It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the 83-year-old widow, whose partner James had passed away just a few months earlier aged 79, after losing a ten month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Joan, from Gosport, recoiled in shock when she received a letter addressed to ‘The Occupier’ demanding £3,373 for gas and electricity.
‘I was so shocked,’ she said, ‘but when I recovered my composure I realised the bill couldn’t possibly be genuine because it was from Scottish Power, not my dual fuel provider E.on who we’d been with for more than 15 years.
‘My eldest son David is a procurement manager for a national company, so I knew he’d have the answer. When he phoned for our weekly routine catch up he advised me to return the invoice with a short note to say I wasn’t one of their customers.
‘I reasonably thought that would be the end of the matter, but still the bills kept coming.’
Joan is hard of hearing, but she decided to take the bull by the horns and ring Scottish Power to explain the situation.
She admits it was a battle to hear what the customer service rep was telling her and it was about as clear as mud. No-one seemed to want to help.
David had taught her how to send emails, so in frustration she composed a polite but succinct message to their support centre.
To her immense relief she eventually got the reply she’d been anticipating, confirming the demand was for another address.
But the relief turned out to be short lived, when in only a matter of weeks later, more demands came thudding through her letterbox insisting it was time for her to pay up or they’d send the debt collectors in.
‘I was so worried as I don’t carry too much money around with me and use my debit and credit cards for serious shopping.
‘If I got in trouble with the bank and my cards were withdrawn, I’d have to venture out weekly to my nearest branch to get money out for essentials, and it would cause me all sorts of practical problems.
‘I told David about it who was so angry he dashed off an email to the company boss insisting the matter was sorted once and for all. The firm apologised and asked me to send them photographs of my meters complete with the serial numbers.
‘My neighbour took the pictures for me on his phone and I sent them off to Scottish Power as requested,’ she said.
However the situation worsened a couple of weeks later when to her complete bewilderment she answered the doorbell only to find a representative from a debt collection agency on the doorstep.
He told her he’d been sent to view the meters in person, as people had been known to photograph their neighbour’s meters, to try to get out of paying the bills.
Joan then showed him copies of her current fully paid up bills from E.on. He told her that she obviously didn’t owe the money demanded and promised to get the billing fiasco sorted.
However, almost a month later Joan received another unexpected demand – this time for £4,297.10.
In the meantime her neighbour told her about Streetwise, and a devastated Joan turned up to ask for help at one of our Gosport library Discovery Centre weekly consumer surgeries.
She explained she was at her wits’ end and despite son David’s efforts to get the matter sorted no-one at Scottish Power appeared to be in charge and accept they’d got it wrong.
They’d fired off emails, made countless phone calls, but despite promises to deal with the situation they hit a brick wall trying to get anyone in customer relations to take ownership of their complaint and see it through to closure.
Relief first emerged when we were able to put Joan’s mind at rest about being ‘blacklisted’ by her bank following a visit from the debt collector.
We were able to reassure her that access to bank services and credit wasn’t dependent on an address
Anyone who receives mail at their address intended for someone else couldn’t be ‘blacklisted’ unless they had a financial connection with someone living with them.
Previous occupants or family members can’t be financially associated unless there’s been a joint application for credit.
We next got onto Scottish Power and asked them to investigate.
A few days later Joan received an apologetic call from the company to confirm that her bizarre billing battle was finally over.
A contrite spokesperson accepted there had been a billing error which had been rectified and there would be no further upsetting demands for payment.
‘We’ve spoken to Mrs Anderson and apologised for the upset and inconvenience this matter caused,’ he said.
‘Our records have been amended and no further correspondence will be sent. By way of an apology we have sent her a bouquet of flowers and a cheque for £100.’
Joan told us she was staggered that our intervention had resulted it such a prompt resolution and her six month struggle was finally over.
‘It was a tremendous weight off my mind, she said. The demand for this huge sum of money came like a bolt out of the blue while I was still grieving over the loss of my husband.
‘I just can’t begin to thank Streetwise enough for relieving me of all the worry and stress that had built up trying to prove I didn’t owe them a penny.’
Have you got a problem or do you need advice about a consumer issue?
Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards.
E-mail him with your question at [email protected] or write to Streetwise, 1000 Lakeside, Western Road, PO6 3EN. Briefly outline the details, and include your name, address and phone number, and include any reference or order numbers.
Answers to questions are for guidance only, and must not be taken as a complete statement of law. Richard also attends the Gosport Discovery Centre every Tuesday between 9am and 1pm.