Back in late 2009 upon moving in to a 2 bedroom split level maisonette (Electric Only) I noticed that the property was still fitted with one of the meters from a notorious batch which where according to the Industry Watchdog, supposed have been removed and replaced some 2 years earlier (A known manufacturing fault that causes them to fail, resetting to all zero’s, the default error code).
So I notified Southern Electric concerning this but nothing was done….
Several months went by, with my account being on direct debit, I only got a statement twice a year, so it was not surprising that the first statement would be for a sizeable amount. However what I was not expecting was a billing the equivalent to a 4 to 5 bedroom house.
Obviously I challenged this. 28 Phone calls later over the following months and a lot of time wasting on their part they finally admitted the usage did not add up and placed this before their meter accuracy team. Again this dragged out for a few weeks. Culminating in them offering £50 token payment for the time and trouble, £150 token for the unprofessional response from numerous members of staff, an amount to be agreed later concerning the overcharging and the meter would be replaced.
A week of so later an engineer arrived, (on video) he stated “This meter should not be still here”, “We are getting a lot of call outs like this”, “They should have replaced them years ago”. He then goes on to point out that the meter had reset to its error code (All zero’s) as the default display.
That all sorted, so I thought, OK I will contact the team to agreed a settlement amount.
They refused to respond. The next statement came in they had deducted the £50 token amount from it, but nothing else.
This carried on for a further year until eventually the case was raised up to the Departmental Head of their Customer services (Karen Todd), most often this is when a case gets resolved, but instead it started to take a rather weird turn.
She claimed that she had spoken to the meter accuracy team and, get this, she claims they stated “We replaced the meter as a matter of courtesy”. A £180+ meter, £300 an engineer call out as a matter of courtesy? Actually to my knowledge that had never happened in the entire history of this company.
So was it history in the making?
Sadly, no. It was just blatant lies on Karen Todd’s part.
To confound matters even more, the billing associated with the replacement meter was even worse, (Technical Problem with the Real time clock, (RTC) so the insanely overcharged bills where racking up, staff member after staff member did usage checks, flagged these up to Karen as an obvious fault, her response?
Ignored her staff and overruled them, stating their was nothing wrong with the previous meter or this one. On top of this she then started to claim that faulty batch of meters where only from 2 weeks production run and that the meter in question was not one of them. (As confirmed by the Manufacturer and the industry watchdog it was an entire years batch with the fault)
I should point out, when I originally moved in SE had a reporting page on their website, which listed the serial numbers of the faulty meters, the page was finally pulled on the day of her reply.
So there I was over two years down, no repayment from SE for the overcharging and a Department Head lying through her teeth.
Now I should explain something here, much like other Energy companies, Southern Electricity as exempt from the consumer credit act and it protections, but this exemption comes at another cost for them. They must instigate recovery within 12 months or the amount is written off (once instigate they then have up to 6 years) and as such the ‘Privately’ owned energy ombudsman is limited to cases not exceeding 12 months (I will come back to this).
Eventually after another 19 phone calls, Karen suggested that a test meter should be fitted, which would have been ok, except for one thing. Being a test engineer in the early days of my working career I was fully aware of the legal requirement to have test equipment recalibrated on a regular basis.
So I asked if the so called independent company could supply a copy of the latest calibration certificate for the test meter. What I was not expecting to find out is that none of the test meters have been calibrated in the last 5 years. Yep, all those test installations up and down the country, in the previous 5 years for multiple energy companies have been about as accurate as writing a load of numbers on a piece of the paper and throwing darts at it.
Did Karen Todd care, that the test meters where effectively useless?
Nope, she sent a rather nasty letter, stating this was their final standing on this and if I was not happy I should take it to the Energy Ombudsman.
Remember the 12 month limitation?
I had been getting numerous reports of the Energy Ombudsman dealing with cases that exceeded 3 years or more. So I thought I would apply just to see what would happen (This is over 2 years at this time). They mentioned about it being late, but took on the case anyway (First part in which they exceeded their remit).
The account became ‘deadlocked’, these prevents any changes until the ombudsman findings are made.
Karen Todd, ignored the ‘deadlock’ overruled company and ombudsman procedure, and tripled the monthly direct debit amount, but because the account was deadlocked staff could not see what had happened. Eventually not only did they reduce it back to the original level, they also refunded the extra they took.
A few days later Karen Todd overruled them again and tried to up the amounts to clear off this fictional debt. Again I got this corrected and warned that if she increased the amount again without written authority that I would call in the Police (I removed the authority which allowed them to auto adjust).
The submissions where made, but SE where shown my submission before they made theirs, I was not shown their full submission at any point of time. The outcome was. Get this, that a test meter should be placed at the property (The Ombudsman was made fully aware that the test meters where not calibrated, therefore unlawful to use).
I contacted the Ombudsman, made it clear who I was, at which point they retracted their entire finding as it had been unlawful for them to even consider it in the first place.
Again Karen Todd got really nasty, tried to insist the Ombudsman finding endorsed her position on this case. Which is rather odd since it was retracted, but I agreed that a test meter could be put in place as soon as they supplied a copy of the calibration certificate.
By this time it was coming to the end of my tenancy at this property, weeks went by, no reply from Karen Todd and no calibration Certificate, eventually the date to move came and I terminated the account. According to them I still owed over £500 in reality I had been overcharged to the Tune of £1500+.
September 2012, in my new (dual fuel) home, I had signed up to the iPlan package, (2 years capped rate, Energy usage monitor, on-line energy usage tracking, paperless billing), now this was not the cheapest option out there, but the iPlan monitor and the on-line usage tracking, offered a secondary system offset the meter readings, which given the previous history was worth the extra.
Or so it would seem,
It was actually April of this year before they actually sent me a pin that actually worked (They sent 22 in all), so I had no access to my billing. When I gained access, half of it was actually missing.
During this time I had been requesting for them to actually send my the monitor, they kept saying it was out of stock, which made me rather suspicious, so I studied the design of the monitor from info available on-line and noticed some very serious flaws.
These devices are designed to clamped around the high amperage power line going to the metre. They had included metal mounts (it does not take and electrical genius to understand the dangers of that), then it came the battery packs, there was no shielding so they are exposed to the electromotive force (EMF) Generated around this major power line, causing them to sweat or even explode.
The reason why they could not have been supplied was that the production run had been terminated some months earlier.
Also there where serious issues with the on-line usage tracking database, quite simply it barely worked.
The staff where aware of this, yet they continued to miss-sell a product that did not even exist any more.
Obviously I raised concerns about this, I also warned them that if they did not inform existing products of the Health and Safety issues, that they could be held criminally liable.
About a month later they finally pulled the product from their website (with no explanation to customers). They do claim to have notified existing customers with the monitors of the risks, but have supplied no evidence to support that claim.
So that matter relating being miss sold a product that they knew did not actually exist is still ongoing.
Now we come back to the previous account, Karen Todd had been provided with my cell phone number, with explicit instructions that it was only to be used by her, for the purposes of communicating during ombudsman’s investigations.
So I start getting 12 automated calls a day on the aforementioned number (Several times the legal limit), from a number I tracked down to be SE’s debt recovery department. Eventually I contacted them back and pointed out the situation and that not only was the amount legally not recoverable due to the legal time limitations, it was in fact purely fiction.
They passed it back to Karen Todd, who sent a rather nasty letter citing their exemption from the Consumer Credit Act, to which I made a simple reply to her via the phone, “read the next line”, meaning to read, the line after the bit she quoted.
She did exactly that, then slammed the phone down.
The next line refers to the 12 month limitation 🙂
Then I started getting voice and automated calls literally 24 hours a day from the SE’s debt collection company, they only actually backed off when I approached Thames Valley Police.
From then on everything seemed to be going as expected, they where still dragging their heals over the miss-selling of the iPlan, then out of the blue, over £500 was added to my Electricity Account.
None of the staff at SE could explain where this had come from, as the information was ‘Deadlocked’.
However as soon as I head that word, I knew what it was, Karen Todd, without any Legal Authority, had lifted the deadlock on the old account, added the amount to my current account (which has nothing to do with the old account), then added the deadlock again.
So as it stands, without written authority of the account holder, or a court order, Southern Electric have ignored the Data Protection Act, Financial Regulations and Contractual conditions. They have taken a fictional outstanding amount from an old account, which even if it did really exist, is not legally recoverable and attached it directly to another account.
They are now refusing to remove it, although its a criminal offence not to.
Update: Sunday 23-02-2014
SSE have now removed this amount from my current account with them (only after threat of legal action), they have still not apologised for their illegal action.
I notice that even the Daily/Sunday Express and the Guardian have published articles concerning the dual rate meters inaccurate clocks http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/461330/Millions-to-get-energy-payout-as-faulty-meter-clocks-blamed-for-overcharging
What they fail to mention is that this is not just an issue for dual rate meters. The Accuracy of the RTC (Real time clock) is required for the electronic meters to even function as meters. Without an accurate clock to gauge against it’s counts are meaningless rubbish.
This has been known for some years now, yet the big six energy companies continue to knowingly install meters that cannot actually measure energy usage.