Victory gained against British Gas
Rather then blah...why not you read the letter I sent to the company
Please bear with me whilst I outline my ordeal. I do not know who else to communicate with as I am fast exhausting all in-business contact departments and numbers for British Gas. I know that one is supposed to wait for eight weeks before complaining, however, as British Gas admit there is no time scale they can give me for when this dispute might be settled, and we are approaching the three month point, I feel unable to leave things to take their natural elongated course.
First I offer some background. I moved into rented accommodation of Granville Road, in early 2006. As British Gas was the supplier for the last tenant, by phone I established an account, which was in the name of D Duff, and the Customer Reference number was *716 and applied to the Meter Reference of *301. After paying £41.71 on the 9th March, the direct debit would withdraw £20 on or around the 25th of each month. Paper statements were few and far between including one in June and one in September of 2006.
The name on the statement at this point changed. How, why and who changed it remains a mystery. The account name became John Duff. John Duff is my father but he doesn’t have an account with British Gas, only a boiler cover of some description. We can only theorise that somehow the details of his name were transferred by the computer onto my account by accident. A full year later on 27th September 2007 I contacted British Gas to reduce my monthly amount to £17. No one had contacted me regarding the name change and I had not received any paper statements in 12 months. I spoke to them about it but they didn’t appear overly concerned. On December 4th 2007 British Gas changed my meter reference to *241, and my customer reference to *6655.
On March 6th 2008 British Gas delivered their next statement still in the name of John Duff. Prices of the monthly direct debit were on the increase by sixty-seven pence. Curiously the statement had TWO meters on the account; *241 and a second meter 83589. This second meter read zero at the time so I wasn’t too concerned. We now know that this meter belongs to Flat One, but because that flat was either vacant, or only in use in the summer months, despite paying for two meters, one of which wasn’t mine, British Gas did not detect this.
Using my record of statements I shall now list the following units of gas for which I absentmindedly paid, which were not mine.
1st July 2008 36 units from 83589
6th October 2008 13 units from 83589
7th January 2009 4 units from 83589
7th April 2009 8 units from 83589
30th June 2009 5 units from 83589
8th October 2009 2 units from 83589
7th January 2010 4 units from 83589
10th March 2010 9 units from 83589
8th July 2010 6 units from 83589
22nd July 2010 5 units from 83589
8th October 2010 1 unit from 83589
29th December 2010 5 units from 83589
19th May 2011 19 units from 83589
30th June 2011 2 units from 83589
8th October 2011 2 units from 83589
That equates to 121 units of gas in about three years paid for by me, but not used by me. Direct Debit requirements also increased over this time, from £17.67 to £27 on 3rd March 2010, and from £27 to £32 on 25th October 2010, and from £32 to £35 on 25th October 2011.
At some point during 2011 my mother phoned British Gas to have my father’s name removed from my account but was told that this could only be done when both my father and I were present on the phone call.
In January 2012 in a phone call sometime between the 11th and the 20th my parents and I had a conference call with British Gas; this was in order for my father’s name to be removed and mine to be put back on my account. Somehow the name change back in 2006 was an automatic mistake, rectifying that mistake couldn’t be done by either one of us alone. We both had to be present, which is rather ironic since neither of us were present when it changed that first time!
Although we specified it as a name change, for some reason the account closed all together and an entirely new account in my name David S Duff was created. Letters of welcome and notification of name change arrived and I was given the new reference number of *5402. As expected, British Gas returned £194.43 via a reverse direct debit on 6th February; this is confirmed in my Journal and my bank statements.
I have no record of who I spoke to on 3rd February 2012 to inform British Gas that my tenancy at Granville Road was coming to a close within the next month. I was simply told to take the last reading of the meter the day I left and to phone it in. So when I phoned in the final meter reading, from my single meter of *241 on Monday 20th February 2012 I assumed my business with British Gas was at a close.
This concludes the background prior to the problems I’ve had with British Gas.
The move to get on the property ladder and buy a house was a huge excitement for me. In this financial climate I was aware money would be tight, but was looking forward to the rewards that owning your own home can bring, and looking forward to celebrating my thirtieth birthday in my new home.
You can not imagine then, my utter devastation and sheer panic when I was presented with my final gas statement at my new property of Markenfield Road, for full closure of the Granville Road account. I found a bill outstanding of £602.87 which was almost completely made of 293 units from 83589, thanks to a new permanent tenant moving into Flat One (not my flat!) around Christmas. Compounded with the shock of being asked to pay an amount I could not afford was the fact that I had yet to settle into my new house with a landline. I couldn’t even phone British Gas without paying an extortionate bus fare, and ringing from the house of my relatives. This statement was dated 24th February, but didn’t reach me until 29th February according to my journal.
On 1st March I used my lunch break from full-time employment to phone British Gas and got through to Ms Carol Scott at the Leeds Centre, who I believe became the first case handler. I pointed out that there were two meters on the account, and that 83589 was NOT my meter. She expressed her concern that no one at British Gas had even noticed that there were two meters on the account. Evidently that was a mistake, and a task was raised to remove the 83589 meter. I had already asked to speak to a manager or a supervisor, but she assured me there was no need, neither was there any need to have a direct call number for her. She promised that someone would call within 48 hours on my mobile and explain to me what was going on.
But 48 hours later on 3rd March there had been no phone call. So I had to make my journey across the town by bus to get to my nearest landline, a toll of £2.80 return. I was very upset that British Gas had promised to phone back and had not bothered to do so. I was also frustrated that each time I phoned I had to start from scratch in explaining the problems; despite the fact no doubt I have an account file somewhere. I spoke to someone called Singh but wasn’t able to ascertain which centre he was based at. He confirmed that someone was due to call me, but it would now be the following Tuesday, 6 March. He assured me that the bill had been wiped, and that the meter was to be removed. Yet the very day I spoke to Carol Scott (1 March), according to the date on a subsequent statement, the computer had already re-issued another, identical bill for the £602.87. I expressed my concern that if I couldn’t trust British Gas to phone me back, how could I trust that they had really cancelled the bill. So I asked if it was alright to cancel my direct debit just to be on the safe side. British Gas had no problem with that as we were in a state of dispute, until the meter was removed and the final bill could be created.
I was disturbed however, that the confirmation of direct debit cancellation, which was physically cancelled by myself at National Westminster, and a receipt given, on 5th March, was accordingly 1st March on the confirmation sent from British Gas . How is it possible that British Gas sent a confirmation of direct debit cancellation two days before I suggested it to them, and five days before I actually cancelled it! If the computer is not printing accurate dates on your letter heads we have a real problem. When you are shown to be at fault once, it’s hard to then trust any of the dates on your letters.
Thankfully I keep a near perfect daily journal and have all my records going back the best part of fifteen years, be it bank statements, or utility bills.
I was also angered by the fact that on these statements the computer has told me I phoned in readings for meter 83589. I never phoned, nor even was permitted access to the meter of flat one. I am ever so troubled by the list of lies and broken promises stemming from such a large company. This cannot be good customer service.
The next broken promise was that no call from British Gas was received on Tuesday 6th March. Instead a letter arrived that day, the reprint of the £602.87 statement, sigh! Therefore it was another £2.80 bus fare to phone British Gas and say “but you told me the bill was wiped!” I got through to Tara Moore in Southampton. She told me that she couldn’t really help as there was no manager present, and the Leeds Centre was dealing with it. Why on earth can’t Southampton transfer me by phone to Leeds? When you phone the number for British Gas and endure the discombobulated female computerized voice which asks you to enter your customer reference number, You Can Not Specify which centre you wish to communicate with. Incidentally you always find the first thing anyone asks you for is the account number you’ve just literally entered into the phone keypad. It’s a frustrating, time wasting, and expensive process, for the innocent customer.
Tara told me to wait for a call. She told me if the direct debit was cut, the money could not be taken, and thus eventually the special team working on the meter removals would have to phone me in order to reveal to me the true amount outstanding and method of payment.
On the 17th March 2012 the next statement arrived from British Gas, and the number has dropped slightly to £528.46: something that emanated from the computer on 12th March if dates on the firm’s letterheads are to be trusted.
Matthew Jackson from the Leeds Centre makes sure I have cut the direct debit when I phone British Gas on 26th March. Little did either of us realize that cutting the direct debit has not stopped the computer at British Gas from obtaining funds. The computer at British Gas is colluding with the computer at National Westminster, completely devoid of any human observation or control; it is decided to resurrect the Direct Debit. No one at British Gas authorized this. No one at National Westminster accepted this and I was completely oblivious until British Gas sent me a letter thanking me for paying my bill by a direct debit that had not existed in nearly a month, on 30th March 2012.
British Gas has no control over its computer, and has no ability to stop it automatically harassing and bullying customers who are totally innocent. British Gas have no ability to monitor the process, they have no idea what the computer has sent to me until I phone up and inform them, at which point they act all confused, but fail to apologise. When I got notification that the money had been stolen, and I don’t use that word lightly, stolen, from my account I was phoning friends all night in tears. British Gas doesn’t bother to staff 24 hour call centres. I have a mortgage to pay and ended the first month of what should have been the happiest time in my new home in the red; financially overdrawn.
I went into the bank, and they claimed that British Gas had gone back to the “original mandate” to make the direct debit request. Of course that request was invalid, and British Gas claimed that National Westminster shouldn’t have acquiesced. The problem is no one will take responsibility, and no one will apologise. Taking time out from my employment to sort out the failings of two multinational firms who don’t care about the amount of pain, suffering and disruption they are causing to people’s lives is shameful enough.
So perhaps you’d like to know that we are only half way through the story. Perhaps you also might like to know I am on permanent medication for an anxiety disorder
Three days later British Gas refunded the amount stolen via an indemnity claim from the bank, sanctioned by both parties and myself. Emma Gargett from Leeds Centre was case handler at this point as it was required to speak to both British Gas and National Westminster at the same time on 30th March 2012.
But it was Julie Mellows of Leeds who I asked on 3rd April, by phone, to send me a copy of the complaints procedure. This was once the money had been returned, and once British Gas had claimed they erased my bank details so that even the automated computer couldn’t find the information to resurrect yet another illicit direct debit without anyone’s consent. But providing written proof of this or contacting the “specialist” meter team couldn’t occur