Chris and Beryl Scott decided to switch their gas and electricity supply from ScottishPower to British Gas – but were horrified when the energy giant refused to close their account and sent them a bill for £7,691.23, later upped their demand to £10,600.
ScottishPower, recently fined £18m by regulator Ofcom after a deluge of customer complaints, then increased the preposterous payment demand to more than £10,600 and threatened to shred their credit rating if they didn’t pay up.
I could imagine the bailiffs coming round to my home while I was out and saying to my wife they were going to remove this and that because we hadn’t paidChris Scott
The distressed and angry Waterlooville couple were left at their wit’s end for almost two years until Streetwise stepped in and ended this sorry saga.
Retired policeman Chris, 76, explained that the problems all started in January, 2015 when they told ScottishPower of their intention to move to British Gas because they were concerned about poor service.
At first the changeover appeared to go smoothly. They were sent an initial final bill indicating their account was in credit to the tune of £70, which would be refunded to their bank account.
But the first they knew something was wrong was when they started receiving ‘revised’ bills for 2014, all with different amounts outstanding.
They were based on estimated meter readings and insisted for the first six months of the year they’d run up astronomical consumption charges totalling £5,955.54.
Chris said: ‘I was getting reminders to say my electricity and gas accounts weren’t closed, because I hadn’t settled the bill.
‘I desperately kept trying to phone them, but in the end I had to give up simply because they didn’t answer the calls. I’d be on the phone in the evening for about 40-45 minutes but couldn’t get through, so in the end I gave up until I got the £7,000 bill.
‘I was astonished and exceptionally worried for my wife as well because I’d seen a TV programme called Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away.’
‘I could imagine the bailiffs coming round to my home while I was out and saying to my wife they were going to remove this and that because we hadn’t paid.’
Chris thought he was finally getting somewhere with ScottishPower when, six months down the line, it got round to answering a letter from him, claiming it was sorry his complaint hadn’t been sorted.
The company admitted it was aware that moving to a new accounts system had been challenging and had resulted in service problems for some customers.
It went on to assure Chris he wouldn’t be left out of pocket because he’d been compelled to complain.
However, that was the last he heard apart from more bills.
Meanwhile, ScottishPower had been handed a record-breaking fine after Ofcom concluded it had failed to treat customers fairly when dealing with calls, billing issues and complaints.
‘For it to just insist we owed the £7,000-plus was extremely worrying,’ said Chris.
‘I found it quite difficult to sleep or concentrate on anything I was doing.
‘We’re on a fixed income and although we had the savings it would have wiped them out completely. I just didn’t know where to turn, so I rang The News.’
Streetwise e-mailed the energy giant’s managing director and it wasn’t long before a thorough investigation was triggered which resulted in a comprehensive climb-down.
We asked ScottishPower to explain why the couple had been billed for more than six years their annual average energy consumption in just one year without anyone noticing. It just didn’t add up.
Surely it didn’t take a genius to work out it couldn’t be remotely correct. The error must have jumped out at someone, yet 22 months later the firm was still sending out demands and threats to a distressed elderly couple that had left them extremely worried.
A spokeswoman agreed the complaint had been handled badly. She explained it all went back to a metering error.
‘We sincerely apologise to Mr Scott for the problems he experienced when trying to resolve this issue,’ she said.
‘Mr Scott joined ScottishPower in February 2014 and opted for our Online Fixed Tariff. In May 2014 the electricity meter was changed, but unfortunately this change was not updated on to his account and this led to the problems he experienced when his supplies left us in January 2015 and the excessive bill.
‘We have recalculated the electricity account which is now showing a balance of £67.81 credit. This is being refunded to Mr Scott.
‘Again we apologise for the poor level of service Mr Scott received. In way of an apology, we will also issue a goodwill payment for £150.’
The couple were overjoyed, but still angry when they heard the news the extended dispute with their former energy provider was finally over.
‘If I had my way,’ said Chris, ‘I’d have put them out of business a year ago for the stress they caused me and my wife. It’s upset her on numerous occasions to think that I hadn’t been able to get anyone to talk to.
‘We’re told it pays to switch but I could never, ever recommend anyone to transfer to this company. Its customer service has been minus 100 per cent.
‘I’m eternally grateful to Streetwise for what you have done for us.’