Literally absolutely powerless

Can you imagine having your petrol station and adjacent MOT business and car wash being without power for nine days? Nine hours is crippling enough.

Adam Patel runs Leyland Garage in Castleford, Wheldale, in West Yorkshire, and is the landlord to the MOT test centre and car wash on the same site.

"We’re going through a refurb and I contacted Northern Powergrid to get a meter moved from one location to another. I paid around £800 for the relocation and they told us we needed to get in touch with our electricity company, Scottish Power," says Adam. He spoke to Scottish Power on the same day and the moving day was set for January 5. He followed all the instructions regarding arranging engineers’ visits and liaising with sub contractors so that any cut to the power supply would be minimal. Northern Powergrid sent the civil engineer contractors to do all the digging, hole drilling and laying of cables. Everything was to be co-ordinated. The engineers disconnected at 1pm. But then a series of cock-ups ensued. By 3pm no contract engineers from Scottish Power had shown up. When Adam rang them they told him it had been cancelled. They said sorry, they had been informed that it was a domestic rather than a commercial job and at one point it transpired that the engineer had been sent to a bungalow on the site. Adam renegotiated.

At another point Adam sat in a car waiting outside from 2pm till 9pm for someone to show up. Days went by. Then an engineer from Hull showed up and said ’Oh no, it’s a three-phase meter, I’m only trained for domestic’. Then someone was sent from Wigan who didn’t have the right tools and couldn’t wait to be off home.

Finally by lucky Friday the 13th, they were switched back on.

Adam raised a complaint about the complete shambles with a complaints handler at Scottish Power and someone was meant to email him a compensation package. Since then and up to when this is being written (15 February) he has heard nothing and has had no response to his further calls and emails. I didn’t get a response either when I asked Scottish Power if it would care to comment.

Of course Adam has looked into complaining to the energy ombudsman. I looked into this too. You have to give your supplier eight weeks to resolve the situation before you can complain (so that’s in the diary). If Adam is unhappy with what Scottish Power might get around to awarding him, the ombudsman can get the supplier to look at his complaint again and can also make sure that financial compensation is offered. It won’t be quick on its website it says: "We are currently experiencing higher than expected demand for our service which has caused an increase in our usual case handling time of six to eight weeks. We anticipate cases will be resolved within 10 to 12 weeks of receipt of supporting information from both parties." Obviously it is going to be a tedious and drawn-out affair.

Meanwhile Adam, being a member of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, appealed to them for help (the NFRN has a free legal helpline).

They have sent him forms to submit for compensation claims for the losses incurred.

When I first spoke to Adam, he hadn’t done his out-of-pocket figures although the other two businesses had given him tallies. When I checked back before starting this piece he reckoned it would be at least £15,000 in damages.

I hope, in time, to bring you a second instalment about the resolution to Adam’s problem.

It all adds up in the end

Sometimes this column creates a dialogue between people who don’t know each other but have had somewhat similar experiences. Thus when I reported Doug Wardle’s bitter experience with NWF Fuels in our November issue (getting out of his contract cost him £30K+), it elicited a response from Laurence Haring who said that NWF had overcharged him by £8,000.

I printed this in the January issue and this prompted Doug to get in touch again with an even more extraordinary story.

Doug, who runs Jack’s of Norton at Stoke-on-Trent, first signed a contract with NWF in 2000 for five years. At the end of that contract Doug accused NWF of overcharging the business by £30K.

"Kevin Kennerley (the managing director) himself came to the station and wrote me a cheque for 30 grand," says Doug, "so we signed with them again for another five years, reluctantly if you are not dealing with a main refiner but a distributor then it costs more."

He was told that he couldn’t have a direct account with Texaco because he wasn’t big enough but he now believes that wasn’t true.

Doug is particularly keen to point out that the £30K overcharging and the £30K that it eventually cost Doug to end his contract in no way equates to zero.

"It was blatant overcharging the first time and it could have been the difference between solvency and bankruptcy."

He says he was was lucky that he could prop up Jack’s with funds from another business.

He did some top-of-the-head sums to highlight the significance of a fraction of a penny more on a litre, to which I’m sure you can all relate. "Because of the volume even 0.5 of a penny more, it can be £200 a load. Even at 0.25p it will still be £150 on 30,000 litres."

It sure does add up if you multiple that by five years.