Gosport reader Daphne James can now get a good night’s sleep after a monumental blunder by British Gas resulted in her mistakenly being hounded for a debt she knew nothing about.
The 81 year-old pensioner says she went though four years of hell and frustration trying to prove the address of her Gosport flat was not that of a Drayton takeaway.
But no one at British Gas was listening.
Daphne’s ordeal started innocently enough when way back in 2014 a series of wrongly addressed letters started cascading though her letterbox.
‘I kept sending them back with not at this address,’ she explained, ‘but when they still kept coming I’d had enough and opened them to find out where they were coming from.’
‘I found out they were from a debt collector claiming I owed British Gas £495.49 so I got onto them.
‘To my surprise British Gas said there wasn’t anything they could do about it as it was in the hands of the debt collector.
‘I then rang the debt collector and explained what had happened. They claimed that they’d been given my address for a Drayton takeaway by British Gas and as far as they were concerned there was nothing more to be said.
‘It snowballed from there and I continued to receive the letters.
‘Then in February 2015 a woman came to read the meters who confirmed I wasn’t running a business and hopefully the matter would be resolved, but it wasn’t and the demands still kept coming.
‘She returned and knocked on my door again to read the meter and said she’d explained to British Gas I wasn’t running a business it was just a normal household. They must have seen from the meter reading it was a normal household gas supply.
‘The next letter I received was to tell me the bailiffs were coming, and if I wasn’t in they’d force an entry, but after I rang them they said they’d put it on hold until they could obtain more information and it just went on from there. I was so distressed an anxious I felt like tearing my hair out.’
But if former store cashier Daphne thought there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel she was mistaken. Another letter followed to say she was about to be taken to court by British Gas because she hadn’t paid up.
Near breaking point, and in a state of utter despair, she promptly made her way to Gosport Citizens’ Advice who told her how to escalate the problem to the energy ombudsman.
Daphne rang British Gas and told them what she was about to do. They responded by sending her a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers.
She insisted that she wasn’t satisfied with the gifts and wanted an apology and the matter resolved once and for all.
Her determined stand finally resulted in a welcome letter from British Gas to say they’d investigated and accepted she wasn’t responsible for the debt and no further action would be taken.
This was followed in May 2015 with a £100 compensation cheque from Centrica, owners of British Gas. Daphne understood was the nearest thing she’d get to an apology and was their closing gesture.
But her assumption that it was all sorted and was on track to avoid more worrying sleepless nights turned out to be very wide of the mark.
In a surreal turn of events, January 2016 saw the first of further series of incorrectly addressed debt collector’s letters turning up in the post.
More followed in 2017, and the final straw was a demand that landed on her doormat just after she got back from a holiday break last Christmas.
She said: ‘I thought this matter was beyond a joke, you just couldn’t make it up if you tried. It just went on and on and on.
‘I’d phoned British Gas again about it but no one seemed to be able to help. I was just so angry it had all started up again. Had I been a frail or feeble person I’d have been out of my mind with it all.
‘I’ve never owed anyone a penny in my life, never been in debt, then this comes along and I was virtually tearing my hair out not knowing which way to turn.
‘British Gas weren’t interested, the debt collectors weren’t interested - nobody cared.’
At her wits’ end, a devastated Daphne decided it was high time to call in Streetwise for some help.
When we went through her agonising narrative we were astounded at how the firm had compounded the issue by not removing the wrong address from the national database.
We just couldn’t understand why warning bells hadn’t rung immediately after she complained the second time around about their debt collectors harassing her to stump up.
We got on to British Gas and in view of Daphne’s years of anguish and distress asked them to investigate why a simple issue of a wrong account address continued to be unresolved.
A spokesperson said: ‘We’re sorry to hear Mrs James received further letters between 2016 and 2018. We last heard from her in 2015 at which point we believed the original matter to have been resolved.
‘Since being notified that the problem has been on-going, we’ve taken the necessary actions to ensure Mrs James won’t receive any further letters in error. We are sending some flowers as an apology and invite her to contact us should she have any further concerns.’
Daphne was greatly relieved that the response from British Gas was positive, and her prolonged ordeal was finally over.
She was critical no one from the firm had picked up her complaint the second time around and were unable to offer an explanation.
She told us that she’d finally received a letter with a fulsome apology and a follow up call from a senior customer care executive admitting they should have resolved the mix-up sooner but inexplicably despite their best efforts it had all gone wrong.
She said: ‘I just had no one to guide me in which direction when it all went wrong but I shouldn’t have had to go to the media to get it sorted
Without your help I was getting absolutely nowhere with it and I can’t thank you enough.’