ASK TONY: British Gas threatened to send bailiffs after meter muddle

I moved into a new-build home in December. The developer passed meter readings, meter numbers and my personal details to British Gas. I intended to switch from the expensive standard tariff.

A bill arrived in April and, although it was in my name, it was addressed to a neighbour’s house and had a different meter number.

I wrote to British Gas but it did not respond, except to send me a reminder — again to the wrong address — a couple of weeks later. It said it could not respond to letters in this current national emergency.

British Gas refused to listen when a homeowner tried to explain how they had sent a neighbours’ bill by mistake and instead threatened to send in the bailiffs

I assumed my problem would be put on hold and I was quite happy to wait. But I also wanted to clear my debt and change my tariff as soon as possible. 

The combined bills were £601.35. Since then, I have received several letters, including some threatening bailiffs or debt collectors — all to the wrong address.

I have tried to resolve the issue online and by telephone, but have been unsuccessful. My wife has a serious medical condition and we are grieving the loss of our son-in-law to coronavirus.

F. B., Bexhill-on-Sea, E. Sussex.

As soon as I read your email, I guessed what had gone wrong — so why hadn’t anyone at British Gas? 

When details of the meter numbers were sent to the national database and British Gas, the accounts had become muddled — a fairly common occurrence on new developments.

Your gas meter was correctly listed on the national database, but was incorrect on the British Gas one. The electricity meter was wrong on both databases.

The gas details were corrected once I made contact, but British Gas had to work with industry meter administrators to update your electricity meter readings. 

The firm decided not to charge you for electricity while this mess was untangled, so you received at least six months’ free electricity.

What concerned me was that British Gas, which styles itself as a flagship UK company, was sending letters warning of debt collectors and bailiffs at this time, particularly when you say it told you it could not respond to letters.

A spokesman says: ‘We are offering support to any customer who is having difficulties at this time.

‘We know some customers will need extra support and we want them to talk to us if they are falling behind on bills.

‘Some of the ways we can help, for example, include pushing back bill due dates, removing debt charges for late payment, or setting up a repayment plan to spread the payments.

‘We are not sending any debt recovery representatives out to our customers’ homes or doing any disconnections (unless there is a safety issue from tampering with the meter).’

You tell me that you are now on the correct tariff and are no longer worried. You received a £44 rebate on your gas bill, too.

Straight to the point 

I have a boss from hell who is making work unbearable. I want to leave immediately but have a three-month notice period in my contract. Is there a way out?

S. S., London.

Adam Pennington, from law firm Stephensons, says you can if your contract allows it or your boss agrees. Otherwise, you will be breaching your contract.

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A flight I booked through Expedia was cancelled and I was forced to rebook another to Mumbai at short notice. 

This cost me another £1,784 on top of the £858 I had already paid. I want at least £1,500 in compensation from Expedia for the stress.

D.O., via email.

Expedia refunded the cost of the original ticket as it was unable to find you an alternative direct flight. 

It has suggested contacting Virgin direct to see if it will consider your out-of-pocket expenses.

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In January last year, I bought a valve for a boiler through eBay for £44.99. By summer, the boiler was not firing up as it should. 

A plumber confirmed the issue was with the valve. I contacted the seller, Movika Trading, but heard nothing.

C. F., via email.

Movika records only go back 90 days and you could not provide any refund request made to eBay or PayPal.

As a result, Movika refused to offer a refund and added it cannot accept any returns after such a long period of time.

For the past three years, HMRC has been crediting me with someone else’s earnings, but not the tax they are paying. 

It says I owe more than £4,000. It is taking this through my tax code, meaning the monthly payment from my NHS pension has almost halved.

The problem lies with my part-time job. I am employee number 12 and another lady with the same surname, who is full-time and on a higher grade than me, is employee 13.

HMRC claimed it was impossible for it to get to people mixed up because HMRC works on National Insurance numbers.

In February, my manager and I had long conversations with HMRC staff, who told me they were putting my case to the mismatch team. 

This was after informing me there was no protocol for this situation as it hadn’t occurred before! I’ve heard nothing since.

A. H., Horsham, W. Sussex.

Mistakes can happen, but what is intensely irritating is when those charged with rectifying them try to brush us off.

HMRC has now straightened things out. Someone has spoken to you and you have received £50 compensation. Most importantly, you don’t owe £4,000.

A spokesman says: ‘We are sorry Mrs H. had to wait for this issue to be resolved. We have apologised to her.’

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I ordered a sofa and two armchairs from Harveys in December. Harveys arranged for a courier to deliver it. 

The courier received my furniture on March 19 and was due to deliver it on March 23.

Lockdown meant delivery was indefinitely suspended. But Harveys has marked the sofa as delivered with its finance company, so I am being billed for a sofa I don’t have.

I am finding it impossible to get in touch with Harveys.

A. P., Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute.

Harveys confirms that when the sofa went to the courier company, it was logged as being delivered to you, which led to you being charged.

Someone has now called you to apologise and you have accepted a £150 goodwill payment. Even better, your sofa and armchairs have been delivered so, hopefully, you are reading this in comfort.

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