Really, really bad news
This is a totally anonymous story, although the two protagonists will recognise themselves. A reader approached Forecourt Trader with a very real problem. The other party will know who they are because of the details to follow. I am simply not naming anyone in the hope that this dire situation may be agreeably resolved.
Here is what happened and stop at any point and email/phone me if something similar has happened to you.
The retailer, who had suffered recently from angina, took the worst call of his life when his fuel card company rang him up and said he owed them £85,000. They had apparently been overpaying him for the past couple of years.
"At first I thought it was a wind-up," he says, "but then they emailed me the details."
Somehow his payment details had been cloned although the amounts were slightly different.
He sent me copies of the transactions for the last week in March. One set shows a total of £2,379 and the other £2,933. If the amounts had been exactly the same, of course, he would have twigged that there was an error.
"I get the invoices as normal every week but one of these is in our name but isn’t ours. We thought they had changed their accounting system. I know I should reconcile it every week but..."
The business, which has been operating for 43 years, also incorporates a car dealership, so there are huge amounts of money swishing through the system all the time. What our retailer had noticed last year was that the business was doing a bit better. He and his sons, who also work with him, put the upswing down to several things but not to an error on the part of the fuel card company.
He was also away from the business for a while, suffering from the previously mentioned angina and says that the new stress is already taking its toll.
When he spoke to his accountants they said they had seen an abnormality but had put it down to a director’s loan.
Part of an email from the fuel card company telling him how the errors happened says: "If you check your end of day polling reports, for this period, you will see that the transactions shown on this spreadsheet are not included, however, they have been paid to you and would have been included on your remittance advices.
"This would not have been glaringly obvious but would have been noticed during normal weekly reconciliation."
He says: "In all fairness, where is their reconciliation?"
I would add that the fuel card’s website makes a big song and dance about customers using their services to take the hassle out of all that paperwork because it does it all for you.
I have made several recommendations to the retailer involving free professional advice and what I think is a fair solution (ie either a reasonable amount per month spread out over however long it takes or 50% in full and final settlement, as it was the supplier’s fault as much as it was the retailer’s for not noticing).
And two more points in the retailer’s favour.
One: in 2013 he wasn’t paid for eight weeks and didn’t notice (he doesn’t want his supplier to think that he has accepted this overpayment on purpose) and two: the week before this was written they had once again overpaid him. He has separated the extra payment into a different bank account.
And I ask again... does any of this sound in any way familiar?
This fuel card company has thousands of customers. Surely, if retailer X were the only one, they would have managed to sort it out on their computers with the stroke of a button. Or are there too many to sort out?
The good Samarita
How satisfying when a reader gets in touch with a solution to another retailer’s problem. He bills himself as "John Smith (really!)" so you have to like his style.
JS runs Mile End Service Station in Melin, Neath, and he, hurrah! has some spare Wall’s Maxivision lids of the sort that Suresh Kannan needs for his ice cream freezer. Suresh has been trying to negotiate for months with Wall’s to get a replacement (Forecourt Trader March and April). Now this column appears to have accomplished what Wall’s could not a solution.
"They are spare because the cabinets have died of old age despite many repairs by my refrigeration engineer.
"I have replaced the two with one new, more modern unit to go with our new shop fit by Mace," says John.
He’s a former Esso licensee/tenant/agent at three separate locations over a period of more than 40 years. "Then I got fed up with their levies and goalpost-moving tendencies and managed to buy out the freehold of this site in late 2004. I’ve actually just celebrated 32 years on this one!
"We now have four shiny new eight-hose Gilbarco SK700s complete with all the toys, stage 2 vapour recovery, temperature compensation and media screens running just around 4mlpa, Costa Express, Mace shop and, once again, a vacant car lot at the top of the forecourt.
"When I started here in 1983 there were probably about 15 other sites in the area, now there are three: Tesco, Morrisons and yours truly!"
In addition to helping Suresh, this good Samaritan and his team (’Smiffy’s Slaves’) are currently very busy helping to raise funds for a local two-year old girl who is in America having proton beam treatment for a tumour.
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