British Gas fined £2.5 million for complaint handling
British Gas forced to pay out £1m for mis-selling energy deals
In early 2006, when I changed my energy supplier from British Gas to EDF Energy, I received two final bills, one for gas and one for electricity, from British Gas. These British Gas bills included falsified and inflated meter readings and additional charges due to my having a fictitious "fixed energy prices" agreement with British Gas. If this happened to me, it might have happened to hundreds of thousands, millions, of other British Gas customers. Have you been defrauded by British Gas? Even if you find the details of my complaint trivial, bear with me. If this has happened to other British Gas customers, this may turn out to be Britain's biggest corporate fraud.
Below is the electricity bill in question. It looks very similar to every other electricity bill. I wonder how many people have received, and paid, such bills without checking the details and were defrauded in the same way that British Gas has attempted to obtain money by deception from me?
Falsified and Inflated Meter Readings
See that current meter reading highlighted in green, it's not an estimate, remember this is a final bill to clear my account. It says the reading was taken on 6th March 2006 and was 1130. Well, that is not true. It is falsified and inflated. Can I prove it is not true? Look at this photograph I took of the meter reading, with a bill blu-tacked to it. This bill, dated 13th April 2006 was a second bill they sent me. The date on it proves that the photograph must have been taken after 13 April. I actually took this photograph, and others, on 24th April 2006, about seven weeks later.
How come British Gas claim their reading of 1130 was taken on 6th March, when the meter reading was only 1085 on 24th April 2006, about seven weeks later? This shows beyond any doubt that British Gas falsified and inflated the meter reading and was attempting to obtain money by deception.
Falsified Agreement for "Fixed Prices"
Now go back to that first photograph of the bill. See that £20 charge highlighted in yellow, when I rang B.G. Customer Services they said it was a cancellation charge because I had a "fixed prices" account. Well, this is rubbish. At no point had I requested or signed up for a fixed prices account. In fact it was quite the opposite. Way back in March 2005 I received a letter from British Gas saying, "Recently, you signed up to fix your gas and electricity with British Gas". I had not signed up for any such thing. This was just after B.G. had increased energy prices and I felt sure that prices would not rise again for ages, so no way did I want to pay the higher, fixed energy prices. (O.K., both British Gas and I got it wrong and about 6 months later prices did go up, so I might have done better to have signed up for such a deal, but I didn't.) So on the 24th March 2005 I rang British Gas and said, quite emphatically that I had not signed up to fix my energy prices and did not want a capped prices account.
By falsely claiming I had such an account British Gas attempted to charge me this £20 cancellation fee on my electricity account, (and £30 on gas account). It also meant that the unit energy prices on my gas and electricity bills after March 2005 were inflated to the premium capped rates.
The same things happened with my gas account, but there is no point in my showing both sets of bills etc.
Cancellation of My Bills, 4th Nov. 2006
On 4th November 2006, a few days after a program on BBC Watchdog which criticised British Gas and put Energywatch on the spot, I received a letter from Sarah Hilton, Customer Relations, British Gas, apologising profusely and cancelling my electricity and gas bills. While this gave me great satisfaction, this is not what I was fighting for. The objective of my campaign is to make British Gas cease it's illegal billing practices and stop harassing its customers. I now hope other customers will follow my example and be prepared to stand up to British Gas and their Central Recoveries. With a bit of luck we might see British Gas charged with criminal fraud. You never know, you might get your bill cancelled :-)
Correspondence with British Gas
Most, but not all, of the correspondence between British Gas and me is shown in full in a 6MB pdf file, by clicking here you can open it in a separate window and cross-check everything I claim.
When you read these documents bear in mind that on 31st August 2006 British Gas eventually admitted,
"With regard to the Price Protection packages . . . , you did not sign or register for this agreement".
This means that at the same time as B.G. were being evasive, lying and making threats of court actions and debt collectors they knew, all along, that there never had been any agreement.
How has British Gas handled my account and complaints?
Over the next few weeks I hope to elaborate on the way British Gas handled my account in a number of sections.
(Sorry guys, I went overseas and was unable to complete this)
Have you received a summons to court?
Most people, and/or their partners, are scared stiff when they receive a court summons. People either pay what is demanded of then, even though they firmly believe that they do not owe that amount, or they do nothing. If they do nothing British Gas or their debt collectors win the court case by default, and can send in the bailiffs.
British Gas, & debt collectors, know that people are intimidated by a summons and scared of going to court, and they know that people will not turn up at court. This means that they will never have to put their case to a judge or magistrate, they will win by default. They could get away with no case at all, a very weak case, and simply not bother to prepare their case.
If you are clear in your mind that you have valid reasons to dispute the claim in court, then do not be afraid. The job of the judge or magistrate is the hold a fair hearing. Even though you are not a legal expert the court will do its best to understand the points that you have to make.
I have had emails from people who, having received a summons over an alleged British Gas debt, have turned up at court and had no difficulty having the British Gas case chucked out of court.
One guy had a summons to court when British Gas wanted a warrant to enter his house and fit an extremely expensive pre-payment meter. He went to the court and before the court hearing he spoke to the British Gas representative who he said had 24 cases that day. He was the only person out of 24 who turned up for the hearing. He went into court, he explained his side of the argument and British Gas lost. That day British Gas won 23 of its cases because nobody turned up to oppose them. They lost the case of the guy who turned up. Thus guy had no legal experience and was very uneasy about going into court by himself, but he had the British Gas case thrown out. You could probably succeed if this happened to you.
Usually, if you turn up at the court the British Gas, or debt collectors' representative will try and resolve the case to his satisfaction at the door of the court. You should not do this. Ask yourself, "What does this guy know about the details of my electricity meter readings, or whatever". He probably knows nothing, because he/she didn't expect you to turn up, or that if you did turn up he'd be able to intimidate you into coming to some arrangement without the case being heard. If you insist on going into court for the hearing it is almost certain that you will know the details of the case better than the other person, and that the case will be kicked out.
One guy emailed to say that he turned up at court, and at the court a person introduced himself as the British Gas, debt collectors, representative. They had a chat, it seemed that they resolved the issue, the rep. gave the guy his phone number and said everything was settled. The person went home. What happened next seemed to be that the the rep. didn't cancel the court hearing, went into the court, won the case by default because the other person didn't turn up. So be cautious about trusting debt collectors reps.
The best example I have is of where the customer had the case against them thrown out of court is detailed below. Read it!
British Gas Homecare
Fortunately for me, I never had a British Gas Homecare policy. I say 'fortunately' because in the past 3 weeks, (Jan. 2011), I have had two people email me about what appears to be a scam within Homecare. They both had a visit from a Homecare gas fitter to service their boiler which was working perfectly. In both cases the guy condemned their boiler and switched it off, saying they need a new boiler costing £2,500 - £3,700, that was not covered by Homecare. Brrrr! imaging having your heating switched off in winter 2010/11 :-( Both people had independent, follow up checks and found that they did not need a new boiler. I wonder how many British Gas Homecare customers were conned into spending thousands of ££ on an unnecessary new boiler. Read the section below that has the comments from people emailing me.
Energywatch, were they able to help?
They have been bloody useless too. After I supplied them with the information above all they seemed to do was to forward my letter to British Gas, and forward the British Gas reply to me, then saying the intended to close the case. After I contacted Ofgem, who then wrote to Energywatch, they decided to re-open the case :-) I suspect that the best approach if Energywatch is ineffective is to work your way, step by step, through their own complaint procedure until you get to The Parliamentary Ombudsman. I'll create a separate module on my experience with Energywatch in due course. In the meantime you can check out my correspondence with energywatch to see how they handle complaints, by clicking here This is a 2MB .pdf file.
Earlier this year I read somewhere that Energywatch had received 33,000 complaints about British Gas this year alone. This shows that Energywatch is failing to fulfill its statutory responsibilities. If, after 1000 complaints, Energywatch had rapped the knuckles of British Gas forcing them to improve their service and billing procedures there would not have been the continuing abuse and complaints.
Now that British Gas has apologised it is clear that Energywatch was not acting independently. If Energywatch had seriously investigated my complaint, at the beginning, they would have come to the same conclusion to that of British Gas, i.e. that British Gas was in the wrong. It's time the CEO was sacked.
Do you, or did you, work for British Gas?
It would be fascinating to hear, in confidence, from a current, or ex-employee of British Gas about their billing procedures. If you feel that British Gas treats their customers improperly and you can give any 'inside' information I'd be delighted to hear from you. My email address is at bottom left.
If anyone has had similar problems with British Gas, Central Recoveries and Energywatch or has any suggestions I'd welcome them.
For years I have received lots of emails asking for advice, and still do. I have tried to help many people but now I am no longer up to date with the issues, and do not have the time to offer advice and just can not keep up with the emails. So I now ask you to try and find your help from someone more up to date and more recently involved than me. Sorry for that.
Another unnecessary, very expensive new boiler, not covered by Homecare.
This is a longish email I received this morning. It is from someone who carefully observed and understood what the gas fitter and British Gas were up to. I shall leave you, the reader, to decide if they were trying to rip-off this customer.
(Full names replaced with initials by me, P.L.)
Sent: 25 January 2011 09:01
Subject: Attempted rip off by your "engineers"
FAO Helen Emms
I write to you with much anger & disappointment.----------------------------------------------------
My mother is covered under one of your Homecare schemes which involves an annual service.
One of your engineers (G.W.) came out to do this service on Friday 14th January. Upon nearing completion he claimed he could not get the boiler to relight, prior to even starting the work he voiced concerns to my mother as the boiler is old & may not come back on! He still continued to do the work.
He continued to try & relight the boiler for three hours, during this time he blamed the following components :-
(1) The piezo spark gap (he tried his hand held lighter with no luck)
(2) The thermocouple (replaced with a new one apparently)
(3) The gas valve (no parts available)
Apparently he tried a new thermocouple (it did not look like anything had been replaced to me) without luck, this seems strange as he has previously blamed the piezo-if that was at fault then there would be no spark to even light the pilot! He then went on to say no parts were available, removed the fuse, turned off the gas supply to the boiler, wrote my mother a voucher for £200 off a new boiler & left her in tears.
He did however arrange for one of your salesman to come out the VERY NEXT DAY to quote £3700 for a replacement boiler! (we have since had quotes for £1700- a bit of a difference).
The following day I inspected the boiler, I found the following :-
(1) The piezo terminal BENT to earth-no spark present. Corrected and spark was fine.
(2) Thermocouple not tightened, corrected.
(3) Gas valve-no problem, gas coming through fine.
Within 20 minutes the boiler was working fine, a next door neighbour who is gas save registered checked it over & confirmed it was fine.
The following week one of your managers, M.M., called my mother to say they had found a new gas valve! Found in someone's van apparently, surely your parts system is computerised? Either that or he called every depot in the country to find one? They came out to fit that yesterday (24th). Prior to their visit I returned the boiler to its previous state (apart from bending the piezo electrode-I did not want that to snap off so you could blame the lack of replacement for the reason of un-repair).
When they arrived they got the pilot to light as I would expect, however this would not hold, unsurprising as the thermocouple was not tight. Rather than check this they proceeded to fit a new thermocouple (another one). Once this was fitted it worked fine, at this point I confronted M. over what had happened. His answer was a thermocouple can have an intermittent fault!
When I asked about the bent electrode he said it could have been bent when reassembling-impossible as it is surrounded by a metal shield. When I asked how a trained engineer could not test something so simple he claimed it could be a training issue!
When I asked about the gas valve things turned a little silly, I was told the gas valve had NOTHING to do with the pilot light, rather than argue I decided to let you dig your hole a little deeper, you will see how in a short while!
So, we are to believe that the original thermocouple that worked fine prior to YOU touching it went faulty on that day, not just that but the BRAND NEW thermocouple that YOU tried was also faulty? Seems like one hell of a coincidence to me! At this point I retrieved the faulty thermocouple & left them to tidy up, they seemed a little uneasy at this-I wonder why?!
Then something miraculous happened, the pilot light had apparently gone out! When I asked what was causing that they said the GAS VALVE. The same GAS VALVE that had NOTHING to do with the pilot light 5 minutes earlier? They then decided to fit a new gas valve, M. scurried off to leave P. (the engineer) to it! Once this was fitted it all worked fine (just like it did for the whole of the previous week with ZERO NEW PARTS FITTED).
To me the whole episode smacks of attempted rip off & I want answers not more lies to try & cover your tracks. I do not believe for one minute the thermocouple was faulty, I'd also like to know how it worked for years, "broke" when YOU touched it then worked for another week until you came out again! I'd love to know how the "faulty piezo" managed to bend its own electrode to earth & I'd also love to know how a gas valve can have nothing to do with the pilot light and also be intermittent to the tune of working for YEARS, "breaking" when YOU touch it only to work again for another week until YOU come out again?!
I have all these parts sat in front of me & fully intend on getting them checked out once I have had your response. I also have photographic/video evidence of the boiler working fine for the week in between your visits.
I look forward to some STRAIGHT answers as to why you tried to rip a customer off to the tune of £3700, the amount of stress you have caused not to mention the time I have taken off work to sort this out. . . . .
Boiler problem, or Homecare problem?
This is an extract from an email I received from a Lady from Leek (Staffordshire), in January 2011.-------------------------------
This is worth reading if you pay for British Gas Homecare service
". . . . Single lady calls BG as her boiler breaks down. She has their Homecare policy which covers break down, call outs blar blar blar......
Young, (and I am assuming inexperienced 'engineer' (for want of another word)) calls, condemns boiler - explains that parts are 'no longer available', old boilers are inefficient, blah blah blah... and CUTS IT OFF!!!! Leaving me, completely, not 'out' in the cold.... but 'in' in the cold :-(
He thus explains my beloved boiler is 'dangerous'? Issues me with 2 forms which I signed - to say I understand that this must not be used etc etc..... (Fortunate for me, I did not sign the copies 'he' took :-) He then 'arranges' a visit (today @4pm) to quote me for a new Central Heating system.......
Needless to say, and I did smirk when reading your pages..... I think this is a scam too........ The insurance policy I have, (and as I am an qualified insurance advisor... I do believe, like you :-) they have picked on the 'wrong person'.
The policy only covers repairs, your see, not replacement - which is fine.... but having taken a day off work to 'sort' my cold , boilerless situation....... on making some phone calls... I HAVE LOCATED SPARE PARTS !!! I have a telephone and a brain, therefore I will not readily part with £1000 for a new boiler if I don't have to!
My policy clearly states, "we will mend, free of charge, your boiler if we can locate the parts...." Technically speaking, the young inexperienced 'engineer' could not, granted... but I can... So will await my little 'visit' and act all innocent - advised quite rightly so from your web pages... THANK YOU.... and let them dig a big hole for themselves, which I shall take great pleasure in 'dropping them' in it!!!"
A few days later I received this follow-up email.
"There is yet another twist to the tail....... It would now appear that, (having had a local independent, well known, respected and dare I say TRUSTED) Gas engineer look at my problem last night.... He is calling back this evening to FIX (yes you read rightly), actually FIX the boiler - the issue BG had to condemn, would appear not exactly be............. truthful..... "
And a few days later,
"Just a quick note to inform you my boiler has been fixed :-) Also received a letter from BG informing me they are cancelling my contract and refunding my premiums in full !?! Not even complained to them officially yet...."
Threatened with a pre-payment meter? - Oppose it.
In Sept. 2010 this guy was in dispute with British Gas over his late mother's account and was threatened with having a pre-payment meter forced upon him. When BG applied to court for a warrant to do this he went to court and opposed BG. British Gas lost.-------------------------------
The Warrants Officer explained that he had 24 warrants to apply for that day (yesterday) and has 20 more today. He said only 2 people have ever contested a warrant in over a year of him doing this job. . . .
. . . just like you said, the Magistrates listened quite a bit to what I had to say. . . . .
. . . the 3 Magistrates made their consultations and then they announced that they were going to grant 23 of the warrants but that mine was going to be refused because the complaint was never handled properly!!
British Gas case thrown out of court.
This is an extract from an email I received in October 2008.
This is essential reading if you are threatened with court action
. . . . Two years later BG out of the blue sent me court letters. I outlined my defence and attended court. On arrival the BG solicitor (a nice young lady) stated they would accept £250 costs and the £17. I stated I would defend the matter and would be laying a counter claim for all my costs, letters, postage loss of work etc.----------------------------------------------------
She really did not want to go ahead and wanted me to cave in She came back and stated I could pay £ 100 including the £17. I could tell she was getting worried she said is it really worth it I explained that for 15 years I was a Policeman and quite used to handling my self in court and that I was quite looking forward to the day. She said she had only been given the file that morning and had not really had time to read it all and wanted to ajourned to another day. I informed her that neither myself or the judge would allow that. She then admitted she had never actually attended county court only magistrates court. The case went ahead and I asked her to explain to the judge how the bill was calculated. She was unable to do so stating that the billing system was subject to the data protection act????!!! and that to disclose how the system works may give BG's competitors an unfair advantage. (Trade secrets!!!). The judge stated that if she could not proved the bill was accurate then there was no case to answer and threw it out.
The story nearly ended there but I decided to take out a counter claim for £750 against BG for my costs. After paying my money to the court they decided to pay up without having to attend. Nice result but took 5 years of crap off BG. They will really try to bully you but stand your corner you may get a good result as they are really useless.
6 Jan 2009 - Very important, Read!
A couple of days ago I received an email from Michelle L. who was being harassed by British Gas about some alleged bill from Nov. 2006. I knew that there had been some billing code that meant that BG could not chase up old accounts. I was remiss in not finding out the details and giving them here, my apologies, fortunately Michelle send me a link which gave the details.
Check this out, it might save you a fortune. http://www.legalbeagles.info/forums/showthread.php?t=1576
Here is a taster from the information.
"From the 1st July 2006 where the supplier has been at fault in not billing a domestic customer the supplier will not send a bill which includes energy consumed more than 2 years previous to the bill being issued. From 1st July 2007 this period will reduce to 1 year" (Clause 3.5)
British Gas chickens out at the doors of the court
This is an extract from an email I received in March 2008. The writer was not not intimidated by threats of being taken to court by BG. I wish more people would stand up to BG like this.-----------------------------------------------------
"When I arrived to Court before we went in, the man that was representing BG took me aside and said "lets see if we can sort this out before we go in " . So I explain to him to whole story the best I could and showed him the file with all the letters and he said "To be honest I cant go through this, I don't feel this is right and I don't think BG has handled the situation very well, so I am withdrawing the warrant"."
Check out this guy's website, Complaints about British Gas
More falsified and inflated readings
This weekend I received an email which said,
"We have changed suppliers from BG to Scottish Power. Final electricity bill has arrived (still awaiting gas) with a ridiculous reading. Actual reading on 21 August was 45216. Their final reading dated 4 August is 46938."---------------------------------------------------
. . . and here's another
". . I've had a 5 month saga the same as yours. On changing to EDF in April, British Gas billed me for a reading of 23808. EDF read the meter at this date - their reading - 13001. The final bill I received from BG? £1750."-----------------------------------------------------
I looks like the way British Gas falsified and inflated my meter reading is standard practice.
Bills for non-existant meter.
Here is a section from a recent email.
". . . Since then though we have had countless bills for 277A, (10 years ago the house was 2 flats). The address does not exist, the meter they think is here does not exist and we do not buy their gas. We have been trying to tell them this since November and have had 3 visits from their representatives who all agree that the meter and flat are no longer. Now we are faced with a warrant to enter the home and disconnect the supply plus legal action as we have not paid their fictional £500 bill !!!!!-------------------------------------------------
Am trying Energywatch but as you rightly say, they appear useless!"
Here's a bit emailed to me from a struggling single mum.
". . . they slapped me with threatening letters, sent me a county court judgement, which i defended, yet they sent me a statement saying they had provided me with gas when i lived in Herefordshire??? never lived anywhere else. I live in Stockport."---------------------------------------------------
More screwed up billing and utter confusion in Customer Relations.
". . I took several readings of the numbers through the course of the day it became painfully apparent that BG were recording my night readings as my day readings and vice versa..... We believe BG owes me over £800.00 for electricity use I have not had.... I spoke to 8 different Customer Advisors and 3 Line Managers. Two weeks ago I spoke to a Line Manager who said they only owed me £290.00 and they would not send me corrected bills... "----------------------------------------------------
£5,000 for two months gas. (31.10.2006)
". . . I got here something from my flatmate saying that British Gas would take me to court if I did not pay this £5000 in the next seven days. I called them, they stopped the whole thing and told me they would look into it and call me back. I hear nothing for three weeks, so I call them back. They tell me that I have nothing left to pay.----------------------------------------------------
Then I hear one month later that the company are threatening to take me to court again if I do not pay this time £500. They utterly refused to admit their mistake this time so I am left to pay the money. I feel like an idiot for doing so as I only was supplied by them for two months and cannot possibly owe them so much, but you do not expect a supposedly reputable company to behave in this way. . . ."
Problems with their automate telephone billing system.
"I paid my remaining Electric bill through there automated telephone system, which I therefore presumed was the end of my dealings with them. However within a few weeks I started receiving threatening letters from BGas about non payment and how they were going to take me to court etc.------------------------------------------------------
Eventually I sent them my bank details showing payment and then I heard nothing for a few weeks ...." etc. etc. etc.
Problems with British Gas Homecare Package
Check out this website http://www.webstermarketing.co.uk/bgas.htm
This guy is having problems with the British Gas Homecare package. It seems like British Gas abuse their customers in all aspects of their business.
If you'd like to email me, it's:
Pete Loud Websites