In February I wrote about the search terms that lead people to this site. One of them oddly, seems to be 'fiddling electricity meter'. Whether that's because I've written about my fiddle-playing, electric guitars and audio level meters I don't know, but I made a passing comment about Powergen fiddling my meter and threatened to write more.
Well, that time has come.
For years, we had our electricity supplied by 'Norweb'. Our meter was read every few months and we paid by direct debit and everything was fine.
And then, because we live in a capitalist economy and electricity supply was 'privatised' (ie handed over to capitalists because they're so much more efficient) Norweb was taken over by another company (United Utilities?) and our bills and direct debits had a different logo and bank account but otherwise everything remained the same.
And so it continued until we found ourselves being supplied the same electricity, through the same wires and the same meter, by a company called Powergen.
Now, Powergen didn't seem to be bother with irritating and expensive tasks like actually employing people to read meters - we were certainly never bothered with them. Instead, they have a website where you can log on and check your account and even submit meter readings. So dutifully, that's what we did.
Imagine our joy when we discovered that we were more than three hundred pounds in credit!
Of course, that was almost bound to be an error, so we continued to put cards in the window for the invisible meter readers and occasionally entered our electricity meter readings on the web site and thought no more about it.
At least until last summer, when I logged onto the web site and found we were still more than three hundred pounds in credit. This is silly, thought I, that money should be in our account, not theirs, and so I phoned them up. Stupid move our wot!
'According to our records, Mr Bisset, you owe Powergen more than nine hundred pounds.'
After some rather unpleasant expressions on my part about the fact that this was their cockup, not mine, I agreed to pay back the outstanding sum at fifteen pounds a month. Unfortunately, the distressed call centre operative took this to mean that I was prepared to pay only £15 a month for all our electricity needs, although I didn't realise this until later. She agreed and got off the phone pronto.
So the next surprise was a letter from Powergen saying that fifteen pounds wouldn't be enough and that they were going to take around one hundred pounds a month for nine months to settle the balance. I replied with a stroppy letter explaining the situation and stipulating that we could afford no more than £15 per month to cover the outstanding debt. I never received a reply to the letter, and a few weeks later, found that they were taking the hundred pounds out every month anyway.
We still weren't receiving statements or invoices from Powergen by the way, I only know they took the money by referring to our bank records. Over the winter of 2005/2006 they took around £600. Still, that meant that we had only around £300 to clear the debt.
O foolish man.
It was around this time that British Gas turned up to persuade us to buy our electricity from them. Now, normally, I send cold callers (who always turn up at tea time) away with a clear invitation not to bother our door again, but in this case I thought it was time to make the switch. Bugger the possible cost, at least these guys read a meter once in a while.
So, British Gas took over, and started billing us around £27 a month for electricity - based on meter readings.
Excellent, now we're getting somewhere. Except that the next communication is from our bank saying they've bounced a direct debit from Powergen for around £800. The bounce costs us £38 from the wonderful Halifax (they used to be a Building Society).
It transpires that Powergen have received the final meter reading from British Gas and have decided that we still owe them over eight hundred pounds. They haven't bothered to send a letter, or invoice or statement - just a direct debit to our joint account.
Writing this, I begin to wonder why on earth I ever bothered, but I phoned up Powergen to find out what the f*** was going on. I was told that Powergen would recompense me for the bank charges and that they would send a final statement. To my astonishment, they did (send a statment that is - no mention of bank charges), and I agreed to pay off the outstanding balance by standing order.
Of course, this is a difficult month, as birthdays seem to proliferate in the summer, so I was late with my first payment. On Saturday (17th June), I received a letter saying that I hadn't made payment and that I had 7 days to resolve the issue with Powergen or it would be passed to a debt collection agency. The letter was dated 13th June.
And today (Monday 19th June), I received a call from the debt collection agency.
I've had enough. I've bent over backwards to be accommodating, despite the expense. Now, it's time to contact my MP, WHICH.NET and anyone else who has clout.
Watch this space.