Tuesday, 23 September 2008

British Gas / Transco - over billing and waste

So a while back (Jan 05) we had a new gas meter fitted - by NPower, our gas provide at the time.

Early in 2008 a nice person came to the door and managed to persuade me to change to British Gas. They made it easy, they had a good deal, and after a previous bad experience with NPower, I really wanted a different supplier.

All seemed well - we got lots of lovely trees through the door (well, a lot of useless bumf) and we started getting bills from them.

The first one seemed a bit high, but as gas had been going up so much, I just assumed it was right.

However, I figured I would need to increase the direct debit as it was going to be insufficient to keep up.

Then though for some reason I wanted to work out how much gas we were using, so I did the calculations (talk about complicated - converting from gas meter readings to money needs a maths degree (which I have) and a lot of digging around to find all the bits you need.

The problem was that my figures were nowhere near what British Gas were charging us - they were charging us almost 3x what I thought. The only reason I hadn't died of shock when the first bill had arrived was that they had estimated the use, and had got it way low, so I was suddenly looking at a £700 bill about to appear for the next quarter.

Well, after a lot of head scratching I decided to call them up.

Turns out that they had never been informed of the meter change in 2005, so they assumed it was still an old meter.

Old meters measure in 100's of cubic feet.New meters measure in cubic metres.
1 unit on an old meter is about 2.8 times as much gas as 1 unit on a new meter.

When they calculate your gas used, they actually convert it to Kwh, which involves multiplying by half a dozen factors, such as calorific value (all gas companies are very slightly different) and other stuff, to get to a value in Kwh that you can actually compare with your electricity costs (good idea, but make it simpler...).

Anyway, upshot is that if you have an old meter, they multiply your gas used by 2.8, to get to the number of cubic metres.

Of course if you actually have a new meter, and they don't know that, they still multiply by 2.8, so you end up being charged 2.8 TIMES AS MUCH!!!!

So when I called up, the nice lady must have twigged that this (I guess that it happens a lot...), so she sent the bill for recalculating, and said she would sort out updating the meter type.

The explanation as to why this happens is that apparently the notification of a meter change is supposed to be passed on from one power company to the next, when you change company, and sometimes they forget.

Talk about a brain dead system. Clearly there should be a central database that is updated, and all the power companies use that. Still, that would be far too sensible for large disorganised companies such as utilities to ever do.

End result is - CHECK YOUR METER TYPE IS RIGHT and that you are not being charged 2.8x what you should be.

So now I have nice bills again, and I assumed that would be the end of the matter.

But I reckoned without the complete incompetence of a large utility (I cannot single out British Gas as they appear to be all equally bad).

So on Monday I received a letter from United Utilities (contractor for British Gas) saying that they needed to change the gas meter.

Well - I guessed they had failed to actually update all their records, so on some other database they still thought it was an old meter (see how that central database would help...).

I rang them up to explain that the meter had been changed just 3 years ago, expecting that would be it. However, after a long and frustrating conversation with someone at United Utilities, I was told that I would HAVE to have the meter changed. So I was forced to make an appointment for someone to spend 2 hours changing a perfectly good meter.


They said something about how meter ownership was being passed from Transco to the individual power companies (because that will really help people change supplier...). I speculated that it was because they wouldn't take responsibility for a meter someone else fitted, but who knows...

Anyway, after a couple of days, I decided that I really didn't want to have to be at home to watch a gas fitter waste their and my time doing a totally superfluous job.

So I called again.

I explained the situation again, and this time the person said they would sort it out and cancel the meter change.

I am waiting with eager anticipation to see if a gas person turns up to change the meter - I give it a 50/50 chance...

Moral of the story - if someone spins you a load of BS, then don't try to get past them - just go along with them, get off the phone, and call back later and speak to someone else - eventually you will hopefully find someone who has a clue...

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