Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Deliberate overcharging (?) by Southern Electric

Every month I have a Direct Debit (DD) come out of my account, to Southern Electric, for £35. I have chosen their online billing and have neglected to check the bills over the last year. I quite like the DD approach since companies usually gently move the monthly amount up and down in accordance with how much you actually use.

You can imagine my surprise when I found the following phrases on my last 4 bills:

This is your gas statement for 10 October 2007 until 10 January 2008.
As you are spreading your gas costs throughout the year, we will carry forward the
balance we owe you of £20.74 as payment towards your future bills.

This is your gas statement for 11 January 2008 until 09 April 2008.
As you are spreading your gas costs throughout the year, we will carry forward the
balance we owe you of £54.72 as payment towards your future bills.

This is your gas statement for 10 April 2008 until 09 July 2008.
We owe you £92.33.
In the meantime, we have reviewed your account and the good news is your monthly
payments do not need to change.


This is your gas statement for 10 July 2008 until 09 October 2008.
As you are spreading your gas costs throughout the year, we will carry forward the
balance we owe you of £148.10 as payment towards your future bills.


Notice anything funny? I just did. Every month my amount of overpayment has escalated. I have a growing credit balance with my Gas company and they are getting the interest on that money. Even more insulting is the fact that they reviewed my account in this period and decided to ignore the fact that I routinely overpay and have a large credit balance.

I switched to Southern Electric sold on their customer service. I'm afraid I'm feel rather let down by this. I go to great lengths to reduce my carbon footprint and have achieved something here with my gas bill. My gas company has penalised me for doing this. It's a bit of a cheek done you think?

4 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Hi Carl,

You can phone them up and insist that they change the direct debit to a lower amount, and also send you a cheque for the accrued balance. I did this with my suppliers last year. See the second half of this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/nov/29/energy-household-bills-gas-consumer-dissatisfaction

Cheers
Phil Rodgers

5:11 AM  
Blogger litsl said...

Ah, thanks Phil. I thought they would have an obligation but I was surprised when they actually reviewed the account and actively decided it was just fine for me to continue overpaying. However much they sold me on their great customer service, this one action leads me to distrust them.

"In the meantime, we have reviewed your account and the good news is your monthly
payments do not need to change" !!

8:41 AM  
Blogger David said...

I came across your blog entry above and wanted to get in touch.

I've raised your concerns with our Customer Service department and they have asked if you could give them a call to help you sort this out.

To get in touch, please call 0845 300 2141 and ask to be put through to Alison Christie in the Customer Relations team, she has been made aware of your complaint and is happy to help but would like you to call her so she can get your details.

Many thanks,
David Gardner,
Southern Electric

6:57 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Caveat Emptor - I agree, utilities will use your credit to earn interest and charge you the maximum rate they can for the energy you use. My recent experience is a good example.

I was a customer of Southern Electric for ten years, paid via direct debit and provided regular meter readings. In October 2008, I had a credit of £185. You can imagine how shocked I was to get their final bill in November of £354!? Unbeknown to me, my readings from 2007 and 2008 were NOT used. I put it to them that it was a systems failure on their part and must impact a significant number of customers.

They offered to reduce the original bill by £63 to compensate for the ‘higher energy costs incurred in the latter billing period’ and £50 as a good will gesture. Aside from the poor billing practices, this brings to light the potential arbitrage utilities can use: charging customers at the higher rate when bills settle at year end. Had I not contested the bill, Southern Electric would have never offered to refund the £63.

Similar cases such as that of Robert Bramwell v. Scottish Power resulted in the company being required to repay customers £1.2 million. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2009/feb/21/energy-bills-npower-payback

I have referred the matter to the Ombudsman and asked Southern Electric to reimburse my credit of £185 plus £100 for the considerable inconvenience caused. I am also keen to publicise this failure to see if other consumers are being similarly ripped off. I will keep you posted on progress.

4:01 AM  

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