When the going gets tough

Oil boiler
Like most other industries, oil has had its challenges this year. Oil Installer spoke to installers across the UK to find out what had been their toughest challenge in 2011.

Being taken for a ride

Unsurprisingly, the biggest concern was the prevalence of unregistered heating engineers and plumbers.

Guernsey based Paul Scott Maindonal told Oil installer: “I’m OFTEC, BPEC and Gas Safe registered and the price I charge reflects this, but I’ve been undercut by unregistered installers on many occasions, often by as much as £2000. Also, there are so many rules and regulations concerning the placing of oil tanks that I am losing customers to unregistered installers, who are happy to put them anywhere.”  ARN Heating’s Tony Norris  said: “I’m sick to the back teeth of repairing bodged jobs.” Colin Macleod of Deeside Gas Services added: “Using cowboy installers might be alright in the short-term but it will come back to haunt you in the long-term.”

Servicing shortcomings

Colin also said that the amount of people not getting boilers serviced this year was one of his main gripes and he was not alone. Kenneth Churcher of Scotland’s Blue Flame Heating Solutions attributed this to the impact of the VAT increase and the current recession: “Customers are leaving boiler replacements and repairs until the boiler has failed rather than changing them sooner and, they’re no longer getting annual services.” A&M Heating’s Mike Baker said that his toughest challenge had been: “Getting customers to have their boilers serviced over the summer months rather than the busier, winter period.”

Rules and regulations

Both the amount of and lack of regulation has affected installers in different ways this year. Alan Price of Welsh company, A Price Plumbing and Heating said: “Regulations for bunded tanks don’t bend at all; people can’t afford to buy bunded tanks because of the cost involved and as a result I’m losing out on work.” David Lappin of Boiler Burner Services, Drogheda, Ireland notes that: “Many of the oil tank and central heating installations I deal with are old, don’t meet current regulation standards and were installed maybe 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The costs involved in upgrading these systems can be substantial. Affordability, especially among older people, can be a problem.”  On a different matter, Colin Macleod highlighted the lack of rigorous oil legislation: “There are no regulations in place to make sure that landlords get safety checks done on boilers and trying to encourage them to do this is virtually impossible.”

Monetary matters

Phil Ingle of Phil Ingle Plumbing and Heating, Lincolnshire, probably speaks for the nation when he said that his biggest single challenge this year had been: “The price of oil – it puts people off.” Dan Tosh of Coleraine based DT Mechanical Engineering Services echoed this saying: “The price of materials is going up and up, which makes things difficult.” Richard Thwaites of RT Thwaites, Appleby, Cumbria added: “Getting people to pay their debts has been a challenge.”

Kenneth Churcher made an interesting point: “With the current Gas Safe and OFTEC certifications only lasting five years, and taking into account the time off work (loss of income) and the training, exam and certification fees, 2011/2012 will be very costly for me.”  Mark Viccars of Chestnut Plumbing raised another important financial issue: “2011 has been a twisted year for us. With the growth in our business has come the advent of VAT. We’ve been VAT registered for three years, but this year, I seem to be having trouble bunging another 20% to my bill. I think for a lot of people this is too much. I find it hard to believe that any plumber or heating engineer (unless newly started) could be trading without being VAT registered, but some are.”

“The next and I think the new, growing symptom of the hardships, are the customers who research all the parts you’ve specified and fitted (using your training and knowledge) on the internet and see if they can buy them cheaper. I now point out to new customers that if they want to get their own parts, I’m happy to fit them, but if there’s anything wrong, I’ll charge to take them back out and fit replacements. If I supply the parts then all the warranties are in place and all work is covered,” explains Mark.

Beating the competition

Despite 2011 being a very busy year for Northumberland-based Tony Marshall of M Marshall and Sons, the government’s Warm Front grants have been causing problems for installers in the North East. Tony told Oil Installer: “The government must have awarded nationwide contracts to some companies, and as a result, we’re losing out on the work to installers from as far afield as Manchester.”  For Kenneth Churcher the problem is the economy. “Several medium-sized businesses have collapsed this year in my area which has led to an increasing number of self-employed people entering the market as competition.”

For Richard Thwaites, the year’s toughest challenge has been the weather: “During the bad weather at the end of 2010 and the start of this year, I struggled to get round my customers. I should be ok this winter as I’ve invested in a four-wheel drive van!