Alcina (alcina2) wrote in bad_service,

Tales of utility companies

Some 5 years ago, my (now ex-)husband and I bought a house. Within an hour of becoming the legal owners, I phoned th utility companies to tell them that, as of now, we were the people responsible for the bill. Simple, yes?

Tale One: The Gas Company
A week or so after we moved in we got a gas bill. For the period of 6 months before we owned the house (which had been vacant during that time,but with the heating on low to stop the pipes freezing). So I phone the gas board. I tell them that we weren't the owners at this time, that the person responsible for this bill was *name of previous owner* of *address* with *telephone number*. Fine, they say, sorry to have bothered you.

A few weeks later a final demand for said bill. I phone again. They say they'll correct it. A few weeks later, a notice threatening disconnection. Another phone call, another apology. Then a pattern starts. Every 28 days, regular as the cycles of the moon, a new threatening-to-cut-us-off letter arrives. This goes on for a year. We send them legal documents to prove that we became owners of the property on *date* etc.etc.etc. No effect. Apparently (one of their employees admits during a monthy phone call) this is because standard policy when someone disputes a bill is to put it on hold for 28 days. At the end of which time, the account becomes activa again and...

After a year, the final demands are replaced by monthly letters from a firm of debt collectors. Every month I phone the gas company and explain and they cancel the instruction to the debt collection agency. 28 days later, they assign a new transaction number and send it to the debt collection agency again. ...

I happened to speak tomy ex-husband about this recently. He confirmed that, nearly 5 years later, the monthly ritual is still going on. I hate to think how much the company must ahave paid the debt collection agency to issue letters...

Tale 2: The Electricity Company.
We decide to switch to a new electricity provider, so the old one sends someone to read the meter. I don't know where the meter reader went, but it wasn't to our house. The house has one of the old-fashioned kind of meters that is inside the house, and has to be read by physically looking at it. I was in that day, and I didn't let in a meter reader. Nevertheless, one managed to submit a meter that was quite a bit higher than ours, with the result that we got a bill for more than 200 pounds for 10 days electricity.

I phone to put this right, and we encounter a problem. Apparently the software they use doesn't allow the employee to alter the meter reading downwards. This poses certain problems, for me, for various emplyees, for their supervisors...

This problem continues for 15 months, with the ele4ctricity company sending ever more exciting estimated bills (based on the assumption that we use 200 quids' worth of electricity every 10 days). Finally, by the grace of the Powers, a meter reader comes and takes a meter reading which is marginally higher than the mistaken one.

Only then, apparently, could the problem be solved.

Tale 3: The Water Company

6 months after we move in, we get a lawyer's letter, very unpleasant in tone, asking us if we know that it is a criminal offence to use water without paying for it. (and more besides)

I phone the water company, and point out that we haven't paid becasue they haven't sent us a bill. To which the employee replies that we never notified them that we had become the legal owners, we were trying to defraud them, etc.etc.etc. I fax them a copy of our phone bill for the day we moved in, pointing out the presence of a several minute call to their company. The girl tells me that I didn't inform them that I was now the legal owner. I ask what she thinks I phoned to talk about on the day I became the legal owner. Rather than apologise, the employee then became very snooty, and said that the problem was that I hadn't given them a meter reading, so they hadn't been able to process my account.

One small problem. I didn't know that the house had a water meter (not being psychic), and they didn't ask for a reading. The employee becomes even more insulting. I must be lying, because ALL houses have water meters, she tells me. Now this statement is simply not true. I help my elderly mother pay her bills, and I KNOW that her house doesn't have such a meter; nor do many houses that were built before water meters were introduced. Nevertheless, the water company employee remains very rude and insisted that it was my problem.

What really annoys me, is to think what effect all this would have on a person whose level of education isn't very high, or who has mental health issues. I knew that we didn't owe the money, they could take us to court all they liked, the magistrate would throw the case out, and if they disconnected us, we'd be able to go live with our parents while we sued their backsides off. But I can imagine some vulnerable people might be severely distressed by all the threats of legal action pouring through their letter boxes...

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