An unexpected and unwanted power struggle

How’s this for bare-faced cheek? Yogesh Chag, who runs Craven Park Service Station in Harlesden, north-west London, had his energy supply transferred from Extra Energy to npower without his knowledge.

"Has anybody else had this problem?" he asks. I said I would ask in this column.

Previously with Extra Energy, Yogesh renewed for another year and got it in writing. At some point he got a call from a call centre offering him cheaper energy.

At no point did he agree because, as he says, he never does verbal agreements always asks for it in writing.

Then a letter arrived from npower confirming a switch. He wasn’t happy with the prices and cancelled. He got a letter from npower confirming the cancellation. Then in the first quarter of this year, no bill from Extra Energy; second quarter, no bill. So he contacts Extra Energy and they said he had been transferred to npower in 2015. He rang npower again (are you keeping up at the back?) and they said ’You have been our customer since 2015’.

"I said but I’ve never received a bill," says Yogesh. (He had sent an npower meter reader away three times previously because he had not agreed to them being his supplier.) Npower said ’You agreed verbally’. Yogesh said send me the disk. "They sent me a blank disk," he says. Appropriately so, I would say. Then a weird coincidence: as Yogesh was telling me the story on the phone, his post arrived along with a bill from npower for £9,600. Since he knew they would be charging more per kilowatt, he had already been to Ofgem to complain but was told that he would have to wait eight weeks before they could intervene; so this is a story in progress and he’s going back to the ombudsman.

And I would add that this isn’t the first story I’ve heard about various ploys used by energy companies to get people to switch and for more money for the same stuff! The first shocking one I heard was perhaps some 20 years ago when my local Londis owner, Hari Patel, told me how he had been inadvertently switched from Southern Electric to npower. A rep had come into the store but Hari wasn’t there and the under-manager made it clear that he did not have the authorisation to switch. The rep said, fair enough mate, but would you just sign here so that I can prove to my manager that I at least made the call. So he signed.

First thing Hari knew was three months later when he got a new bill from npower. About one-third higher than he was used to.

I am assuming that energy companies don’t actively train their reps to get customers to sign up in such dodgy ways but they are on commission which means they may say/promise things that won’t necessarily be in the contract. But ’contract’ is another subject so don’t get me started.

Some good news from PayPoint

I know that good news and PayPoint (PP) isn’t something I often write in the same sentence but hey, it does happen.

It started back in May when I had a call from Carol Smith, who runs The Bridge Garage in a very small village in Salisbury, near Stonehenge. She said she had received a notice of termination "based solely on commercial factors". She had previously had a call from PP telling her she needed to sign a new five-year contract. She said she didn’t recall signing one in the first place but the PP woman said she had it in front of her. Carol, who is in her seventies, pointed out that five years is a long time and she asked to see a copy of the contract.

"I said I would happily sign for one year. We’ve been with them for years and never defaulted."

Then she got a recorded delivery letter, with no copy of any original contract, telling her that her terminal schedule would terminate on November 5.

Carol doesn’t make much on the service. "We’re in the middle of nowhere." And she only makes around £7-£8 a week on parcel collections but says the villagers need the service as they are in such a rural area.

I said I would put her case to PP and rather jokingly wrote to marketing director Steve O’Neill: "Can’t PP do one-year contracts? (I know, everyone would want one.)"

Then curiously I got a call from his department asking me to hold off for a bit as they were looking at announcing that very thing! So I sat on the story (not the most comfortable of positions) for more than a month.

Then came the official response: "We understand Ms Smith’s position on the contract term. We have recently completed a review of our PayPoint agency terms following feedback from our retailers, and have amended our standard terms and conditions that apply to our General Retailer Agreements.

"These changes include a new rolling two-year notice period and more fair calculation of balance of contract.

"We have spoken with Ms Smith about these changes and she is happy to agree to these terms.

"We are now in the process of completing paperwork so her loyal customers can continue to access these vital services accessible via PayPoint."

I’m told that these new terms have gone out to all retailers on PP’s General Retailer Agreement. Also new is a 60-day mutual termination clause if PP has to put prices up.

These moves have all been based on retailer feedback the company has received. So, good news!