She said: “I called earlier to cancel and there’s a queue for that for 45 minutes too. The cost is £500 a year and I found value until recently.
“But we’re old and you buy these contracts as insurance that when something goes wrong, they can fix it. Yet we’ve been in the cold for nearly a week.
Their hot water broke last Wednesday. Following two British Gas engineer visits to fix that, their radiators were left cold downstairs last Friday.
Mrs Phillips added: “We’ve been trying to get someone ever since. M husband has a serious heart complaint, he’s very immobile and he has a Blue Badge, so I thought they would pull their finger out for that. It’s not what you sign up for.”
The exodus came after Sir John Hayes, the former energy minister, said that customers’ contracts should be retroactively revised to specify waiting times for breakdown cover, with households compensated if it is not met.
‘HomeCare not an emergency service’
In an angry exchange with customers on Twitter, British Gas was criticized for claiming HomeCare “is not an emergency service and has never been marketed as such”.
Earlier this year, the Financial Conduct Authority contacted British Gas to help improve its customer service after it was forced to apologise to hundreds of thousands of customers over its failures to fix and service boilers.
A spokesman for the energy giant said: “Demand is always high in the winter and we have 350 more engineers since last year to respond to calls.
“It has, of course, been extremely busy with the cold snap. Our engineers are working around the clock to help and we are of course prioritizing vulnerable customers and emergencies.
“So far in December, we’ve sent an engineer to 99.4 per cent of vulnerable customers who have reported an emergency breakdown either on the same day or next day.”
Case study: ‘My father, 92, has dementia – and lives in -6C cold’
A 92-year-old couple from Edinburgh are set to cancel their HomeCare plans after being left for a week without heating or hot water during last week’s big freeze.
Jim and Ruth McCall, both loyal British Gas customers for 36 years, saw their boiler fail on Dec. 13 and their house temperature was just above freezing.
Jenny Liddell, their daughter, told The Telegraph how she called British Gas and told them their age, but the earliest appointment they were given was Dec 16 – three days later.
She said: “The webpage and my parents’ contract says it is a 24/7 helpline. My father has dementia and can hardly walk. The house is quite a big old house and it is freezing. They’ve had no hot water. They can’t wash.
It’s just been awful. My mother is basically my father’s full-time carer, but she’s so cold that she cannot think. It was -6C overnight.
“I am very much worried about their health. It’s definitely a risk. The rooms are barely above freezing, literally. On the thermometer, they’re about 6C. You can’t live in that.”
‘Greedy bosses are over-committing and under-resourcing’
Ms Liddell explained that a British Gas engineer was originally scheduled to arrive between 12pm and 6pm on Dec 16, but turned up at 9pm without the correct part. Engineers made two further visits on Dec. 18, but came without the correct parts. The issue was finally resolved on Monday.
“I have no quibble with the engineers,” she said. “It is greedy bosses who are over-committing and under-resourcing and leaving staff to cope and to face the angry and frustrated customers.
“What incensed me was I saw on Facebook they were advertising 50 per cent off for the first three months for boiler cover, but I didn’t like their tone on Twitter saying ‘the line is not an emergency service’ – I told them to stop digging.”
Ms Liddell added: “I’ll definitely write a letter of complaint and suggest compensation for our electricity bill for using electric heaters every week. What annoys me more is when they don’t apologise. They try and defend themselves. There is no defence.
We probably will cancel the HomeCare membership now. The problem is that you don’t want to upset the apple cart. But yes, looking ahead, we need to find someone we can rely on. We’ve absolutely lost faith in British Gas.”