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HOT AIR FROM BRITISH GAS

08-02-2007

British gas has announced cuts in the price of gas an electricity - after seven rises in the past five years. The news bring some relief (but not much) to Lynn Hawthorne.

I'm having trouble with British Gas. I have both gas and electricity from them, but the last few electricity bills have seemed extortionately high. Now I know that prices have risen dramatically (even when you take today's cuts into account), but if you take into consideration the light-ish quarter we've just had, the bills still seem steep.

There are only two of us, we've got no central heating and the appliances we do have are as efficient as we can afford. We are concerned about global warming and try to our bit to conserve energy as much as we can, trying not to be wasteful.

So I queried the bill. The operative agreed it sounded steep, suggested that there was an issue as to how the bill was arrived at and told me not to pay, but to take twice daily meter readings and 'phone them through after a given period of time. I did and was still told not to pay, as my bill was being recalculated. It never arrived.

Concerned that I was going to start getting the red demands, I rang up and queried the delay. I was told not to worry and not to pay. Still no new bill.

Then the squeeze started. A letter arrived on a Saturday morning, from Debt Collection, threatening me with all sorts of untold horrors, so I rang them. The operative was brusque and unrepentant. As far as she was concerned, I was in arrears and scum, judging from the way she spoke to me.

I asked for her name. “Mary,” she grunted. “Mary what?” I asked. She told me, giving a common surname. “Is that your real name?” I asked, after my recent experience with the Department of Work & Pensions. “Yes, it's a good old-fashioned English name,” she replied. “How do I know that that's your real name?” she asked. Somehow I didn't think that was relevant.

After asking to speak to a manager and not getting one, I spoke to Customer Services and logged my complaint. She put me through to Billing. “Oh, don't worry about those letters. They only do it to frighten you into paying,” the chap said. They were doing a pretty good job.

“I can see from your records you've been ringing in. I'll stop the letters.”He didn't.

I got another letter saying that legal action was being arranged. I rang and asked to speak to a manager. I was promised that one would ring me ‘within 24 hours.' He didn't.

So I rang back the next day and got a very helpful operative in Billing would said the whole thing was ridiculous and he could see why I was annoyed.

He could also see all the records of my calls, and noticed that the last operative had promised to stop the letters and had failed to do so. This chap promised he would and set up a holding mechanism to stop the threatening letters. He said the new bill is still weeks away. Great. I asked for a manager to ring me. He didn't.

The next day, on Saturday (do you notice a recurring theme?) I received an ‘urgent telemessage'. A warrant is being arranged to enter my home to disconnect my supply. The Police may be present when they arrive.

I will incur fees of up to £235 on top of what I owe, plus £30 for the cost of a debt collection visit. I have been charged £10 for this letter. I will be blacklisted with credit agencies.

Absolute final straw - I went ballistic, as the saying goes. I rang Debt Collection as soon as they opened and found someone helpful who told me that I currently have a zero balance whilst my account is being assessed and rearranged and my ten pounds charge has been cancelled. I will be receiving a letter and the new bill is still weeks away.

I asked to speak to a manager. I was promised a call ‘within 4 hours.' No-one rang.

What the hell is going on with this company? They are losing customers at the rate of knots, having below 50% of the market share for the first time in their history. The industry is in crisis. And they can't find two people in the whole of their organisation who can agree on anything or actually do what they promise they are going to do! Or get two departments to actually speak to each other.

It isn't as if I am avoiding payment, I am merely querying the amount of the payment. It is British Gas who told me not to pay, but to wait until the bill is correct.

And what is this farce with managers? Where are they? Why do they have to be warned hours in advance that someone wants to speak to them? Are they in flaming cryogenic suspension? Do they have to be thawed out? Do they really exist? Or is it just another really annoying bullying tactic to force you to pay over-the-odds?

I am in despair. Between Lidl, the DWP, M&B and British Gas, I am feeling totally targeted. Is there anything in my world which will ever be straight-forward again, or am I doomed to spend years of my life attached to a telephone or a computer keyboard arguing with people in positions of power who are abusing their authority?

This might seem overly dramatic, dear reader, but I'd prefer to get on with my life doing things other than waiting for court dates or for my front door to be kicked in. Anyone know a good solicitor…..?!

Had any run-ins with officialdom? Or any other difficulties with British Gas? Leave a comment on the messageboard.

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