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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Would You Be Interested in Saving Money on your Gas and Electricity?

Actually, no I wouldn't. It is totally more effort than it's worth. It's a long, long story and I am frustrated and raging.

Several years ago, I used to get salesmen (not sexist language - they were all men) knocking on my front door several times a week. Trying to get me to change my gas and electricity suppliers, to convince me that whichever company they were working for would save me money.

I didn't do it because the thought of every power company being able to undercut the rest produced mental images of those illusions of impossibility where stairs in a square are all going downwards (on the front of my maths textbook at school), or straight rods of iron were weaving amongst each other while still utterly straight. How can every company be cheaper than every company. Including companies which are allegedly cheaper than them.

Not to mention I did not appreciate the invasion of privacy, and didn't want to sign up for anything being sold to me in that way, in case it encouraged companies to think that cold-calling door-to-door was a good way of getting sales.

At some point I stopped getting my quarterly statements from my electricity company (who we shall call YE, as that is their initials...). However, as I used a pre-payment meter and thus didn't get bills through the post at all, I didn't notice (until much later) that they had stopped coming.

Fastforward two years. I got a card through the door from a different company (let's call them BG), saying that they had come to read my electricity meter but I wasn't in, so could I send the card back with my meter reading on. A strange mistake for them to make, I thought, but I did get gas from them so presumed it was some kind of error. I sent the card back with a note saying that I hadn't filled my electric meter reading in because they did not supply my electricity.

A few weeks later I had a letter from them informing them that they did indeed supply my electricity and could I call them with a meter reading. I called them and said how confused I was, and that YE supplied my electricity, and what was happening.

They informed me that they had been supplying my electricity for the last two years since I signed over to them two Novembers ago. I coughed and spluttered and said I hadn't signed over to anyone, and what on earth was happening.

They didn't seem in the least concerned that some kind of fraudulent transfer had happened, and just informed me that they were owed £hundreds for providing all that electricity, while I was buying my electricity tokens from YE still. They said they would apply to YE for that money, and that they, BG would send me a token meter card so I would buy my tokens from them from then on.

Once I had got over the shock, I called BG back a few days later to ask how this could have happened. The woman I spoke to just said, "Well, there are much stricter rules now than there were then" and that it was impossible to look at the form that was filled in as it would have been destroyed by now.

I also, some time later, emailed BG to complain at what had happened, and was fobbed off by being told I had probably signed over without remembering. Uh-uh.

Then, at the end of last year, I moved house. It seems that nowadays when you move house you have to find out who supplied the utilities to the previous tenants, and sign them over to you. After this, you can change suppliers if you have a preferred one, but you have to start with the suppliers of the previous occupants.

There are phone numbers you can ring to find out. Gas was straight forward, and I found out that I was with good ole BG again. Electricity, they couldn't tell me. Apparently this property had two suppliers. After lots of phonecalls, and an electricity- and heat-free house for a while, I discovered that my electricity supplier was a different supplier, indeed one which seems an odd choice, geographically, who I shall call LE.

It was all quite confusing. I was getting bills from BG for electricity at my previous address, gas at my previous address, gas I had used at my current address, and gas which the previous occupants had used at my current address.

Because there was another ongoing problem with BG. I lived in my previous flat for 5 and a half years. Throughout that whole time I never used any gas. I had district heating for the central heating and hot water, and used an electric cooker, so had no use for gas. When I moved in, my gas meter reading was 0150. When I moved out, my gas meter reading was 0150. Every 3 months I got a gas bill from BG, with an estimated meter reading, and an invoice for anything between about £20 and £80. Every three months I would phone them and say, "My meter reading is 0150, I don't use gas" and they would send me a bill for £0.

On each bill with an estimated meter reading, it always said, Please provide us with an up-to-date meter reading which we will use to build up a picture of your energy use and thus predict your bills more accurately. Every for 5.5 years I provided a meter reading of 0150 and not once did they learn anything about my (lack of) use of gas.

But yes, that was a diversion. Once I moved in here and had worked out which bills were for here, which for other people, which for my previous address, I started attempting to pay them. There was an electricity bill from BG for £300+, which when I phoned to query it, I learned that they still hadn't requested the money I had paid to YE once I had been unknowingly transferred over to them. So it wasn't me who owed it at all.

Dealing with utility companies could be a full time job. And one that you'd need to be paid danger money, for the stress effect on your body and mind.

With LE providing my electricity in my new place, I had a token meter again, but this time could only buy tokens from the Post Office, rather than a much wider choice of shops with YE and BG. So I requested that LE change me onto a billed meter, so I would get quarterly electricity bills. They did this, came and replaced my meter, and all seemed well.

As Alan Davies so often said, I shouldda left it.

But no. I read about a company which supplies all of its electricity from renewable wind sources. What could be better?? It says it will match your local suppliers' prices, and it's eco-friendly. Marvellous!

Arranged to change to them, all going swimmingly, then this morning I got a letter from the Eco ones saying that LE (who, if you are still following, are my current supplier) had objected to the transfer, so for now it wasn't going ahead. I rang LE who said they couldn't find any objection, rang Eco ones and they have one on record so can't go ahead.

The Eco man assured me that I wasn't going to be cut off by LE and not replaced by anyone. Why oh why oh why.

(Embrace the Wind Revolution and get your name on a wind turbine).