The Daily Telegraph - Money

Customers hounded for incorrect gas bills

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Energy firms have threatened departing customers with debt collectors for money they do not owe.

When a customer leaves a provider and sends a final meter reading, gas and electricit­y firms are allowed to ignore this and use estimates to increase a final bill if the provided reading does not match up with industry data. Customers can later dispute this. However, some households have faced aggressive demands to settle bills for energy they have not used.

Martin Stanley, 48, from Leicester, was forced to pay nearly £400 after being threatened with debt collectors and having a default recorded on his credit file by SSE, after it incorrectl­y increased his final bill.

Mr Stanley had tried to switch from SSE to Shell Energy, but after submitting a final reading was told it was too low compared with industry data. Shell then based his starting reading on the “estimated usage”.

This meant Mr Martin suddenly owed £675 to his old supplier. Mr Martin sent photo evidence of his correct reading, but rather than amend the error, his supplier opened a dispute process, which can take up to 35 days.

Despite being in the dispute process, Mr Martin was sent a letter from SSE demanding he pay £387 that day or face having his details passed on to debt collectors and having a default registered against his credit file.

Mr Martin said: “With much annoyance, I paid it. This is fine for me; I can afford to dish out in the hope of getting it back [after the dispute process]. But for other people, this would be a catastroph­ic blow.”

An SSE spokesman said the meter reading used was estimated incorrectl­y by Shell. The spokesman added that SSE had now successful­ly disputed the closing meter reading, updated Mr Stanley’s final statement and had processed a refund.

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