You win some, you lose some

I was contacted on two different occasions involving Kirit Patel’s two businesses (Premier Forecourts, Penryn, Cornwall) and on the same subject but with quite different outcomes.

In the first case he had bought a rundown property in 2015.

The premises had a gas meter with no serial number, which was not supplying gas, and Kirit didn’t know who the supplier was until May 2017 when he got a bill from Total Gas and Power (TG&P) for over £300. More bills followed and then debt collectors got involved. I advised Kirit to go to the Energy Ombudsman and he did.

The regulator told him that when a property has a meter that is not being used, the energy company is still able to apply a standing charge (in case the business decides to use it) but it had no evidence that TG&P made him aware of it before the bill was issued, so although it could not remove all of the charges, it certainly removed a substantial amount.

The investigating officer told TG&P to remove the standing charges from Kirit’s account between October 10, 2016 and April 20, 2017. She also demanded a written apology for shortfalls in customer service and a £50 goodwill payment. Kirit was very happy with that.

Then he contacted me again over a problem he had with Opus Energy at his Longdowns site. They had put him on half-hourly meter readings rather than monthly, which meant he was on a higher tariff. Last April half-hourly readings became mandatory if your peak demand was more than 100 kWh or if you used more than 100,000 kWh per year. Last year Kirit’s electricity consumption was 46,480 kWh for the whole year so it didn’t seem that he needed frequent readings.

I asked Opus for a response and they said that in Kirit’s case their hands were tied due to Ofgem regulations. They said Kirit’s business fell within the regulations, and his account had been migrated over to half-hourly billing using an AMR meter (before Opus took over as his supplier). They added that they had suggested Kirit refer the matter to the Ombudsman as there was nothing further they could do. The Ombudsman Services duly reviewed his case, told him Opus had acted correctly and eventually closed the case. "The Ombudsman decision is non-binding, and Mr Patel has clearly chosen not to accept it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change our position as we legally cannot do what he has asked us to do," said Opus."

I asked them to clarify why he fell into this category and got a further reply. "Mr Patel was migrated over because of the profile class of his meter. Any meters in profile classes five to eight had to be migrated by last April. Mr Patel’s meter is a profile class six."

I was directed to a website that explained that if the first (two-digit) number, in the box to the immediate right of the ’S’, is 05, 06, 07 or 08, your supplier’s energy and network costs will be worked out using your half-hourly consumption data. Hope that helps!

It really is on the cards this time

As you undoubtedly all know to your misfortune, from January 13 you were no longer allowed to charge customers for using credit or debit cards (an EU Directive) to recoup your costs. There is only one possible/impossible loophole that I can see. It is that you can apply a booking or admin fee or service charge only if you apply it to other forms of payment too. So you would have to apply an extra fee for accepting cash as well. This would not be popular.

For Eddie Pinchbeck, who runs EW Pinchbeck outside Andover, the new rules will run to crippling expense. The 55-year old business comprises a petrol station, a c-store and a car sales business.

He says: "On car sales some ask can we pay with a credit card? That could be £20K on a credit card at a cost of 3.5%. We used to charge that back. Now it’s more than we would earn on the car."

The c-store costs them up to £1K a month in card charges. "On top of this Amex gives customers Air Miles, which we finance, and Allstar gives a fuel discount, which we pay for," explains Eddie.

Regarding cards in-store he says: "We’ve never recouped any of it." But like many retailers, they have set a minimum spend for using a credit card especially as so many kids now have cards.

Eddie is going to get onto the Conservative Way Forward, because he’s a member, and he’s going to tell them exactly what he thinks.