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Britons with oil-fuelled heating urged to check their tanks after 50% increase in leaks

Britons with oil-fuelled properties are being urged to check their tanks following a nearly 50 per cent increase in insurance claims for leaks.

Aviva has revealed a 48 per cent rise in UK oil leak claims between 2019 and 2020, partly caused by oil-fired heating system materials used in the 1960s and 70s reaching the end of their lifespans.

An estimated 1.53 million UK properties are powered by oil-fired heating systems – the majority being in rural areas where there is little or no access to mains gas.

Keep an eye on how much oil is being used: If your consumption suddenly increases it could be a sign of a leak

Northern Ireland accounted for around a third of incidents since 2017, according to Aviva, with other hotspots including East Anglia, Swansea, Scotland and Oxfordshire.

More than half of reported oil leaks were due to failures in pipework, whilst around a fifth of claims were caused by tank failures.

Boiler failures, accidental damage such as drilling through pipes, and storm damage were collectively responsible for a further 14 per cent of all claims.

On top of the disruption caused by such leaks, homeowners are likely to face a costly repair bill. 

According to Aviva, the average cost of repairing damage caused by oil leaks has almost doubled in just two years, from around £16,000 in 2018 to £30,000 in 2020.

This is because more issues occurred underground with concealed pipework bursting or leaking, requiring extensive clean-up operations.

There can also be a huge environmental impact.

When the oil seeps into the ground, it can pollute waterways, cause harm to wildlife and contaminate drinking water.

‘As well as being harmful to the environment, escapes of oil can be very disruptive and distressing for homeowners,’ said Dave Lovely, chief claims officer at Aviva.

‘Depending on the size of the leak, the clean-up process can take several weeks or even months, so it’s definitely a case of prevention being better than the cure.

‘We have seen a notable increase in claims for escapes of oil since 2019, so we’d encourage all people with oil-fired systems to carry out regular checks to ensure leaks and potential damage are kept to a minimum.’

What can residents of oil-fuelled properties do?

1) Check for leaking pipes

One of the main causes of ‘escape of oil’ insurance claims is underground pipework failure, which can’t be spotted by a visual inspection.

Regular pressure testing can help homeowners check pipes below the ground are in good working order and detect any potential problems before they fully materialise.

The fuel-supply pipework between the tank and the burner should be pressure tested every five years, according to the leading trade organisation for the heating industry in the UK, OFTEC.

Because this pipework is usually hidden or inaccessible, this is a specialist task that should always be carried out by a OFTEC-registered heating technician. 

Keeping an eye on how much oil is being used can also help you spot leaks early. If you notice a sudden increase in consumption, this could indicate a leak. 

By positioning your tank as far away from drains, ponds and waterways as possible you reduce the potential environmental impact were your tank to leak

By positioning your tank as far away from drains, ponds and waterways as possible you reduce the potential environmental impact were your tank to leak

2) Check the oil tank

Tanks should be visually checked by an OFTEC-registered heating technician as part of an annual appliance service visit.

OFTEC also recommends carrying out regular visual checks between the professional checks, particularly after periods of extreme weather which can put tanks under extra stress.

The maintenance checks should be carried out as part of an annual boiler service visit which usually costs around £60 – £150.

To avoid environmental damage it might be wise to consider installing a catchpit.

This is a secondary container either integral to the tank or built around it, which can provide an extra safeguard as it can help to contain any leakage or spillage of oil.

Catchpits are mandatory in some regions, whilst in other areas an OFTEC-registered technician will conduct a risk assessment to work out whether one is necessary. 

Typically, oil tanks installed near a river, well or any controlled water will need to have a catchpit.

3) Check your home insurance 

You need to ensure that your home insurance provides adequate cover in the event of an oil leak. 

If you are uninsured you risk facing the entire cost of clearing up a large oil leak, alone. 

What about LPG-fuelled homes? 

There are almost 200,000 homes fuelled by LPG, most of which are located in rural areas. 

LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gas – is a hydrocarbon gas that exists in a liquefied form. 

It is a colourless, low carbon and highly efficient fuel.

LPG tanks are owned and maintained by various LPG suppliers, and are often inspected each time a supplier delivers. 

Suppliers take responsibility for the service and maintenance of the equipment, which will typically include a series of tests over time.

‘Just like natural gas boilers, we encourage consumers to get their boiler serviced yearly by a gas safe registered engineer to ensure they are in the best condition,’ said a spokesperson for Liquid Gas UK.

‘Consumers should not tamper with tanks or pipes to look for leaks. 

‘If they suspect a gas leak, such as from the smell of gas or a carbon monoxide alarm alert, they should contact their gas supplier’s emergency contact number, turn off the gas at the mains tap and wait outside for an engineer to arrive.’ 

‘If they are feeling unwell, they should visit their GP or hospital immediately, explaining they could have been exposed to a gas leak or carbon monoxide poisoning.’  

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