Billing chaos drives Lucie to distraction

CHAOTIC  Lucie Colwell with the letter she received from First Utility. Picture: Sarah Standing (133447-941)
CHAOTIC Lucie Colwell with the letter she received from First Utility. Picture: Sarah Standing (133447-941)
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You can’t be doing right from wrong was one of those occasional portentous phrases I remember being handed down by my grandmother.

What she really meant was even the best of intentions can easily go pear shaped.

And so it turned out to be for 33-year-old Lucie Colwell from Waterlooville, when she was sure she was doing the right thing looking around the internet for the cheapest gas and electricity deal.

The search engines directed her to First Utility, one of the smaller energy companies that makes a virtue out of claiming to outperform the big six providers.

But little did she know that chaos in the company’s billing system was to turn her best intentions into an eight-month nightmare.

Lucie said: ‘I found a deal that made my bills about £20 cheaper per month, so last December I switched from Southern Electric. But we moved home the following March, so I gave First Utility the outgoing meter reading, and was told I’d get a final bill in due course.

‘A few weeks’ later I had an email to say I owed approximately £40 which I thought sounded reasonable so I paid it. Then sometime later I received a bill for 17p, which I considered was ridiculous so I phoned to query it, and I was told it was wrong and would be cancelled. Every time I phoned after that, I was assured the account was up to date and there was no debit balance.’

But if Lucie believed this was the end of the matter she had another thing coming.

Out of the blue the following September another email arrived from the company to say that she’d overpaid and would receive a cheque for £154 which a delighted Lucie found on her doormat a week or so later.

Again she was assured the account had been finalised, but to her surprise and annoyance she received yet another email the following month demanding a payment of £356.20.

This time it came with an admission the overpayment had been the result of a mistake and should not have been issued.

An exasperated Lucie immediately got on the phone and after being put on hold for two hours finally got through to an operative who insisted the demand was correct. He promised to check it out and ring her back, but the call never materialised.

Lucie’s next tack was to ask for copies of her bills, but although happy to drive her to distraction First Utility couldn’t provide all of them despite continuing to insist on payment. She decided it was time to call for Streetwise for help. When we contacted the company they were contrite.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry for the issues Mrs Colwell has experienced with her account. It was as a result of the incorrect meter reading provided to First Utility by the national database which is operated by a third party.

‘While these issues were beyond our control we do recognize the frustrations she has experienced over the last few months with our customer services. We have written to her to offer an apology and explanation, and taken corrective actions to provide an accurate bill.

‘We have also offered her a goodwill gesture payment of £59.63.’

A grateful Lucie thanked Streetwise profusely for bringing her nightmare experience to an end.

‘I felt I was banging my head against a wall. The customer service was terrible and they didn’t answer phone calls or reply to emails. That made me more frustrated than anything. You shouldn’t have to go to the papers to get these things sorted.’