Warm Front can be cold comfort

I have a current surgery case which worries me a lot. A pensioner told me how she needed a gas boiler repair. British Gas came in September and told her the boiler needed replacing, and stopped her from using the old one any more.
She applied to Warm Front for a grant to help with the replacement cost, as she is on a low income. There was no favourable response for many weeks. Desperate to keep warm, she decided to invite British Gas back. They replaced her boiler and helped her arrange a loan at 26% APR to pay for it.
Subsequently she says Warm Front offered her another contractor to replace the boiler with additional work for a higher sum than Britsh Gas had charged for replacing the boiler, along with a grant for some of the cost. The grant I believe would have covered the BG price for boiler replacement.
I mention this before I have responses from the others involved to hear their side of the story because I learn that there have been a number of problems with Warm Front. I am not releasing name and address as I prefer to sort these problems out without publicity, and do not usually recommend putting my constituents through the media mill. Nor can I give a full view on this case until I know what the others say.
However, I do feel this lady has been very badly served.The elderly on low incomes are in especial need of help to keep themselves warm during the winter. This is I thought one of the main aims of the scheme. Boilers do not last for ever, and modern boilers should be a lot more fuel efficient than older ones. Why can’t they process applications more quickly? Do they go to the right contractors in each location to get the best prices for the work? How do they decide how much work needs doing? Do they not see that people entitled to grants need them in time to keep warm?
I can understand that there is room for professional disagreement about how much work is required, but what kind of check is there on the specification? And in an age of semi nationalised banks, are high rates of interest the best we can do for people who need to borrow modest sums for the basics?
I am interested in other people’s experiences of safety work requirements, and borrowing costs in cases like this, as well as in Warm Front’s efficiency.

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24 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    http://www.ilmhighland.co.uk/Insulation.html

    they came to survey the property 18dec

    subsequently 0 happened

    i ask them what the position is; they do not respond

    you would think it should be simple

    alas it is not

    it beggers belief that the public are perpetually misled by ‘weatherise’ projects pontificating from ministers

    the reality is that insulation does not happen

    pathetic

    and not unusual

    so irritating

  2. Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    there is no corgi registered plumber on skye

    the nearest will be inverness 100-200 miles away

    they dont come

    most people do not get their boilers serviced or replaced; simply because the harsh reality is, they cant

    this may be hard to believe

    so, where are we?

    Margaret Thatcher once said, stay cold and hungry; and indeed there is something to that

    its tough up north, and in many other places

    anyhow

  3. Quentin
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Problems with Warm Front have been highlighted on such BBC programs as regional TV ,You and Yours and Watchdog I believe.
    Personally, we applied for a Warm Front Grant early last year. After a visit by them, we were told we qualified for a grant of £4000. We required a new boiler, cavity wall insulation and a loft insulation top-up. It does take weeks for Warm Front to respond after their initial contact.
    Bearing in mind that we live near Lands End in Cornwall, a surveyor came from Devon to estimate the cost of the replacement oil boiler. We heard nothing about the cv or loft insulation. We then received a quote for the replacement boiler which not only consumed the whole grant but meant we had to contribute several thousands of pounds towards it.
    Our contribution, alone, for the supply and installation of the boiler was more than the local plumber quoted us to do the same work.
    Although their quote (Warm Front contractor) is valid for a year, I don’t think we will be taking advantage of it somehow.
    We decided instead to have the insulation work done.
    Although we had to keep contacting them, we eventually had the cavity wall insulation work carried out, which to their credit was done quickly and efficiently. However we are still chasing them to do the loft insulation.
    In fairness, Warm Front do warn that no matter what you circumstances are it does take weeks and months to get the work done. We are fortunate in that we have an open fireplace as backup and you can’t beat a log fire on a cold night listening to the radio.
    Given the current financial situation it would surely be better if Warmfront could contract more businesses to carry out the work.

  4. Stewart Knight
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    It would be as important to ascertain why BG told her the boiler needed replacing also John. I am currently in a heated argument with BG over the same issue because they could not/would not repair my boiler and have said it needed replacing, that was after saying it needed flushing at a cost of £700. They took a water sample as this must be the problem, but the report, from a third party, came back saying otherwise, but still they say I needed either a boiler replacement or flush. The engineers were incompetent and if the computer said no, then no it was. I have had quotes of a quarter of the price of BG replacement.

    BG have most people over a barrel as people think they are experts and must be believed; they are not and should not.

    I pay £23 a month for this so called BG insurance and have been badly served through the winter months. You pensioner would be the same and it would be worth you investigating this further and not just because of the rates they arranged for her, but the replacement and circumstances surrounding it too. You may be surprised as in my recent experience they are target and cost driven alone.

  5. David b
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    26% is usury!

  6. Adrian Peirson
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    This lady is in this position basically because over the Years, Govt has Stolen her earnings, and those of her family and Given it to highly paid, highly pensioned Civil Service Middlemen.

    Middlemen ALWAYS cost more in the long run, Especially high salaried and pensioned Govt Middlemen, we should get rid of them.

    Over all we would all be better off without being mugged by high salaried, big pensioned civil servants, IE Small Govt.

  7. michael, islington
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I tried to use Warm Front on behalf of my mother about five years ago.

    After filling out a form, and qualifying for a central heating system, there was no subsequent contact in spite of one or two inquiries by myself to the contractor, something called Erga.

    My mother died three years ago.

    I seem to remember reading something since that Erga was under some criticism for the time it was taking to execute the programme and, I believe, the lack of competition for that provision. Erga had the monopoly rights.

    Your post has prompted the thought that the delays in execution were a policy decision. The government would like to portray itself as doing good things but is getting more PR bung per buck, if spending any buck at all, by purposely ensuring delay.

    The obvious – parliamentary – questions then are about how much has been spent so far and how many people have been helped.

  8. Mike Spilligan
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I know nothing about BG / Warm Front, but I do know about boiler replacement and central heating repairs in a wider context.
    My old gas boiler (installed during a previous ownership) was not in good trim and obviously needed servicing. I couldn’t get anyone to service it as local firms used various excuses; one saying that he couldn’t touch it without my producing the original installation / servicing handbook. There were other excuses given and it became obvious that they wanted to install a new boiler. When I contacted three firms, in writing, for an estimate, only one replied. It became quite obvious that there is some kind of “price ring” operating. The CORGI head office was of no help and their reply as the whether this could happen was obfuscating.
    Eventually, I gave up and agreed with one firm after getting positive comments from a neighbour who had used them. It was amazing how £1,200 value (trade prices) of materials turned into £3,000 for two days’ work for two men. Of course, that included 17.5% VAT – unreasonably in view of pressure to reduce “carbon footprints”.
    What is more annoying is that the new – condensing – boiler may be more efficient, but its design life is only about 8 years compared with about 25 years for the old type – so I have had to start saving already for the next change.
    Fortunately I’m not “hard up” – though I have to watch outgoings carefully, but overall it seems that CORGI controls an informal monopoly on this, proving again that a good rule is a bad law.
    The costs for the annual CORGI re-registration are high and must be a part of the equation – but I’m told that their training courses include tips on how to push up the prices “as customers can get cheap loans”.

  9. Chris Rose
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I am very suspicious of the behaviour of British Gas in this case. It is all too easy for them to declare the boiler dangerous and walk away without having to provide any evidence and without having to do anything to help the customer. It is much better business for BG to fit a new boiler than to repair an existing one.

    Why cannot BG make arrangements for the grant from Warm Front, if one is available?

    Why does the boiler have to be shut down immediately? Can it not limp on for a week or two until a replacement can be installed?

    Of course gas is dangerous and gas explosions can have appalling consequences, but is British Gas taking advantage of that fact to force people to buy new boilers unnecessarily?

    I would suggest that, if BG decides that a boiler must be shut down immediately, it should be responsible for providing a replacement within 48 hours. Payment could be sorted out afterwards. It would then be up to BG to apply for a grant on behalf of the customer. Only after, say, 6 weeks would BG be permitted to demand payment and only after, say, 3 months would it be permitted to turn off the supply if payment were not forthcoming.

    Of course, BG would scream with horror at such a suggestion, but it is not a normal company operating in a competitive market: it is a regulated company operating in a regulated market and can be expected to have to provide a statutory service.

    Were such an obligation to be placed on BG, I have no doubt that we would find that boilers could be made to last a little bit longer – perhaps even to the point where they could be replaced during the summer.

  10. Clive
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    We applied for a Warm Front grant early last year for a Boiler replacement which we were entitled to as my partner is disabled. I was actually impressed by the ‘salesman’ as he seemed to know what he was taliking about. We had to pay part of the cost ourselves as the grant didn’t cover it. We agreed all the details with the salesman including replacing our existing unit with a Vaillant model. When they turned up 6 months later to do the work, the boiler they came with was one made by Ideal. We queried this but were told that that was all they could fit (not true as it turns out). We reluctantly aquiesced on this, but have since been told (unofficially) that the company that does the work gets a better ‘deal’ with Ideal and the boiler they fitted (Ideal) typically has half the life of the one we asked for (Vaillant). There were many other issues which displeased us which we pointed out to Warm Front when they did the later assessment. To date (4 months later) we have heard nothing. One really infuriating thing that stood out though was that we originally asked for the work to be done by an approved Contractor that I knew and trusted. He was based 15 miles away just outside Bristol and we live in Gloucester and were told we could only have the work done by a ‘local’ contractor. As it turned out the contractor appointed by Warm Front came from Northampton (about 120 miles away I believe) When we queried how this was more local than Bristol we were told that the contractor used the address of a Holiday cottage he owned 12 miles away in the Forest of Dean !!

  11. Bazman
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    After a lot of phone calls and hassle Warm Front did come up with the goods in my parents case. Problems with the contractors though. It would of been easier if the money had been given as a grant. British Gas are in the business of selling insurance and boilers. Not repairs. The same company quoted £6000 for the installation of a complete central heating system in my house. Cost £2500 by a local heating engineer, with no doubt a higher standard of work. BG agreed with my amateur opinion of where the boiler should site. A lot of vulnerable people take advantage of the fact you can have your overpriced services added to the gas bill in the form of instalments. 26% APR? Do they fix roofs for pensioners and tarmac drives too?

  12. Lola
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    May I broaden this out? What these types of people lack is someone younger to help the negotiation and to provide a second ear for decisions. An ‘intermediary’ for want of a better description. Someone local and trustworthy on whom they can lean for help and advice. This is NOT someone from local or central government. A state employee. A state employee does it for the wages. They are professional altruists. They always end up being part of the producer capture culture. This is often provided for the better off by a lawyer or a financial adviser or accountant. But the less well off cannot access this. The solution is more localism. More neighbourliness. All of which voluntary help is crowded out by the wages seeking ‘professional’ altruist. Get the State out of these areas and local people will sort this out.

    • Posted February 1, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      And, am I allowed to insert the word “Church” here?

      • Lola
        Posted February 1, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        Of course you can. In my village the people that attend and run the parish church are the same people who see that the less well off, the sick and the unlucky are not neglected. One of my neighbours children is dying, we all do what we can to offer support, the State is nowhere in sight. In fact its response over Christmas when the lad fell ill was absolutely useless and no ‘support’ was offered. What it actually offered was paid killers! BTW, I am not a churchgoer. I am just neighbourly.

  13. Posted January 31, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Warm Front? What’s that?
    When we got back from Spain five years ago, we made a decision: we would invest a large chunk of our savings in making sure we are warm enough and that we can actually enjoy taking baths.
    So we went for the safest option: British Gas.
    We got a lovely salesman who came round and admitted to playing football tycoon. We were really pleased.
    Then along came the subby and told us that most of our radiators needed replacing and that he would make us a special offer.
    All our floorboards were ripped up and not replaced properly. Six months later, we managed to get the Regional Manager (or someone at that level) to come in and replace them.
    When a cowboy builder (not British Gas) laid the pipes so that they flowed uphill and spilled dirty water all over the floor, unfortunately British Gas Insurance did not work.
    Now, in spite of our paying all our bills, we find that our boiler cannot be serviced until May when some one was due to come in December.
    We have, however, had our house insulated throughout and it is lovely and warm.
    We spent our Old Folks’ Heating Allowance on a new gas boiler (with canister) which we use when it gets really cold for a couple of hours and we use rugs for sitting in the lounge.

    I remember my mother staggering round the house with coal bunkers full of coal! Can you remember lying in the tepid bath waiting for it to warm up?
    Warm Front indeed! Lovely and warm, no doubt for the bureaucrats who run it! Do it yourself!

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted February 1, 2009 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      We are being Farmed, The Globalists are consolidating their Position and Control and society is being engineered so that wealth Flows Upwards and that is the ONLY consideration.
      There ought to be one overiding consideration, is it in the Interests of Society as a whole.

      Our Legal system could be simplified on a principle of nicety, In your case, spilling water on your floor was not very nice.

      Replacement work that was not necessary, so stealing your wealth, again not a very nice thing to do etc etc etc.

      Think how much simpler our legal system would be.

      Could you pass the suggestion on to Jack Straw Mr Redwood, it will save him a lot of Legislation.

      • Posted February 1, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        You may have noticed that, from time to time on this very blog, I have been in favour of radical cutting back by this extravagant and arrogant government.
        In return, I expect that they will expect me to have a bit of nous.
        Just like wimmin’n’black’n’gay people, many of us feel really insulted when other people arrogantly assume that we OAPs are all semi-morons.
        Stereotyping?
        Condescension?
        Patronising?
        We are the ones who have already survived two national bankruptcies. We are, therefore, best prepared to survive the current one.

  14. Andrew Duffin
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    There was probably little or nothing wrong with the original boiler.

    (allegations about B Gas removed as they were not working for Warm front -ed)
    All these (practitioners-ed) need to be reined in quite severely, but unfortunately they are enabled and encouraged by the restrictive practice known as CORGI, so they can basically name their price.

    Once again we see the unintended (but widely expected) consequences of well-meaning regulation which has been hi-jacked by producer interests.

    My advice – convert to oil. You don’t get so many house explosions either.

  15. Jason
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Just to balance things up on this one, my parents, also pensioners applied for a warm front grant and were approved…it took some time to find an appropriate contractor – my parents said that many came who insisted on doing additional unnecessary work and charging extra for it. In the end the boiler was changed and it is all working fantastic. My parents were very pleased. Though if they would have gone with some of the other contractors – who knows? Could have been practical and financial nightmare as so many of the stories that have been told. I think it is an issue of quality and standards of work. Look how many cowboy builders and trades people operate – who effectively take advantage of the weakest in society – particularly elderly people – that is disgusting. Almost everyone i know has had problems with some tradesperson or another. Good ones – and of course there are many – are busy most of the time it seems. During the boom – when the labour market was tight – this sucked in a lot of tradespeople and contractors who were attracted by good pay rates and a captive market. Now that the boom has turned to bust – quality should return. However, for a government sponsored scheme – there should be tougher standards sets and some ethical boundaries respected. With a stringent complaints procedure that has teeth….ie if a certain number of complaints are made about a contractor – he will be barred from conducting work on the scheme. That should be an incentive to work to proper standards. However, there are also possible solutions. In an online commercial community such as Ebay, customer feedback of their experiences when using a particular vendor – generally dictate the success of that vendor. Vendors who provide bad service – get bad reviews, and hence less people order from them. In a similar fashion it might be an idea for some organisation like trading standards to set up a sort of voluntary website which allows contractors to sell their services and also for customers to offer their opinions on work done etc. Buyers of services would be attracted for reasons of information and sellers would be attracted by the opportunities for business. Trading standards could easily monitor bad contractors and take appropriate actions – issue warnings if the investigations proved to be correct etc.

    Of course, many (particularly elderly or infirm) people dont have access to internet etc…but if they knew about such a service they might ask a friend or relative if they could check it.

    This type of thing would not cost a great deal to set up and could be particularly useful in raising quality standards in all professional service areas. The right combination of market forces, user generated content and regulatory bite. This is the sort of balance we need – not the chaotic free-for-all smash and grab looting, coupled with ill thought out expensive, underresourced and ineffectual regulation that is so often the result of govt interventions. But then again, it doesnt create unnecessary jobs, vast layers of bureaucracy, inefficiency, even greater control by govt or massive costs to taxpayers…so unlikely to be the sort of thing to expect from this labour govt.

  16. joe
    Posted February 6, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I have recently had a problem with my gas boiler. I obtained prices to have the boiler replaced,on average 1000 pounds.I was advised to contact the warmfront project to see if I was eligible for a grant. The assesser came and advised me that me being on disability living allowance I was entitled to the grant.I wanted cavity wall insulation but he said my house was not compatable to the insulation they use but advised me that it could be done with certain materials[poly-beads] but that was up to me to find and pay the installer.About 2-3 weeks later another surveyor came to my boiler and advised that a new boiler was required and said they would fix an ideal isar boiler.
    A couple of weeks later I was told that they were coming to exchange the boiler,but me having been a heating engineer myself before becoming unwell had taken advise from other gas engineers who had told me that this boiler was not the most reliable.I advised the lady onthe phone that I would prefer the other boiler[they only do two],she said that would cost 80 pounds more and could mean me having to pay any excess.Now this got me thinking how could a boiler exchange that I was quoted by local corgi engineers at 1000 pounds had now become in excess of 2700 pounds .I contacted the energy advice centre who told me that this was normal practice and that many other people had the same complaint. I wastold that the warmfront contract had been totally misused by its contractors. I wasadvised to contact my MP [TERRY ROONEY] which I did but never got an answer . I received a note saying they would get in touch if anything was forthcoming?
    If the grant was paid to the householder on proof of work done I personally could of had my old and draughty windows replaced for the 2700 pounds grant and also a new condensing boiler.
    makes sense- boiler +d/glazed windows=2700 +lessC02

  17. Roger
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    My 85 year old father has had an absolute nightmare with Warmfront and based on his experience I would recommend avoiding this scheme like the plague!
    Back in early December, following their work some weeks earlier, I sent an email (subsequently sent by letter too) titled AGED 85 – NO HEAT, but as yet have received no response other than a standard “we’ll get back to you” letter. Another letter sent by my father in January and asking for an immediate response remains unanswered. It has taken hours on the phone trying to speak to the right person at Warmfront and though he now has heat once again (only after they sent two or three wrong people out… ) he awaits a full explanation and reply.
    I would also advise people that their overall care and workmanship can leave much to be desired, with broken tiles, damaged floorboards, etc.
    Although cost/grant wasn’t an issue here, he now very much regrets his decision to use Warmfront.

  18. Posted March 23, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Does it not seem odd that EAGA of Newcastle upon Tyne have been awarded the contract by the government and yet one of the main contractors, at least for the Essex area, are Iguana.
    Iguana’s registered business address is EAGA House, in Newcastle!
    It seems that the contracts for the installation have been awarded to their own sub-contractors.(Did others bid? ed – Why do you think this odd?)
    Incidently I must declare an interest here. We are contractors for the £300 Warm Front voucher scheme but have been unable to get onto the full contract scheme.
    (words left out)
    Reply: I suggest you take this matter up through your own MP or directly if you think something is wrong with the handling of this matter. You need to have some evidence to back up any allegation.

  19. Andrew Tully
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    My parents used the Warm Front scheme in November 2004, they had an old boiler replaced with an Ideal Isar, a thermostat fitted, one radiator moved in the kitchen, and pipe work to the other radiators in the house.

    After around a year the they had problems, the boiler would randomly turn on the hot water when taps were not running (thus using gas when it wasn’t needed), and one kitchen wall suddenly became very damp. Eventually the problem was found, under the kitchen floor, one of the hot water pipes had a junction that used to lead to the radiator that had been moved, instead of capping the junction properly, the warm front contractor had simply flattened the end of the pipe and bent it over, this adhoc seal had failed, and had being spraying hot water under the floorboards and up the kitchen wall for approximately 6 months. Due to this an industrial dehumidifier had to be hired to dry out the kitchen floor and the wall needed re-plastering and decorating, this was done through the house insurance, though only after paying the excess.

    Earlier this year the boiler broke down and needed a replacement gas valve, a repair that cost £175, the heating engineer who did the work said it was a shame that the warm front scheme had turned out as it had, because in his opinion the Ideal Isar was so unreliable as to be almost unfit for purpose and had some of the more expensive parts in the market. He stated that his company would no longer install the Isar boilers for clients as they had so many of them fail.

    This evening, the boiler had broken down again, and is at this minute completely dead, thus requiring the engineer out again for the second time this year. I may add that there are signs of limescale and corrosion around the bottom of the boiler tank, which is not an encouraging sign in a boiler that is not yet 6 years old.

    I can’t help feel that the Warm Front Scheme has been used line someones pockets, and that penny pinching on the boilers themselves has resulted in sub standard, unreliable equipment being installed in the homes of the elderly.

    What should have been a great scheme that provided those that need it the most with reliable, efficient central heating and hot water, has for my family at least left a rather bitter taste in the mouth.

  20. Hamish Dibley
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Warm Front forms part of a government drive to tackle (or in reality plaster over) fuel poverty. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act of 2000 placed a requirement on government to ensure (as reasonably as it could) that people do not live in fuel poverty. The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy of November 2001 set targets to eradicate fuel poverty across England by 2016. The Warm Front scheme is a key programme of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to tackle fuel poverty by improving energy efficiency in private homes.

    DECC relies (being the operative word) on a private contractor, Newcastle-based Eaga to administer and manage 139 contractors including 7 wholly-owned subsidies responsible for heating and installation measures. Around 25 per cent of customers have had to contribute to the costs of the work (average £600 contributions) and are not able to obtain other quotes! Over 20,000 applicants have either withdrawn or not progressed their applications. It is predicted 2012 will see a significant underspend (£30 million) caused due to applicants er… not applying for the work!! And remember the purpose of the scheme was to help vulnerable households.

    Meanwhile Eaga have made a fortune whilst claiming to have delivered £240 million worth of savings (if the experience of poor customer service is common and you factor in the failure demand (not doing something or something right for the customer) and resulting ‘rework’ (making up for botched jobs done the first, second, third… times round), this figure is absolute rubbish.

    There is also a Carbon Emissions Reductions Target (CERT) whereby utility companies pay Eaga to install installation measures on their behalf – claimed £45 million savings (again for the reasons above is this a pie-in-the-sky nonsense figure). In recent times the scheme has been scaled back. It is alleged that a sizeable number of complaints go unreported (after all it is not in the interests of sub-contractors to report complaints as they risk fines). Eaga claim to take 3 months or 64 working days to have heating systems installed and five weeks or 27 working days to have property insulated. Again for the failure and rework issues, take these numbers with a large pinch of salt (they are not even impressive even if they undertook quality work).

    All in all the Warm Front scheme is a classic example of how Whitehall wastes soooooo much money (it doesn’t matter what political party forms the government – most politicians are equally clueless about management and work) – write a strategy and come up with a whizzy scheme and don’t worry about the operations = how it gets delivered and by whom. Meanwhile, unscrupulous commercial carpetbaggers have a field-day – it would be funny if it didn’t occur so often.

    Rant over.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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