It’s always nice to get some money back when you don’t expect it - even more so if you’re self-employed. But for Matt Anniss, a freelance journalist and communications/PR officer based in Redfield, Bristol, he barely had any time to think about what to do with his windfall of nearly £700 from his energy supplier, British Gas, before he was told he owed money totalling over twice the sum he was given back.
“A couple of weeks back, I was looking at my bank statement online and spotted a random rebate payment from British Gas to the tune of £660.47,” recalls Matt. “I was obviously pleased, but wasn't entirely sure whether it was correct.”
After consulting his latest dual fuel bill (“as usual it was difficult to follow,” says Matt) it did indeed show that he had overpaid by over £500 on his electricity. Still confused, he called British Gas to ask if it was correct.
The customer service representative at British Gas Matt spoke to was equally baffled, and asked him to conduct a meter reading. He did this and relayed the figures. After repeating the process, the voice on the phone informed Matt that he owed £1,400 – despite his having paid them over £1,000 in 12 months for my electricity, including recent monthly bills of over £150.
"Frankly, I was astonished - and, of course, very, very angry,” says Matt. “If they had based my bills on "estimates', why did I even get a rebate in the first place? It makes no sense. And why would my meter readings jump so dramatically? I do not have electric heating, so there's no logic to it. Of course, they may have taken inaccurate readings for years, which would explain it, but that can't be proved either way. I was incredibly frustrated with the attitude of those dealing with my case, which was pretty much "so what - you owe us the money".”
British Gas informed Matt that the bill was based on an estimate – even though somebody Matt believed to be a British Gas representative had been round to read his meter just weeks previously, and several occasions before. They actually happened to be from Siemens, which British Gas had outsourced to conduct meter readings. “I was told that they didn't have the meter reading from a few weeks previously. I asked why, and they said "we probably haven't paid Siemens".
The last accurate meter reading that British Gas had was from November 2011 , and was, in his words “very low”. He was then told that his electricity use had drastically jumped up - nearly £1,000 worth of extra electricity in four months. “This seems almost impossible,” says Matt.
A British Gas representative told Matt that they would put in a complaint on his behalf. “I was called back two hours later and told that the bill was correct and I would have to pay it. I offered to pay back the rebate straight away, which I did - in two payments, as their system doesn't allow one - leaving a balance of around £700. Two hours later someone called back and asked me to take meter readings every day for a week, to make sure that the meter wasn't faulty. I was promised a call back a week later, but this never materialized. I've still not heard from them.”
Gocompare.com News contacted British Gas to quiz them further on the matter. The company’s records show that Matt had in fact been overpaying for his usage. His current meter reading was, in fact, higher than British Gas’ estimate. “Given that his previous accurate reading had only been four months earlier this would point to an inaccuracy in the reading or a faulty meter,” said a British Gas spokesman. “At this point, instead of billing the customer, we should have queried such a high meter reading. As we have regular meter readings for the property in previous years there is no clear reason for the increase in usage," they contined. "As mentioned above it could be that either Mr Anniss has misread his meter or that his meter has developed a fault.”
British Gas has now pledged to send an operative to examine the meter to see if there’s been a problem, and issued an apology. “We apologise to Mr Anniss for the inconvenience this has caused. We will send round an engineer to read the meter and test whether it is faulty which should rectify the problem,” said a spokesman.
Meanwhile, the experience has made Matt consider whether or not he’d stay with his supplier. “I have switched before and would switch again, though I'm a bit cynical and have yet to find any real savings,” he says. “Plenty of companies promise a lot, but at the end of the day it's still expensive and the customer service is rubbish. If someone pointed me in the direction of a supplier that's reliable, doesn't charge the earth and has good customer service, I'd switch in an instant.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOUR METER IS DODGY
We rang Chris Lock, spokesman for energy watchdog Ofgem for the lowdown on what to do if you’ve ended up in a similar scenario to Matt…
“If the customer has any complaint about any aspect of their energy, then they must contact their supplier,” says Chris. “Once you make a complaint, the energy company has eight weeks in which to process it. If it cannot be solved then, the customer can go to the Energy Ombudsman – if they rule in favour of the customer, then there may be some financial compensation.”
How to make sure your energy reading is accurate
- Keep regular readings of your meter yourself – don’t rely on somebody coming round to read your meter – and keep a record of them.
- Make sure that you keep records of your previous bills.
- If you’re moving house, make an exact reading of your gas and electricity meters when you leave the house. Likewise, make a note of the meters in your new house when you move in.
Have you had a consumer gripe that you’d like to see resolved? Then contact us with the information and we’ll do our best to get some answers.