== Another abuse of power ==

So, you sweat along on the main business, tinkering with the sideline essentials like paying your bills on time and looking around for a better deal from one of your service providers, maybe switch sources and then... hang on, a back-dated bill for £35,000?

This nightmare sprung itself on Jonathan James who runs three petrol stations and a couple of convenience stores in and around the Fens. Two of the petrol sites were supplied by Powergen. When Jonathan did a knock-down rebuild at one of the sites in 2004 he had the power supply switched from a three-rate meter to a single rate, on advice from his power supplier.

"The serial number on the meter is different and it turned out they took the wrong reading," he says.

When Jonathan decided to switch recently to Southern Electric for a better deal, Powergen’s computer discovered the mistake and spat out the anomaly. It’s been wrong for the whole three years and they say he owes them £35,000.

Adding insult to injury, the rep who brought Jonathan the bad news, used to own three petrol stations himself. "But he seemed to think that I’m a big company and can just cough up the difference. I’m just a family business," says Jonathan.

I referred Jonathan to the government watchdog EnergyWatch and he says: "It was incredibly helpful. It is currently investigating it for me and understands that mine is a small, family firm. The irony is, I would have left Powergen sooner if I had realised what their tariff really is."

Jonathan has decided to go the distance on this one. We will follow his progress with interest.

== Would you credit it? ==

Tony Barlow, who runs Local Service Station, The Mount in Shrewsbury, has sent us a cautionary tale about the thoughtless way large companies sometimes treat small businesses.

He was approached some time ago by a PayPoint rep who asked him if he would like to become an agent. He thought it might be a good idea and so filled in the application form. In June he got a letter from PayPoint saying that, based on its credit checking procedure, it could not accept him and that if he wanted more information he should contact Experian.

He duly contacted Experian and paid the fee to check his credit record. "Experian confirmed that there was nothing in its reports that could be detrimental to my application," says Tony, "but all PayPoint will say is that they require high standards of credit worthiness. I would point out that I have had accounts with Palmer & Harvey (16 years), Texaco (16 years), Total, Gulf, three other oil companies and Royal Mail etc."

Tony’s main concern is not that he has not been accepted as a PayPoint agent (he has PayZone anyway and wasn’t that fussed) but what might happen in the future if he applied for credit elsewhere?

"It puts me in a sticky position," he says, "with new suppliers there is usually a question on the application form asking whether you have ever been turned down for credit before."

Tony contacted Forecourt Trader when his letters to PayPoint asking for a better explanation went unanswered. I contacted PayPoint on his behalf and Tony has now had a letter with a bit more information and apologies. But, cloaked under the Data Protection Act, PayPoint says it cannot discuss individual credit checks. All it will say is that it uses a bespoke credit scoring system with a ’pass’ threshold which was not reached in this case.

The letter does add that his credit rating should not have been compromised. "Your application to PayPoint is not an application for ’credit’ or a bank account, therefore we see no reason why you need disclose the outcome of your PayPoint application to other organisations in the future."

== Service-centred? ==

Whenever I write about a supplier - good, bad or indifferent - I frequently get other suppliers getting in touch and saying, what about us then?

For example, after I reported on a catalogue of disasters experienced by a reader with his jet wash, WashTec got in touch to point out that it wouldn’t treat its customers as anything other than extremely valued. Marketing manager Dawn Frazer wrote: "I don’t believe it is in the industry’s interest to have customers of any manufacturer receiving such poor service, as I am aware that the likelihood is that customers will find their way to illegal hand car wash sites."

I am constantly staggered at the number of calls I get from retailers who have had genuine complaints about the ’service’ from their supplier. First the service goes wrong, then the admin cock-up kicks in, and then, when they try to get somewhere over the phone with customer services, they meet indifference, avoidance and arrogance. Sound familiar? I hope not.

On that note may I wish you, one and all, a trouble-free holiday season and loadsa profit, especially if you are having to work when others aren’t.