Friday, 7 December 2007

British Gas Electric! You're 'aving a laugh!

Our saga begins long, long ago in a world far away: a British Gas Electric call centre. Back in the summer I was phoned at work by a consultancy working on behalf of One North East, offering a free business energy consultation, which I accepted.

A couple of years ago, I had installed a complete set of new, energy-efficient lighting in the business, using much less electricity. I had built up a significant credit with BG Electric, and had already negotiated a reduction in my monthly payments to allow for this. In addition, the consultants' survey showed I was actually being overcharged, such was the complexity of the various tariffs I was on.

So I contacted BG again and asked to be put on a simpler, more favourable tariff, or I'd switch to another supplier. BG didn't reply. I also asked BG to refund the amount I was in credit, which was about £2800. They agreed to do this, but still made no attempt to compete for my future business.

Two or three months passed, and despite a number of phone calls, no refund was received. In the end I threatened them with the Energy Watchdog. At this point I was transferred to a higher level: at last I was speaking to someone who actually sounded as if she could make some decisions. Up until then I'd been given various excuses for the non-appearance of my refund: "It takes a couple of weeks" became "It takes 28 days" became "It'll be done this week" became "There's a bit of a backlog" became "A cheque's in the post" became "You should have received it by now, I wonder where that's got to".

My new, elevated contact revealed the truth: BG transferred their accounts department overseas a few months ago, and the whole sytem was in meltdown with many angry customers chasing refunds or trying to close their accounts. Being unable to ascertain the whereabouts of my cheque for £2800, my new contact gleefully announced that she had authorised the repayment to me of my last two months payments, since my account was showing a credit balance of that amount (of course it was dear, my quarterly reading wasn't yet due, so there was no recorded electricity usage this quarter!). I pointed out that if these payments were refunded, I'd have no credit in my account when the next reading was taken, but she didn't seem to grasp this point.

Anyway, a credit for £1300 appeared in my account, followed, amazingly, a week or so later, by the long-lost cheque for £2800. It must be Christmas.

Then last week I received a letter from BG Electric telling me I owed them the previous month's payment, and to pay up immediately or risk further action. I phoned them up and was told that thousands of businesses had received this letter. Apparently, when they transferred their accounts department overseas they also changed everyone's account number. So when Direct Debit requests were sent out, the banks were refusing to pay up, because the account numbers didn't match up! They were having to send out thousands of new DD forms to all their customers. The threatening letters had been sent out automatically, but no-one thought to ask why so many were being sent out and that it might be advisable to stop the letters going out since it was BG's fault that the DD payments hadn't been collected.

As of today, no new DD form has arrived - and next week my new electricity supplier takes over. Bye-bye Britsh Gas Electric! The words piss-up and brewery spring to mind.


miketually said...

That sounds like the experience we've had with nPower, who supply our electricity and gas. Our DD amounts vary wildly from year to year, when they're reassessed, so we didn't think too much of the new lower DD amount we were given a year or two ago - when we'd been paying a little more we built up loads of credit and got sent a cheque.

However, it turns out they'd only allocated £2 a month to paying the gas part of the bill, meaning we now owe them loads of cash! They then calculated the new monthly payments would need to be five times the most we'd every paid them.

When we got to speak to a supervisor, we managed to figure out that a combination of factors, including not have successfully been to read the meter for 18 months, meant that they were using 18 months worth of gas and electric usage to create a six month average.

We renegotiated a new monthly payment (still three times higher than an amount that created a huge amount of credit), but which we could actually afford to pay.

Needless to say, the instant we are in credit with them, we're switching suppliers, although I don't relish that process or expect it to go smoothly...

Aeres said...

Hardly a surprise i'm afraid, I bet everybody has their own call centre nightmare story.

Mine was specifically with phone network 3. My 18 month old has a habit of nicking my phone (and tv remotes, etc) and hiding them from us. One particular time it had been missing for a few days but I wasn't unduly concerned as I assumed that he'd nabbed it as usual.

I just made a quick call to 3 to check that the phone wasn't been used (ie. stolen) and had been 'lost' as I suspected. The overseas call centre then told me that it had been used constantly through the previous 2 days and indeed had been used only an hour before I called.

Naturally assuming it was stolen I got the handset blocked, paid for a new sim card, reported it to the police (who practically laughed in my face incidentally) and started using my old brick of a phone. A week later I found my 'stolen' phone completely unused underneath my car seat where it had slipped out of my pocket.

Problem is that my complaint fell upon completely deaf ears as they obviously couldn't understand what I was on about then either. Both calls naturally lasted over 20 minutes on a national rate number leading to me footing the bill again.

Unfortunately, much as big corporations try to give the perception that you are an individual you really are only a statistic. They know full well that there are people like us who will move our business elsewhere due to bad customer service - however, if the cost savings are greater than the profit in the lost accounts then they will happily take the hit. Not much you can do about it really.

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