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Moving House: My Gas and Electricity Company Nightmare

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 25 Mar 2011 | comments*Discuss
Gas Electricity Meter Credit Prepayment

It all started innocently, when I moved into a new rented property in September 2010. The property had previously been lived in by two students, who by all accounts weren’t that great at paying their bills, judging by the letters I have had ever since from debt collection agencies.

The first thing you should do when you move into a new property is take all the meter readings, so I duly took the gas reading from the cupboard outside, and climbed on a stool to see the electricity reading. The electricity reading looked different to the gas, and I realised I was saddled with a prepayment meter. Great.

I called the owner of the meter, British gas, and asked them to replace the meter with a credit meter. I really didn’t want to have to stand on a stool every day to see if I had enough credit to put the laptop on – and I had always had credit accounts in the past with no problem. At the same time, I asked them to take over my gas account, which I assumed was credit, although it was with another supplier, nPower.

This, said British Gas, was not a problem, and they would send someone to change the electricity meter in the next few days, and put the wheels in motion to change the gas supplier over to them. Excellent, or so I thought.

Changing the Electricity and Gas Meters

The first indication that things weren’t going to go as planned was when the installer didn’t turn up to change the electricity meter, leaving me with about £2 credit on the account and a vague idea that they would come back in a couple of days. For this they compensated me £20.

The meter was changed, and I was back on credit, just waiting for the notification that the gas supply had also been transferred. The second indication that there might have been a problem was when the water was ice cold and the gas hob refused to ignite. I investigated the gas meter – and realised that although the meter reading looked exactly the same as a credit meter (unlike the electricity meter which looked completely different) I was also stuck with a prepayment meter for the gas. And the credit had run out.

I managed to find an nPower card in the drawer of things the previous tenants had kindly left me, and luckily it still worked. I called British gas, who advised me that they would send me a new card as the supply was due to transfer to them in a few days, but that I should top up anyway and anything that was eaten up by the card due to the previous tenant’s debt would be refunded. I think I had to put about £30 in credit into the meter in the space of two weeks, when the heating hadn’t been on.

British Gas sent someone out to swap the meter over, and finally, after being in the property for two months, I thought all was going to plan.

The Shock of the Electricity Bill

My plan had been to wait until after the winter, then go onto a direct debit plan for both gas and electricity, so that I could get a discount, and the payments wouldn’t be based on a long, cold winter. I braced myself for the bill in January, and while the gas bill was high, it wasn’t unreasonably high. The electricity bill, on the other hand, was the highest I had ever seen. In four months, they told me, I had used £1000 worth of electricity.

Mistakes made by British Gas

When I had picked myself up off of the floor, I checked the readings, and they were correct. I queried this with British Gas, who said that no, the bill was correct. They mentioned my Economy Seven heating as a potential cause. I don’t have Economy Seven.

Taken into account, the figures weren’t much better after an adjustment for them putting me on the wrong tariff. I argued with British Gas that there was no way I had used that amount of electricity. I contacted my previous supplier for copies of my old bills, to show my average use before I moved. I checked the meter every day and made a note of what I’d been using. I called them back with these figures in exasperation – only to be told that £1000 was an average amount of electricity to use...in a two bedroom terraced house with only one occupant. I didn’t think so, either.

As luck would have it, I found a card in the meter box that had been left by the installer, and gave them the figures from the card. It transpired that the installer hadn’t actually reset the meter when he installed it, meaning that I was being charged for several thousand units I hadn’t used. The bill was eventually reduced to a much more manageable £100 or so.

The moral of the story – check everything, and check it twice when you’re moving into a new property...

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