Vulnerable and elderly people risk being unable to heat their homes this winter due to a shortage of parts for boilers and central heating systems, plumbers warn.
The industry has sounded the alarm over increasing problems with boiler and parts sourcing due to supply chain chaos caused by Brexit bureaucratic red tape, high demand, production disruption during the pandemic and a shortage of truck drivers.
The combination of issues has left supermarket shelves empty and creating shortages of products from building materials to microchips.
People can wait a long time for a qualified plumber to fix their heating, the industry association said. Charities warned that any shortages would contribute to a “powerful mix” of factors that people in fuel poverty already face.
According to estimates from the End Fuel Poverty coalition, nearly 3 million people are expected to be unable to afford to heat their homes this winter. The number rose dramatically after energy regulator Ofgem raised the energy price cap by £139 this month – a measure that comes into effect on October 1.
Kevin Wellman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers, said plumbers had already been forced to delay work and manufacturers found it difficult to keep up with increased demand.
“It has a direct impact on consumers,” he said. “My fear is that as we approach the winter months, there will be even more of a problem for the vulnerable if their appliances fail, if their boilers fail and there is a delay in getting a replacement boiler or parts.”
The problems are exacerbated by a long-term lack of skilled plumbers and heating technicians and by the high demand for work during the pandemic. Large numbers of people have used money they saved on things like vacations, clothing, and commuting to make home improvements.
A stamp duty holiday and a “race for space” have boosted the property market, further increasing the demand for skilled traders.
Mr. Wellman also warned plumbers to be careful where they buy parts and not to turn to suppliers that may be substandard.
“What can make matters worse is if non-compliant products are bought, not through reputable wholesalers, but maybe online. Unfortunately, there are still all kinds of dangers to come. People have to be very vigilant.”
He added: “Conscientious plumbers work as many hours as they can to help
“Our advice is to know a good, competent plumber because when it comes to an emergency, if you’ve never been in contact with them, you may not be at the top of their priority list.
Charities and campaign groups targeting the elderly and those living in fuel poverty represent their concern about the warning.
“Any staff shortages affecting households’ ability to keep themselves warm is a dangerous addition to the already potent mix of issues facing people in fuel poverty,” said Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.
“Skilled workers will also be at the center of installing new, greener heating systems. Therefore, a solution to this skills crisis is urgently needed.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at AGE UK said: “Keeping warm is very important for the health of older people during the winter, so any suggestion that there could be a shortage of boiler spare parts, or trained technicians who can repair heating systems if they going wrong is cause for concern.
“Older people are more likely than others to have outdated heating systems which in turn are more prone to failure, so any supply issues will likely hit them especially hard.”
Anyone struggling to pay for a boiler repair or replacement should contact the council or energy supplier to see what support they can provide, Ms Abrahams said.
AGE UK has also published a guide: Save energy, pay lesswith practical tips to keep homes warm this winter.