An abuse of power?


I gather that electrical disputes are not uncommon. Khalid Mohammad was left disillusioned and distinctly unhappy with his bill after a Yorkshire-based company conducted a site test for the annual renewal of his petroleum certificate.

They gave him an estimate, came and did the work, putting right three points out of a six-point defect report. And while they were at it they managed to break the microphone which had been working perfectly well. Khalid says: “Our PA system is imperative to our business as our pumps only work when a customer presses a yellow button. Our non-regular customers are not aware of this and we have to inform them via the PA.”

He is offering to pay for the three defects corrected (replacing pump isolators, blanks missing from the distribution board and disconnecting a switch on the car wash board) but is now in dispute over a further three (which included a broken microphone). The bill, by the way, was for £630.

The company has responded to Khalid’s written complaints, saying that in 40 years it has never had a complaint and that it has carried out work with all the majors. It is also threatening legal action.

Trading standards has told Khalid that they cannot intervene as the dispute is ‘commercial’.

I rang the Petrol Retailers’ Association and also Garage Watch on Khalid’s behalf. Although he is a member of neither, both organisations feel so strongly about the subject that they have agreed to intervene on his behalf and offer what help they can. Neither had heard of the company in question.

Philip Monger, technical director at the PRA, told me: “Electrical testing has caused enormous problems in the past few years. We’ve been trying to solve the problem at an industry level. Site tests should cost around £150 and sometimes upgrading isn’t necessary. The contractor is often not aware of what is required.”

And Mark Bradshaw at Garage Watch said he also had been stung in the past even though he is a qualified electrician. “We had a guy in to do a test and while he was here he switched off a freezer and we lost £600-worth of stock. The company refused to take responsibility and we had to claim on insurance. We knew it was him because the connection was behind a cupboard and he was the only one to go there.”

In a case like that, proving it is the problem. Mark reckons some companies will promote their services by charging small amounts at first followed by ‘jumped up’ charges that you will not understand.

Charity begins at home

I’m sure you’ve had the calls. They go like this: “Hello, we’re producing drugs awareness books on behalf of the police which we will be circulating to schools in your area. Thank you for agreeing to sponsor this campaign (they mention an earlier phone call, which of course you don’t remember, because you never had the call). Can we have the names of the schools you would like to receive these books?”

Then the bill comes, whether you agree or not, usually for around a couple of hundred quid minimum. It may get heavy after that and you will have to be robust when they keep ringing you up threatening debt collection agencies.

I get these calls too – but they are from retailers who have been targeted. Most recently I’ve been emailed by Dave Moss from Alfington Stores and Service Station in Ottery St Mary, Devon. He had two calls in October from so-called drugs awareness campaigners, calling ostensibly on behalf of the police.

Dave asked on whose authority the call was being made so that he could check with the appropriate police force. The first caller just hung up but the second one said company policy forbade her from divulging the information. Good innit? Give us your money but we can’t tell you on whose behalf.

I have been reporting on these sort of scams for quite a few years now. The DTI regularly closes a few of these companies down in any given year, but, like weeds, they crop up again in the next county or miles and miles away. Is it a franchise I wonder, with a Mr Big behind it?

I hope you are now a proud grandfather?

Transferring the old off licence to the new, complicated, expensive one under ‘grandfather rights’ that merely allows you to sell the same old stuff (if you’re lucky), hasn’t been a smooth process for a lot of retailers and it has, understandably, created a great deal of resentment among those who have come up against jobsworths on local councils.

What can I say? If it went wrong for you and you got the notification after you submitted (in time) that you have to start from scratch, then you have to decide either to take the stupid test to gain a personal licence and go through the rigmarole of putting all the forms in again, or give up alcohol. Your licence will lapse on November 24 if you don’t reapply.