Now and then, I electrify my audience with a suspense drama. These are not for the faint-hearted. Ghosts and gaslighting are often involved. The dramatis personae never varies: energy firms reliably play the role of the predator; sundry unwilling householders are cast as the terrified victims.
SR’s husband sets up a direct debit to pay British Gas for their energy. After two months, British Gas, without warning or explanation, stops collecting payments. Fast forward four months and SR, from Canterbury, discovers her credit score is ailing. Why? Because British Gas has recorded four defaulted payments.
This is baffling for two reasons. Payments haven’t defaulted and the account is not in SR’s name.
SR discovers that British Gas has cancelled her husband’s account and set up a new one in her name. Since they have no contact or payment details for her, they have registered it to an address in Cardiff and sent payment demands there. Customer service agents quiz her about her connection with this Welsh property. It is SR who finds, with help from Google Maps, that the address belongs to British Gas. Yep, it has been sending her bills to its own HQ.
The company promises a payment plan to tackle the debt and redeem her credit score. Only it accidentally closes the complaint before acting, so her credit rating remains trashed. Her credit card limit shrinks from £9,000 to £750 and her car insurer refuses to renew her premium.
British Gas is unable to explain to me why it cancelled the first account and set up a new one, but the Cardiff address makes perfect sense to the company, if not to the rest of us. Since it holds no contact or payment details for SR, it explains, it used its own HQ as a “holding address” for all correspondence. Ingenious!
It now recognises that this prevented SR from making the payments it cancelled. It tells me it has set up a payment plan for the £1,317 arrears (which true contrition would have written off) and restored SR’s credit record.
So far so hopeful, except that a statement then confirms the monthly direct debit will be £406 instead of the agreed £298. British Gas says the letter was sent in error and offers the couple the grand sum of £75 for the “frustration”.
The payment demands from Ovo are for over £600 and threaten SH with a compromised credit rating if he doesn’t stump up. SH is a teenager who still lives at home in Chelmsford with his parents. The young man has, according to Ovo, consumed this energy at the family’s previous accommodation in the months since they moved out. The fact that his parents settled that account, and received confirmation it was closed, is immaterial.
“We asked how they could bill someone who had never been the account holder,” says his mother, HH. “Ovo told us they just needed a name, address and phone number. We surmise they took his name from the electoral roll; but when we asked what phone number they had for him, we laughed out loud. It was 7777777.”
Ovo apologises and promises the rogue account is now closed, but more bills arrive amounting to over £900. The hounds are only called off when HH invokes the media. Ovo explains that, since it was not informed of a new occupier after the family left the rented property, their debt collections team traced the address and identified SH. It has now removed his name and sent the family a hamper.
End of story? Of course not. The bills resume, this time in the names of HH and her husband. Ovo blames “human error”. But after that, this phantom now seems exorcised.
Pensioners JD and her husband are desperate. Days after British Gas confirms £47 a month will cover their electricity, it tries to help itself to the first instalment. Of £908.
“We live on our pension and don’t have that,” says JD, who has sought medical help for the stress. The couple live in a two-bedroom bungalow fitted with solar panels and gas-heated water and, until British Gas took on the account when their old supplier went bust, they had been in credit.
Bizarrely, successive statements announcing increasingly terrifying estimates assure them their payments are “spot on”.
The mystery is solved the same day that I contact British Gas. It tells me their meter reading was wrongly changed during an account review last year, causing an escalation of madcap demands.
A re-billing exercise confirms the account is actually in credit by £795 and that £46 a month will cover consumption.
Brief relief, and then … a statement warning that they will be £2,832 in arrears within three months. “No one can stop this juggernaut,” cries JD, in terror of bailiffs. Back to British Gas, which admits another error. And, since then, merciful silence.
Email email@example.com. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions