An ’inheritance’ he could do without

This is a story full of twists and turns with one consistent note. Scottish Power has so far not been able to provide Central Avenue Service Station in Nuneaton with either an electricity meter that works or an appropriate bill although it has been able to send, via collection agencies, plenty of threatening bailiff letters.

If this story rings bells it is because I’ve reported on it twice earlier this year. The station is now being run by Farhang Arabpour, who has inherited the problem from Jagdish Radia who did his damndest to try to sort it out before handing over the lease.

Farhang enlisted the help of an energy agent Martyn Wood (RMB Energy) who has done a very good job of summarising the situation which was forwarded to Scottish Power. He observed: "The meter has not displayed any readings since at least July 11, 2017, the date that Jai Radia became the business leaseholder. The fault was first discovered on that date by the stocktaker/auditor.

"The fault was reported to Scottish Power that very day, and to this date (September 20, 2018), the meter remains in a state of non display. Scottish Power have in that time arranged SIX appointments to repair or exchange the meter. On the first three occasions they simply did not turn up, breaking the appointment without any notice or communication. On the next three appointments they did actually attend the premises, but for reasons best known to themselves did not, or could not, repair or exchange the meter."

The latest demand that Farhang received is a whopping £24,267.13.

Using similar businesses as a comparison Martyn Wood came up with this: "The annual cost of the amended consumption would be £9,091 at the last contract prices that Shami and Mohammed Chaudry (the previous, previous owners) had with Scottish Power. However, prices have increased drastically since that contract was signed in 2016, and the same consumption at today’s prices would cost £13,332. Both of these figures include Climate Change Levy, and Value Added Tax at 20%."

I sent all this to Scottish Power’s press officer but didn’t get a response although, as this is being written, a visit from engineers is promised later this week. Hopefully then someone will do some proper estimates based on actual consumption and will sort out the bill.

During the course of discussing the ongoing problem (plus two other problems he had... more of that in future issues) I asked Farhang if this was his first business in the forecourt arena and whether he was badly missing beginner’s luck.

Turns out he has been in the trade for over 25 years both as a multiple site operator with BP Quantum and then with his own sites for the past 15 years.

So this is now just a run of very bad luck.

Cashback isn’t retailing, it’s banking

Whether or not you can charge for cashback is a subject that I have covered extensively in Forecourt Trader’s sister paper Convenience Store since the new rules came in at the beginning of the year. There was a lot of confusion at first until we established that cashback isn’t retailing, it’s a bit of banking.

Yogesh Chag rang from Craven Park Service Station in north-west London to say that his Londis store had an ATM, which charges £1.69 per transaction. "Sometimes customers just leave," he says. He thought it would be useful to be able to offer cashback through the till and that customers wouldn’t mind paying for the service if it was a bit cheaper than the ATM.

However, he adds, Suresite, which does his card transactions, said he couldn’t. I contacted Suresite and marketing manager Lynne Rawlinson replied: "I’m terribly sorry if one of our communications on this subject wasn’t clear, but you absolutely can charge for cashback. I think we may have confused Yogesh in an e-bulletin we sent out last year, where we talked about the second EU Payment Service Directive which came into force this January. In it, we stated that retailers will no longer be able to charge customers any fees for using consumer credit cards, pre-paid cards and debit cards. But we were not explicit that cashback falls outside of this directive as it does not count as a purchase.

"So, sorry Yogesh that we have contributed to your confusion. We will now contact all our card services customers to set them absolutely straight."