New shock for victims of energy back-billing

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The Independent Online

When the elderly parents of the Independent reader Stewart Graham had a surprise and distressing demand for £1,200 from the energy supplier EDF, he turned to us. The Birmingham couple, who are in their late seventies, had been left fearful of turning on their heating because of the cost.

They had been sent the bill to cover supposed past underpayments, but the problem appeared to have been caused by a faulty meter that EDF installed.

Despite his best efforts to resolve the situation – there was no way that his elderly parents could afford the steep bill – Stewart got nowhere with EDF, which continued to bombard the couple with aggressive demands for the cash. We passed on the problem to the company in November, and it appeared to be sorting things out for the couple.

EDF said back then: "We will reimburse the customer without delay if there is a fault and we will not send any bills to the couple until the results are confirmed."

Almost five months on, Stewart felt compelled to come back to us.

"EDF would not have responded in the way it did without The Independent highlighting the story," he said. "But once the publicity passed EDF simply returned to the bad attitude they displayed in the first place."

His anger flared last week when EDF wrote to say it had credited his parents' account with £100 "in recognition of any confusion or upset caused by the incorrect bills that they had received [but] we will not be increasing this amount".

"The offer of a £100 gesture 'as a matter of goodwill' is derisory," Stewart said. "This is not a case of 'offering gestures of goodwill' this is about EDF understanding that it needs to rectify a very bad customer experience caused by it not bothering to ensure it was charging the correct amount and then sending out inappropriate and aggressive letters."

Back we went to EDF. It had another look at the case and calculated there could be a further reduction of £172.58 on Stewart's parents' account.

In a statement, the firm said: "We are sorry that Mr Graham feels the matter is unresolved. We previously reduced the outstanding balance on his parent's account by £100 as a gesture of goodwill in recognition of the delay in removing the check meter and also for the inconvenience caused.

"We have now reviewed the account and the balance has been reduced by a further £172.58, the amount that would have been removed in line with the Code of Conduct as a further gesture of goodwill.

"This is very much above and beyond usual process and we hope that this will now bring the matter to a close."

The story is far from rare. Last week we reported that a quarter of households have been billed incorrectly by their energy company in the last two years. According to uSwitch, the number of customers who ended up owing money to an energy supplier following a discrepancy between an estimated bill and a "real" bill, increased to almost 10 million last year.

Stewart Graham's experience shows that energy firms are still failing to put things right when they make mistakes but it shouldn't need the press to get involved.

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