Gorleston shop’s �10,000 power bill shock

A BRITISH Gas customer handed a �10,000 electricity bill following a meter mix-up says he was plunged into a cul-de-sac of endless complaining with little prospect of the dispute being resolved.

All photographer Victor Ling wanted was for the energy provider - this week fined �2.5m by the industry regulator for failing to deal properly with customer complaints - to provide an accurate bill which reflected the scale of the operation at his high street premises in Gorleston over the last four years.

Mr Ling, managing director of Barker’s Photographic said this week he was having to cut staff hours to pay the hefty bill, which although trimmed to just under �5000 would still have a big impact on the business.

The anomales emerged just over a year ago when Mr Ling queried his bill, believing he was paying too much.

British Gas agreed there was a fault on the meter but said that in fact he owed them �10,000 - triggering a flurry of bewildered emails.

Mr Ling said although he accepts there may be an amount outstanding, basing the bill on the businesses’ current usage was unfair because the operation was bigger today than it was four years ago.

When the company first moved to Gorleston High Street it had just one processing machine and now had several more, expanding to the upstairs rooms with the closure of its main sister site in St Peter’s Plain.

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“We really opened a can of worms,” he said. “We queried a bill saying we seemed to be paying a lot of money and they said we weren’t paying enough and owed them �10,000. That was a bit of a surprise to say the least.

“The amount of time we have had to spend on this is frightening. We agree we do owe them some money. It seems the meter wasn’t working properly.

“Now since 2010 the readings have been accurate and they want to work backwards on that basis over the last four years, but this was not our head office then and we now have full photographic equipment.

“We have gone through so many different people - having to explain to each of them that we are not the same business that we were five years ago. It has meant a lot of sleepless nights.”

Mr Ling intends to take his case to Ofgem, the industry regulator. His offer of �1000 paid monthly has been declined.

British Gas was been fined �2.5m on Wednesday for failing to deal properly with customer complaints.

In particular, Ofgem noted a failure to “re-open complaints” when the customer thought they had not been resolved. “The finding highlights basic failures in British Gas’ customer service, particularly in dealing with some of its small business customers and shows Ofgem’s commitment to use its powers to ensure suppliers treat customers fairly and transparently,” said Sarah Harrison, Ofgem’s senior partner for sustainable development.

However, Ofgem acknowledged that since its investigation began in June 2010, British Gas had acted to “improve its complaint handling systems”.

The company pointed out that Ofgem’s criticisms were focused on its treatment of micro-businesses which make up a small proportion of its total customer base. As such, British Gas said that Ofgem’s fine was “disproportionate”.