Bill Carmichael: Plumbing the depths

THIS is a cautionary tale of what happens when you allow governments, bureaucrats and politicians to interfere with every tiny part of the lives of ordinary citizens.

Eighteen months ago, a mate of mine was having some building work done

and he thought it would be a good idea to replace his old central-heating boiler at the same time.

The plumber wasn't keen and explained that under government regulations

introduced by John Prescott in 2005, if he ripped out the perfectly serviceable old boiler he would have to replace it with a modern, eco-friendly, condensing version – a "hippy" boiler as he called it.

And why, in heaven's name, is the Government dictating what kind of boiler householders can install in their homes?

The answer – to fight global warming, of course, the catch-all excuse that politicians use to increase state control over people's lives.

The plumber explained that although the new boilers were expensive to buy and install and needed more maintenance, they were supposed to be cheaper to run, more effcient and will save the planet because of lower carbon emissions.

It must be true because the Government said so.

So my friend bit the bullet and shelled out a small fortune for a modern, "effcient" condensing boiler.

Things went well for a few months until the first cold snap of last winter when it promptly broke down. It was fxed and, three weeks later during another freeze, it broke down again.

Teething problems, thought my mate, and, sure enough, throughout the summer and autumn – when he didn't really need it – it worked perfectly.

Then, just as temperatures dipped sharply last month, it broke down again.

This time he had to wait until almost midnight for the exhausted and harassed plumber to finally turn up. He explained he'd been working non-stop fixing modern, "effcient", condensing boilers that he had recently fitted.

The plumber told him: "You see, as soon as it turns icy, they all break down. The problem with these modern boilers is that they are not really designed to work in cold weather."

If my mate was stunned at this comment, he was left in open-mouthed stupefaction at the plumber's suggested solution: "The only thing you can do is run it 24 hours a day – then it won't break down."

But wasn't the whole idea that it would be more effcient and cheaper to run and would use less fuel?

So for the best part of a month, my mate's new boiler has been blasting out heat night and day – whether he needs it or not. He can't switch it off because chances are it won't switch back on again. It could be Easter before he finally risks turning it off.

Last I heard, he was thinking of taking out a mortgage to pay his next gas bill.

I thought perhaps my friend had just been unlucky. Maybe he'd bought a faulty boiler or it hadn't been fitted properly. But a quick look at the internet shows this problem is so widespread as to be nothing short of a national scandal.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been conned into buying useless "hippy" boilers. This winter, in Yorkshire alone, British Gas has responded to tens of thousands of call-outs to broken down

condensing boilers.

The simple, astonishing fact – that any plumber will privately admit – is that these eco-friendly boilers just don't work in cold weather.

So what can we conclude from this sorry tale?

Politicians firmly believe they can run our lives better than we ever could ourselves. But time and again it has been proved that when governments run anything, the results are always the same – expensive, bureaucratic and utterly useless.