Monday, April 09, 2007

Help - British Gas Are Bankrupting Me

What you don't really want to find after enduring the Return Train Journey from Hell (actually, Truro*) on Bank Holiday Monday is a threatening letter from British Gas demanding immediate payment of £750.74 or suffer immediate disconnection from the mains supply.

I wasn't particularly surprised to find this letter waiting for me, as my friends at British Gas had already sent me TWO letters last Thursday, one demanding immediate payment of £740.74, and the other demanding immediate payment of £461.47. Failure to pay these, would, they informed me, result in them coming round to disconnect my supply. They might also BRING THE POLICE WITH THEM, they hadn't decided yet.

(I did try ringing them at 7.28pm on Thursday when I finished work, but at 8.00pm I was still on hold, and their offices closed. Hm.)

Still, this might be an improvement (it's hard to tell) on my last monthly bill, for £1,013.64, which I received while away in France, after a month when my (one-bedroom) flat had been empty and the central heating off.

On one of the rare occasions I've managed to get through to British Gas, as well as reluctantly handing over £200.00 in an attempt to keep them off my back (a strategy that appears to have backfired), I enquired as to how I might have racked up a bill of £1,013.64 during a time when no one had even been in my flat. They were unable to tell me, as I'd apparently been 'moved to the new system', but they could tell me that I had to pay up sharpish.

I can't even begin to understand what they're up to, but they seem intent on bankrupting me.

Still, I'm not the only one - apparently they sent Andrew Rawnsley from the Observer a bill for £2,000. Perhaps he and I are jointly funding their price cuts.

I don't have a spare £1,000, and even if I did, I wouldn't really want to give it to British Gas. Anyone any suggestions?


* Really, don't ever try travelling to Cornwall on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend, just stay at home; it's safer**.

** Although I did have a lovely time, and the simnel cake was plentiful, and I got to meet up with OPC and the lovely Miss-Cellany, and my best friend from primary school who keeps randomly appearing (in a good way), and her 'birthing partner' (whatever that means, I don't like to think too closely), and there were relaxing walks along the beach in the sunshine and nice meals and good company and French films and stuff, so I'm not actually complaining at all.

22 comments:

Sylvia said...

good grief - even keeping the des res tropical doesn't leave us with such a high bill! How are they getting in to read your meter!

Ans don't mention Andrew Rawnsley to me - letting his mobile go off during the headmistress's speech at last summer's prizegiving at our daughters' seat of learning really put her off her stride.......

Spinsterella said...

Blimey.

I'm starting to see the good side of living in a rented room with all-bills-inc.

But I therefore have no advice, sorry. Good luck!

Tim Footman said...

One thing I do now, when dealing with any big, sprawling utility, bank or similar, is to ask each and every person I meet or speak to whether s/he is a paid employee of the organisation. Very often they huff and puff before they admit that they're subcontracted, agency, temps, whatever. I then ask them (very nicely and gently, because it's not their fault) exactly how they can be speaking with any authority on behalf of an organisation that doesn't actually employ them. It's one way of getting shifted up the food chain to the people who might actually be able to help (although their job description is rarely 'customer-facing').

Since most power companies subcontract their meter reading, they think they can avoid responsibility for the mistakes. God, capitalism's wunnerful.

One day my therapist will permit me to tell the story of my battle with Telewest, which ended in my getting a grovelling letter from the CFO. But it was only a decade ago, so the wounds are still too raw.

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

If you can be bothered with engaging yet another layer of bureaucracy, there's always energywatch. If it's anything like "that place what I used to work for" they might not have an awful lot of power (ironically enough, in this case), but when there's been a pretty clear-cut mistake and you're just getting nowhere they should actually be able to help. At least, that's who I kept sending customers to when I temped for a gas and electricity supplier.

chuffy! said...

Did someone mention Telewest? Ahhhhhhh....

My own immense battle with the bastard hellounds did end up with reasonable and satisfactory correspondence with the Chief Executive, although this was very much a reaching-the-mountaintop experience following the longest slog imaginable, on which I think the Grand Theft Auto series was based.

In short, go as high as you can as soon as you can. Dealings with utility companies are proto-paramilitary campaigns...you have to imagine how you would bring the downfall of, say, a corrupt Central American dictatorship and just apply the lessons accross.

Getting your gas bill corrected may prove more difficult than removing Noriega, but at least you have the alternative of contacting 'Moneybox' or 'You and Yours' and turning a corner into middle-age that can never be retaken.

patroclus said...

Thanks all - I've just been doing battle with British Gas again, and despite my resolve to have at them in the manner of Sylvester Stallone single-handedly repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in the end I resorted to the age-old trick of 'crying like a girl'.

Apparently the problem was that they 'hadn't sent me enough bills' over the past 15 months, and they want to make up for it now. The nice lady assured me that this is quite standard practice. 'Did you not ring up to complain you weren't getting enough bills?' she asked at one point. Um, no I didn't. Funny that.

Come to think of it, my monthly electricity bill is strangely affordable. Maybe I should ring EDF to complain, just in case they decide to demand £2,897.00 with menaces in a few months' time.

chuffy!, I remember your travails with Telewest very well. It reminds me of my legendary battle with France Télécom. At one point I was so exhausted with it I actually moved back to the UK to avoid them.

Anyway, now all I have to do is pay £128 a month for the next million years (a year), and everything will be OK again.

The bastards.

miss-cellany said...

Was lovely to meet you down here, can imagine only too well the trip back. The one train track in/out of Cornwall* runs close second to dealing with utility switchboards.

Having over just been sent a £450 bill for a house I no longer live in and recieving similiar threats, we've decided to burn candles and cook on a little camping gas stove... Might work, until roast potatoes are needed.

[*did they mention 'sheep on the line'?]

minxy said...

Thank God for your post! I opened a Gas bill that's been knocking around since January, and now realise that I - one person in a one bed flat - am using £25 of gas a week. How can that be?

Valerie said...

Crap in a pocket. Even £128/month sounds like a fortune to me. Admittedly we have solar power for electricity, but our gas bill is more like $40/month. So this sounds abominable to me.

Even more abominable, I had to look up "simnel cake" (now I want one!) AND the spelling of 'abominable', which I always get wrong.

llewtrah said...

Ofgas time? When I had a problem with Powergen billing, I wrote to the managing director of Powergen and to the MD of Eon (their parent company) attaching photocopies of the Eon letter to Powergen and vice versa and of my draft letter to the Office of Fair Trading which would be sent if they didn't resolve the matter. Within 3 dasy I had a call from the office of one of the MDs (or some poor pleb who got saddled with the task) and it all got sorted out.

I recommend the "take it straight to the top" approach. The plebs lower down are simply following their flow charts and scripts.

And also find out whether their readings are estimates or meter readings. If possible, read your own meter and compare it to the reading on the bill and if your reading is way lower, request in writing (copying it to the OFT as necessary) that someone comes round and verifies your reading.

llewtrah said...

I have a 3 bed semi and my gas bill is under £100 a quarter. Mind you, I subscribe to the "put another jumper on" appraoch rather than turning up the heating.

sara said...

maybe you should ask Chris Evans like I did during the council tax epoch. He didn't pay/help. It felt sort of proactive though. In fact it didn't really at all. Ignore this completely.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Not very helpful advice, but fwiw: as others have said, go straight to the top (or as high as you can), make a big fuss (I think it's *appalling* that they can claim all this cash now because they screwed up, and anyway, have you checked their figures?) - and cc somebody in The Meedja. It doesn't actually matter who, in my experience, the important thing is to look as though you're making a noise. I discovered this quite by accident but it's come in v useful. I'm sure you know lots of people with a suitably Meedja email addy, but if you need mine I'll happily provide it, just say the word.

Sean McManus said...

Everyone who has ever used British Gas has a horror story about them. When I moved into my flat some years back, I wrote to them to tell them I wouldn't be using gas and they should just cut it off. Instead of doing that, they kept billing me for zero units used, plus a standing charge. Clever bastards, aren't they? They even used my name on the bills, taken from the letter that said 'This is my name. Disconnect me immediately'.

Eventually, they made an appointment to collect the meter, but failed to keep it. They got a bit arsey when I refused to make another appointment. I said: "It's outside. I don't have any contract with you. You can take it, or leave it, I don't care." Despite previously offering appointments weeks in the future at inconvenient times and insisting I had to be there for the decommissioning ceremony, they managed to make it disappear overnight. Just like that [clicks fingers].

Hope you manage to tame them, P.

Fussy Bitch said...

I parsed that last sentence of Sean's as 'dicks fingers' which pretty much sums up my opinion of British Gas.

Go to Uswitch.com or somesuch, find a better deal then offer British Crass a fiver a month for eternity.

Alex Bellinger said...

Blogger lost my last comment ... the gist of it was I'm having and have had similar problems with British Gas.

My advice would be to phone the number on your bill. The people in the call centre will treat you like scum, but a record of your complaint will be made on the system.

Then follow up with the Southampton customer complaints/service unit by phoning: 0845 6070 870 or first line support at 0845 606 0501.

After hours of phone calls I managed to get through to a manager in Southampton who simply halved at a bill that was three times more expensive than any I have ever received before. Maybe I just got lucky.

I would thoroughly recommend writing a letter copying in MDs, CEOs and watchdogs too. I used to work in corporate communications for the banks and it's a method that does work and raise your case out of the morass of call centre sub-contractors day-to-day misery.

minxy said...

Bloody hell, Llewtrah! I'm buying thermal vests. On reflection, I think I have been a little too keen on keeping the central heating on for far, far too long.

Heather said...

That bill still sounds like a hell of a lot Patroclus. My other half works for British Gas and so every quibble or complaint any friends/family/vague aquaintances may have seems to get relayed back to us for advice.

My number one reccomendation is to call Energy Watch and tell them your situation.

Then...

Call back British Gas and tell them you've called Energy Watch.

Whenever they hear that they tend to panic and get their arses into gear. It's also the best way to get results quickly as it will take Energy Watch a week or two to get around to dealing with your case.

It does work- My brother just got a £700 refund after being massively overcharged for a year.

As for changing suppliers - they really are all as bad as each other.

Anonymous said...

This is not really helpfull but if you want to a little satiafaction and a warm fuzzy feeling Google British Gas and click once on each of the British Gas sponsored links. It costs them every time someone clicks the link. The only downside is that you can`t spend all day clicking the links because they stop being counted if there are to many hits. I`ve been doing this every few hours since finding out about this

D Howes said...

Heather is right in saying contact Energy Watch, they have a phone number that doesn`t involve anything up to 2 hours on hold being told how wonderful Britsh Gas are and how to save money. They forget the most obvious way to save money, hang up the phone. As soon as they get a call from Energy Watch they do pull their head from up their arse and try to sort out the problem that was caused by them in the first place. It might take a couple of calls to Energy Watch but something does actually happen if you involve them. Sort of worked for me, after 7 months of trying to get money back from BG I have got a cheque. Just got to find out how to cash it with no bank account and no passport or driving license to cash it in person at the bank. Even though I contacted them in December 06 telling them to make any cheque payable to my daughter. Maybe I`ll have to call Energy Watch again after I`ve given them the customery week to totally ignore my email asking how to cash the crossed cheque they sent me. A bunch of chimps could do better than British Gas`s so called customer services.

Anonymous said...

You want to try getting money back off them, it takes forever. Yet if you don`t one of their bills within 14 days they start to threaten you with court action, as you know.

Anonymous said...

I have suffered from British Gas 's random billing service, again a rarely occupied 1bed flat - having no dependants, and a unwilliness to be bullied it has been 20 months (august 06) since i last paid BGas, due to increasingly high estimated bills, "unexplained" customer readings, and taking 2 days off work to be left waiting by BGas. It is 18 months since i advised BGas by letter and phone I had left their custom due to them not being able to produce a valid bill and failure to compensate me for my costs.
Since this time a running total of 13hrs 22 min of phonecalls, 34 of both named and 'to occupier' bills of amounts ranging from £64 to £1,324 in non accumulative order. £90 of 'telemessages' saying call us on 0845.. 7 refusels by Bgas to pass my account to other suppliers, 1 standoff with baseball bat when Bgas attempted to fit prepay meter without getting warrant, 2 court cases in the wrong county (thus i had BGas application for warrant thrown out twice). I still have not paid a penny after 20 months and am still supplied (what i assume to be free gas) by BGas.
In the event of Bgas managing to take me to the correct court, and producing a valid bill (going back past their IT system change) I will be advising them as they do not own the meter (it is owned by transco/nat grid) they don't have right to fit a prepay meter. If they did own it this would contradict monopoly and freetrade laws, they can pursue me for monies owed - of course i will plead poverty (the power supplier guidelines state that a customer should have at least equal time to pay off debt as was taken to incur that debt; 22 months and counting)£5 a month should do it, and of course they will need to keep chasing me for it ! especially if i move home. I can't see Bgas getting their ransom this decade.

I have registered my complaint and sought the help of energywatch, citizens advice and others, but to little avail - Energywatch is to be closed in April as they are "toothless tigers" -their words.
I understand my actions may seem extreme and a bit ungentlemanly, but they are effective; if all customers refused to pay and attended court to object their case, magistrates would soon get sick of dealing with BGas, after a few months of growing non payment BGas shareholders would revolt and demand real change; for if they didn't they would die as a business, and no one would be sorry.
any suggestions on how to obstruct British Gas ?
Bgas staff you catch the brunt of the abuse, but not the profits, you can leak sensitive info via youtube wikileak etc.
if they treat you like dirt treat them like dirt
john t