Ft - Jac Roper - Service Centre

I received a lengthy email from Tom Dant, who is the MD of Lincolnshire-based Gill Marsh Forecourts/TAG Retail, setting out the very distressing experience he had with Scottish Power.

The problem was with one of our their Spar convenience stores – a former co-op they took on, on the 29th of June, last year in Grimsby.

At the beginning of November Tom wrote: “Despite much chasing Scottish Power took just under three months to complete the change of name. This has left us on a deemed contract for three full months without the ability to switch supplier or negotiate a better deal. Due to the fact that the site has a half hourly meter the deemed rate is nearly twice their normal out of contract rate (£1.02 per unit as opposed to 54p per unit) this has left us with a debt of around £62,000 which we simply cannot afford as it is three times higher than it should have been.”

This, he adds, left them in a situation where, had they been able to sign a contract in June/early July, the rate they would have received was around the 40p per unit mark. “Scottish Power are no longer offering rates based upon half-hourly meter supplied properties, so have hiked their deemed contract rates to encourage customers to move to a different supplier as quickly as possible. We have been unable to do this as now they are blocking our move to a different supplier due to the unrealistic debt on the account. The only support they have offered is a payment plan to split the bill over three months which is still crazy. I have asked to receive the previous occupier’s rate until the change of name was completed so that we can both draw a line under this situation and move forward but have had no response. Every day that goes on is another day where they are charging us a ridiculous amount and are trapping us by not letting us choose a different supplier, purely to line their pockets.”

It gets worse: “I have been hounded by a call centre yesterday demanding payment and telling me that the rate is the rate and there is nothing they can do about it. I asked them how can a rate of electricity vary so much depending on if you had a different type of meter or not? They told me they don’t make the rates (on the unhelpful desk). It just amounts to profiteering. We are a small business with low margins and business is hard enough at the minute without the added stress of this hanging over us. We also only received the bills on the 29/10/2022, so for them to chase them so quickly is also terrible behaviour.”

Tom says that the whole ordeal is having a massive effect on his mental health. “And is causing me a great deal of stress and anxiety. I am looking into my options to start legal proceedings against Scottish Power to compensate us for the fact that we are having to sign an energy contract now which is twice the price of the rate that it would have been had they completed the change of occupier in a normal timescale. I will be claiming compensation for damage to my health and well-being and the stress it has caused.”

Before he got in touch Tom did some research and discovered there is no protection for businesses that use more than 100,000 units of electricity per year. “So most normal convenience stores with a decent amount of refrigeration. You cannot complain to the ombudsman as they only protect micro businesses and home consumers, there literally is nowhere to turn!”

He wasn’t sure where to start on the legal side of things, so I suggested that he should call the Law Society’s Lawyers for your Business on 020 7405 9075. They will direct him to the closest lawyer operating the scheme (there are more than a thousand of them). They will give him a free half hour on the phone.

I also recommended that he write to the boss – never mind the monkeys – and I sent him the email address of Scottish Power’s chief corporate officer. I also suggested that Tom should tell him if he doesn’t respond positively then he would be taking further advice. He will know what that means.

Meanwhile I got in touch with Scottish Power’s media centre for a comment. The first response was: “I’m working to get a response for you as soon as possible, but for the relevant team to release the information, we need one of the following to locate the account:

- The full address of the property involved.

- The account number associated with supply at the property.

“For that team to release the information to us, please could you also confirm explicit consent from your contact, confirming they’re happy for us to look into this and share details from the account with you for your purposes? This is in line with GDPR and standard practice across all enquiries.”

Fair enough. Tom wrote to them that he had given me consent to deal with a query on behalf of TAG Retail Ltd.

Eventually a spokesperson for Scottish Power said: “We’re sorry that it took longer than it should have to transfer the account to Mr Dant as the new leaseholder. Once complete, he was billed accurately for the energy used as the business customer at the property. At his request, we have now processed the switch in energy supplier. We have also attempted to contact him to discuss the outstanding balance, which could include some reduction in recognition of the slightly extended timescales involved in the transfer. We will continue to reach out to him.”

We decided to hold off reporting this story while Tom waited to hear from Scottish Power.

He was still waiting when I checked back in January.

“I’ve still heard nothing from them other than a reminder for payment of £64,000 just before Christmas!”

So I wrote to their press office again, pointing out how easy it is to ‘reach out’ to Tom.

And this time Scottish Power did get in touch. They offered him a 5% discount if he makes a payment via a payment plan or they will give him 10% off if he pays the balance in full.

As Tom observed: “This is still ludicrous, as they say the outstanding balance is £71,383.22 so the total discount being offered is £7,138 and the woman I spoke to was having to speak to an operations manager to authorise that!

“I said really I would not accept anything less than 75% discount as it was 75% overpriced as if we did not have a half-hour meter that is the rate I would have been charged! I also explained that we were unable to leave the supplier and had no control over the rate we were being charged and had to sign a contract at double the amount that we could have gotten had we switched at the point of take over.

“She is ringing me back tomorrow when she has spoken to her operations manager who is not in today.”

And again, he waits.

You can email your queries, news and views to Jac@roper-biz.co.uk or call 0208 8502 9775