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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 10:08 GMT
British Gas 'fails to bill customers'
Electricity pylons
British Gas started supplying electricity in 1998
More than 10,000 customers who have their electricity supplied by British Gas have not received any bills more than a year, and another 40,000 have been waiting for their bill for many months, according to the energy watchdog.

There is no time limit on when your supplier can ask for payment

Energywatch estimates that 13m are outstanding as a result, and customers could find themselves hit suddenly with a bill over hundreds of pounds.

The delay in billing affects households which decided to switch their electricity supply to British Gas after the company began offering the service in 1998.

British Gas says this is an industry-wide problem, which occurs when customer records are not transferred properly.

Hundreds of readers have contacted BBC News Online with tales of late or no bills, demands for huge payments at short notice and frustration when dealing with customer service departments of a number of energy providers.

'Stop debt-related disconnections'

Details of meter numbers, past meter readings, billing information and names and addresses are all passed from one supplier to another by computer. If there is a mistake in any of the data, bills can not be issued.

This corporate apathy could wreck household budgets and plunge consumers into debt

Karl Brookes
The company says most people experience a delay of a few weeks before the first bill arrives.

But some people have been waiting many months or even years.

Energywatch is now demanding that British Gas issues bills promptly to all those affected and offers them significant discounts and plenty of time to pay.

It also wants the company to suspend all debt-related disconnections.

The chair of Energywatch's Scottish Committee said "the anguish that British Gas is causing their customers cannot be overstated. British Gas is the biggest energy supplier in the UK and is duty bound to take better care of its customers"

Trying hard to pay

Jennifer Simmons
Jennifer Simmons has been waiting for a bill for seven months

British Gas customer Jennifer Simmons moved into her new home in north London seven months ago and is still waiting for a bill despite regular calls to the company.

"It would be lovely if they don't want my money, but I want to give them my money," she said.

"I'm sure if I missed a payment they would be sending me a red letter and be down on my back."

Patricia Douglas from Glenrothes in Fife was not billed for more than three years.

She says during the first year she paid by standing order but complained when the company didn't send her a bill. British Gas refunded those payments and said they'd start again but two years later she's still heard nothing.

Energywatch spokesman Karl Brookes said the idea that a company did not want customers' money would be funny if it did not cause so much distress and hassle to consumers.

"Failing to bill 50,000 consumers raises serious questions about how the company is run," he said.

"But even more serious is that this corporate apathy could wreck household budgets and plunge consumers into debt."

'We would love to bill customers'

British Gas says 5.5 million households have switched their electricity supply to them since 1998 and that, as an industry, up to 200,000 customers a week change supplier.

A spokesman said: "We would love to bill these customers - we would love them to pay.

"But this is an industry problem and we are as frustrated as the customers."

The company said it would be sympathetic and may offer a discount when a bill which covered a lengthy delay period eventually arrived.

Regulator threat

But the spokesman warned: "If you have been waiting a year you should be prudent and put that money aside."

Electricity companies are obliged, under the terms of their license, to provide prompt, regular and accurate billing.

The regulator Ofgem has taken action on this issue in the past.

In 1999 Northern Electric and Northern Electric and Gas had the number of new customers they could recruit limited for a period and in 2000 Independent Energy was prevented from taking on new business until it had sorted out its problems.

Are you still waiting for your electricity bill? Were you hit by a huge bill out of the blue? Have your say

Your experiences

We moved house in April 2001 and asked Scottish Gas to supply our electricity, as per our previous address - almost 2 years on and countless letters and phonecalls, we still haven't received a bill. I was told by Scottish Gas that a national computer crash occurred in October 2001, causing problems for all those in the transfer period at that point. Energywatch admitted to me that these problems often take years to resolve.
E Hendry, Scotland

I received a gas bill from British Gas after 2 years of moving into my brand new property. It has now become apparent that the entire new development have not received bills from British Gas since the estate was built over 2 years ago, some 80 propertys!

We did not receive a bill from Seeboard Energy for about 18 months despite number of calls to them. Suddenly we were landed with a hefty bill of well above 350 and ordered to pay within a couple of weeks and threatened by legal action in their first reminder.
Most enoying was that the gas bill was based on estimated meter reading at start of the period
M Malik, London, UK

British gas have just billed me out of the blue for over 190 worth of Electricity for the past 2 years !! I don't even have my Electricity supplied by Britich Gas and have since moving 2 years ago had my electricity supplied by NPower who send a regular bill. British Gas insist I have an account with them despite a sales man recently knocking at my door asking me to join British Gas !!!! A shambles !
Dave Harvey, England

I was hit with a big bill for nearly 1000 for nearly three years of gas. I suffered a lot of stress and financial difficulties in paying it back, BG was not that helpful to say the least. As soon as they were aware of it, they didn't hesitate in sending me threatening letters to take me to court for non-payment. They also revised the billing on two occasions even after I received the final amount. As for BG saying they would give a discount on the bill, I wouldn't hold your breath! I received a massive 10 discount!
Mark Pittam, UK

I move house in the summer of 2000 at it took 6 phone calls and 15 months to get a bill that I was then told must be paid in 7 days. At times I was told to phone back to the homemovers dept, when i did i was told that the dept didn't exist! I eventually got the arrears on a direct debit scheme and now cleared them with the monthly payment more than halving.
james goodchild, Essex, England

We've been waiting for a gas bill for six years even though the meter is read at regular intervals and we've informed them that we've had no bill. The business I've had for 25 years has have no bill for the last 12 months. Dave
Dave, Lancs

My story is the reverse. My estimated bills were overstated and they took me to court for 32.60. The case was withdrawn by their Court Representative on the day and he received a strong rebuke from the magistrates. How long will Large Companies like this be allowed to treat customers like this before they are bought to account?
Ian Barrow, England

I have been living in a new build house for almost 2 years and I have still not had a gas bill - the builders cannot tell me who the supplier is.
Kirsty Thomson, Scotland

I've been with British Gas since I bought my flat 18 months ago and have not received a bill despite countless phone calls and a letter to the MD. The thing is, I didn't even ask to be with British Gas - I was with SWEB and they transferred my account over instead of my neighbour's. Each time I rang British Gas they told me my flat didn't exist, then they told me my meter was in Glasgow (I live in Bristol). It has taken three attempts to transfer me back to SWEB. I contacted Energywatch and this week received a letter from British Gas telling me I had been transferred back to my original supplier back in May, but nobody bothered to tell me. I'm livid! However I did smile when a salesman for another supplier tried to flog me their electricty; "We are cheaper than your current supplier" they said. I had to reply "Not unless you pay me to use your electricity." Now that would be nice.
Liz, UK

I think it must be an industry wide problem, since I haven't had a Gas bill from TXU for over six months. I've made 5 phone calls to request the outstanding bills, all to no avail, despite assurances that they would be posted on the next working day. I haven't even changed suppliers for more than 2 years, so they don't have that excuse. They've still got my money though, which is being taken by Direct Debit.
Paul Ross-Gardner, UK

My partner and I were with NPOWER who consistently refused to bill us for several months. When they did, it was several hundred pounds overestimated. It then took 6 months to haggle it down to The correct amount, which by then was several hundred pounds. We decided to move to British Gas because of this, and our final bill from NPOWER was delivered. We were both amused and shocked to discover that they had calculated that we owed them just under six thousand pounds! The saga still continues today and no amount of complaining seems to resolve the situation. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
Simon Ward, uk

In 2000 I moved from a property with a card meter having made regular payments on it. A full 26 months later I received a demand for payment from a solicitor for nearly 3000 that I alledgedly owed. Despite numerous letters, telephone calls and official notice from the local council that I was registered as living elsewhere, I am still being pursued by BG, who have yet to produce a copy of the alledged bill or clarify what period it covers. Hardly surprising for a property that had a key card meter! I have now had to pay for a solictor as i am regulary threatened with court action from British Gas.
Rachel, UK

My husband and I received two bills amounting to approximately 200 and 180 in in the months of November and December. We telephoned and wrote to British Gas to challenge this but were told that there had been an error with prior billing and we would still have to pay the amount. Needless to say we were not impressed!
Mr and Mrs Davies, UK

I work in the energy transfer business and I know that the problems are not restricted to British Gas. The fact is the information required to send a bill almost invariably comes from the company that has lost the business. They are the former local electricity boards and they are usually passively obstructive to requests for information and constantly hide behind data protection regulations.

On the subject of billing: I have the opposite problem to those mentiohed in your article. About one week after taking over a new office and advising Scottish Power of the fact, I received a bill for over 5,000!
Andrew Scott, UK

I moved into a new property 10 months ago and only received a bill yesterday! I am with Scottish Power. Their excuse was, my details had not been correct. How come then they got my Electricity bill right? Both information was faxed over at the same time! I rang Scottish Power every month for the 1st 7 months, but I was told that they were not my supplier. They were sending my bills to a totally incorrect address. I am now waiting for them to call me back after I complained about receiving a 215 bill!
Lee Chaplin, England

we are a small engineering company with a maximum demand electricity meter and (despite monthly meter readings) we havent had a bill for some 19 months by British Gas' reckoning. After many calls during this time to British Gas to report the lack of bills we have finally got them to acknowledge there is a problem however we are not looking forward to receiving our next bill as it will most certainly run into thousands of pounds. Yesterday British Gas offered us compensation as a token gesture however, we still have not received a bill.
Gillian Ray, England

I'm not desperately surprised to hear of another example of British Gas' incompetence. A few years ago a wonderful display of ineptitude lead them to threaten my parents with court action for an unpaid gas bill.
My parents don't have a gas supply at their house.
Gordon, UK

This has now happened to us twice, both as a result of Northern Electric - the first time we received no bills after moving into a house for almost two years, with us eventually receiving a bill for over 600 pounds; we moved again 6 months ago, and have just received another letter stating that they have AGAIN failed to set up a direct debit on our Gas account which was switched over from BG, meaning we now owe 400 pounds - this is totally unnacceptable!
Duncan, uk

When living in Edinburgh, I was appraoched by Scottish Gas asking if I would like to change my electricity supply to their management. I said I'd think about it. Over the next 12 months I received bills of varying amounts between 600 and 1000....despite never having agreed to change my supply. Eventually they admitted this was a 'mistake' and if I could just pay my bill of 500, then the matter would be closed.... After many months of distress, I managed to drive the point home that I didn't owe them anything as a) They didn't supply my electricity and b) I had a card meter anyway!
Justin, London, UK

I too waited 15 months for a Bill from British Gas (Electric), after several phone calls and a change of supplier I received a bill, 414.00 then a final reminder for 73 which was paid, I now have a Default registered against me although I paid them in full on 4.1.03 - This needs investigating and if nothing else an official apology from British Gas
Denize Beacon, England

It's not just the bills that they aren't sending to the customers. I left British Gas 10 months ago with 90 credit on my balance, after 10 months of phoning them they still can't give me my 90 back as they say my new electricity supplier has not transferred my new meter reading properly, which they will not accept from me. This situation is made even more annoying as my new electricity supplier is unable to give me an accurate bill as they said that British Gas have not transferred my account records properly - I am now in a catch 22 situation
R Martin, England

My problem is the reverse. British Gas informed me, seven months later, that they were my new electricity supplier. As a business user they simply rang the customer and asked anyone who answered the phone whether they could supply us. They tell me that someone said yes and as they are over 18 they can commit the company to the new supplier. I have written on a number of occasions disputing this but as yet have received no reply, but recently received an invoice for 9,000. What hope is there for the individual when large companies behave like this and seem to get away with it.
Jackie Burrell, UK

In 1997, British Gas changed the meter in my house. After that I did not receive a bill for 2 years. Then came a creditnote for 400 Pound and soon after a bill for 900 Pound. When I refused to pay the 900 Pounds, I got the debt collectors. I paid the 900 Pounds in 5 Pounds per week - it took me 3.5 years to pay it back.
Gerhard, UK

This makes me laugh!! I have had 3 electricty bills from British Gas and I'm not even supplied by them!! The last bill threaten me with legal action unless it was settled in seven days! May be there sending bills to people who the don't supply rather than the ones the do!
Dan Little, Uk

I am one of the few people that have been waiting over 3 years for a bill - I have contacted British Gas at least 10 times - I have letters from BG saying - do nothing its all in hand . I have numerous telephone calls waiting to be returned - I have also tried in desperation to change my supplier to one that will bill me! Stangely I am having my meter red regularly so must be on the books somewhere ... Help what do I do?
Gill Betmead, England

In 2001 when we changed Gas supplier, it took British Gas seven months and a formal complaint from EnergyWatch before the details were passed to the new company. All of this time, of course, I was still having to pay British Gas. What was even more galling was the phone call British Gas made. Someone calling themselves a "Manager" - even when it was clearly coming from a call centre - said that BG was sorry I was going and she could do me a "special offer" if I would stay. In contrast, Eastern Electricity were prompt in issuing my first bill in 1997 and equally prompt in providing my details to the new electricity supplier.
Lewis Graham, UK

Surprise surprise - I moved to Bristol 4 years ago and it took 10 months, 9 phone calls and 2 letters to get British Gas to recognise that they had yet to send me a bill for gas supplied. At first they claimed that they weren't supplying me with gas despite our meter being checked regularly by BG employees - I ended up with a bill for over 400 payable immediately. Fortunately, after some disagreement I was allowed (most graciously!!) to pay off the amount in installments over the next 12 months. For some to have not had a bill in over 2 years is crazy - obviuosly BG profits are big enough for them to justify not billing on time!!
James, UK

Be warned - once BG finally bill you, their debt recovery section, British Gas Central Recoveries, are staggeringly incompetent. Every time I called them they said they could see exactly where the problem was, admitted that it was an administration error on their part and said it would be resolved immediately - then a week or so later I would get another threatening letter, which got progressively sterner until finally they threatened me with baliffs. Eventually after many letters from me they resolved the problem - I wrote a letter of complaint to them but they didn't even have the courtesy to reply. I will never use British Gas again - there are plenty of other suppliers out there who can actually bill you correctly!
Geoff Flegg, England

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that the fact that bills should have been sent to all people in reasonable time surely everyone affected is better off as they have been earning interest on the money that they put aside each month to pay their electricity bill. Surely you must have expected to have to pay up at some point and are certainly not stupid enough to spend the money on something else. If that is the case then why should anyone have sympathy for you? This story seems to show that Energywatch appear to be going out of their way to have a go a British Gas at any opportunity while ignoring the fact this this is an industry wide problem. Exactly how independent are they? I have much more sympathy for the energy transfer salesmen that are likely to end up being made redundant as a result of this scaremongering than for anyone who cannot now pay for goods they quite willingly consumed. Funny how no-one considers this side effect until it's too late!
Gary, England

I had problems when I changed away from British Gas and I have to say that their staff are the most unhelpful I have ever dealt with. I could not believe that despite the number of calls I made to British Gas nothing was done and no one seemed to listed on help, I may as well have ignored all their correspondence. If Energywatch had not intervened for me I would have had by Gas cut off, despite the fact that I had been paying another company for 6 months.
Vanessa Fielding, UK

I received a whole series of bills from British Gas 12 months after I switched to a new supplier.I eventually served them with a Subject Access Request which meant they had to send me copies of all the information they held about my account - this revealed them to be nothing less than shambolic. It took them a full 2 years before they wrote off the money I didn't owe them in the first place! If I was a shareholder I would be VERY concerned.
Julie, England

hy doesn't the consumer have any protection against sudden bill demands and the poor customer service / two bit energy companies.
D Turner, UK

The BBC's Jenny Scott
"50,000 customers are still in the dark about how much they owe"
The BBC's Max Foster
"She rings up every month to tell the company she wants to pay"
See also:

18 May 02 | Research
01 Apr 02 | Business
15 Feb 02 | Business
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