A Big Gas Bill: Out of the Blue
Having transferred our domestic Gas Supply to EDF from British Gas in 2003 we were naturally surprised to recently receive bills, out of the blue, from British Gas - claiming that we owed them several hundred pounds. This escalated after about 2 weeks to advising that they were commencing legal action to recover this debt.
Given that we were definitely not a British Gas customer we found this odd, and a little disturbing.
Was this a feature of global warming, or the Russian effect on the UK gas market - maybe they were charging us a suppliment for gas purchased years ago - or a penalty for daring to switch suppliers?
It was none of those things, in fact it appears to be an occurence of Data Transfer Drama.
Apparently many people have suffered similar problems. It appears that the new SAP system they are deploying has suffered teething problems resulting in many thousands of complaints about incorrect billing and accounts.
Having obtained our "Meter Point Reference" from EDF we spoke to Energywatch on 0845 9060708 who very efficiently checked and confirmed that we were indeed served by EDF not British Gas. Can't praise them highly enough, they were patient, efficient and authorative.
If you have a similar problem you can telephone British Gas on 0845 6070870, to escalate your complaint to the highest level.
Data Transfer Drama
In the end British Gas advised that they had a new billing system and that in transferring the data from the old system they had mistakenly allocated our Postal Address to another Gas Meter within the same PostCode.
Thus they knew the postcode area within which their meter was situate but, so they told us, were not certain of the correct address, and thus customer, for the meter, and erroneously allocated our address.
The bills we received were all addressed to "The Occupier", demonstrating that they did not know the identity of their "customer", merely the address.
What exactly has gone wrong?
It would be interesting to hear exactly what has gone wrong here? What is the underlying cause of this Data Transfer Drama?
It appears that the data conversion model may have suffered partial failure since they presumably had the correct addresses related to the relevant meters and Meter Point References under the old system yet appear to have failed to complete a correct transfer of that data?
Whilst it is true that address translation is not always easy it is a pity that British Gas's apparent failure in this case seems to have imposed great stress / inconvenience on many domestic customers receiving erroneous bills.
We await the promised letter of apology.
Update: 15/May/2007: We received an appropriate letter of apology from British Gas as promised.
Update: 15/August/2007: Amazingly we have now received another letter of demand from British Gas - it appears that letters of apology are ignored when a major business has an enormous and unresolved muddle within its data system.
Apparently "Legal Proceedings will be commenced". As we really don't have the time to spend hours on the phone trying to get them to update their records correctly so watch this space.
Update: 21/September/2007: Having used the British Gas Top Level Complaints Tel No above again ( 0845 6070870 ) to make another compliant after receiving further threats of legal proceedings and visits by Bailiffs I spoke with Robert Syson from their customer services who explained the following:
(a) The local delivery grid in our area is owned by another company, no longer Transco
(b) There are meters which British Gas supply in our area, on new housing developments, where they have the meter number and the Plot Number, but no actual postal address.
(c) As they have no actual postal address they send the bills for these new plots to the nearest postal address they have on their system which is not already a known British Gas Customer.
(d) Surprisingly they do not appear to address their bills to the Plot Number on the development.
It appears that although they apologise for the inconvenience caused they do regard guessing the postal address of a new meter and then treating that house holder as their new customer, threatening to sue them for debt etc, as legitimate business practice. Logically I would have thought that they should treat the developer of the new property as their customer until they are advised of the actual postal address.
It does seem amazing that they regard this practice as implicitely reasonable.
If Deskspace had designed their information system we would not have permitted this unfortunate situation to arise.