Jenny Hanley says she was left out in the cold from last October until February when the energy giant’s contractor repeatedly bungled an application to replace her condemned appliance under the government’s ‘Affordable Warmth’ scheme.
Jenny learned about the low-income scheme from a local trader. When she looked into it she discovered free or low-cost replacement boiler grants were provided by the big six gas and electricity companies.
She chose to go with Southern Electric (SSE) because she says it was familiar to her and reliable.
It had already told her its approved installer, Cheshire firm 1Green Place, would check her eligibility for a grant, and if a contribution was required it would be based on an energy survey and her income.
But Jenny was soon to discover that far from being an efficient and reliable partner installer, its administration of the grant procedure and installation turned into a frustrating inexplicable nightmare.
Obtaining precise written information about the financial contribution calculation and progress of her application from the firm was like pulling teeth, so she meticulously kept a contemporaneous diary of events, including letters, names, and telephone calls.
All she repeatedly received from them were regular demands for money and a stream of warnings that if she didn’t pay up the process would come to a grinding halt.
She said: ‘They told me the energy performance certificate wouldn’t cost anything, or checking my paperwork. They then said it would cost £578 to install a like-for-like boiler in the same location as my existing one.
‘But when the gas safety man came to do the survey he said I’d have to pay an additional £636 on top of what I’d already paid, when all along I understood it was a free scheme.’
By now it was the end of November and winter was just around the corner. The cost of her contribution had escalated to £1,214 and Jenny was no nearer to getting an answer when her boiler would be replaced.
Then out of the blue in December she received another payment request insisting there was still a shortfall in the funding. The revised total brought her contribution up to £1,560. It had rocketed from the original £578 into a final combined eye-watering £2,138.
To add insult to injury, two installation appointments resulted in no-shows due to what an increasingly angry Jenny was later told were ‘technical issues’. Every time she phoned to complain she got nowhere.
As January slipped away she was given yet another appointment leaving her in understandable doubt if the work was ever going to start.
With no means of warmth other than a two kilowatt portable electric heater, internal room temperatures plummeted to 8C – the hypothermia risk range.
However, if the finance arrangements had descended into a shambles, the installation was about to turn into a mega shambles.
Jenny was devastated when a three-day removal and installation job scheduled to start on the January 26 took two weeks.
A lone engineer turned up late on two days pleading problems with his van. Then more issues emerged when it was discovered the replacement pipework wasn’t up to scratch and had been wrongly connected. Then the boiler refused to shut down due to an incorrectly positioned pump and a valve which had been incorrectly left in the closed position.
To add insult to injury when the installation problems had finally been sorted Jenny was still left without heating because the radiators hadn’t been bled.
A distraught and tearful Jenny had earlier phoned Streetwise for help.
Astounded at the appalling litany of incompetence, we forwarded both Southern Electric and partner installer 1Green Place a damming resume of the bungling and delay, insisting she was compensated.
Following our intervention Jenny finally got the free replacement boiler she’d applied for almost five months earlier, together with an unequivocal full apology.
A spokesperson for SSE said: ‘We apologise for the delay and frustration Ms Hanley experienced while awaiting the installation of her new boiler.
‘As a gesture of goodwill and to recognise the inconvenience caused, we have instructed 1Greenplace to refund Ms Hanley’s customer contribution and are working with them to review her case.’
A relieved but still angry Jenny later confirmed she’d received the promised compensation.
She said: ‘I believe they were totally incompetent and shouldn’t be trading. In a way I blame Southern Electric they put me onto them, but I wouldn’t have got anywhere without Streetwise. I’m just so grateful.’
Streetwise repeatedly asked installer 1Green Place for a comment, but despite all our efforts no-one responded.