Questions of Cash: Delay in reporting faulty meter led to problems with previous supplier

 

Q. British Gas used to be our supplier of gas and electricity. Last autumn we moved our supply contract to M&S Energy, which is operated by SSE.

In the run-up to the switch we had to provide meter readings and we realised that our electricity consumption had nearly doubled in the period August to November of last year compared with a year before: it rose from 896 units in 2012 to 1,373 in 2013. There had also been a rise in consumption in the previous months, though not by as much. We began to monitor the meter, suspecting there was a fault. Consumption was between 20 and 27 units a day, even when we were out all day.

As we were so close to the switch date, we decided to wait until it had been completed and we then got in touch with SSE who sent out an engineer to check the meter. During the check the meter packed in, with the display going blank. The engineer installed a new one. Immediately, our consumption went down to what it used to be, with a daily consumption of nine to 10 units. SSE asked us to monitor consumption for another three weeks, which took us to early January. I wrote to British Gas on 5 January explaining the situation and asked them to review charges for the last period. But British Gas ha several times refused to adjust their bill, offering us a total refund of £2.43! VC, by email.

A. British Gas blames the problem on your delay in reporting the fault. A spokeswoman for British Gas says: "[The reader] did not immediately discuss her concerns with British Gas; she waited for the transfer to complete and contacted Southern Electric. SSE exchanged the meter but were not able to confirm with us that it was faulty. When [the reader] initially contacted British Gas customer services we declined to adjust the bill as there was no confirmation the meter was faulty. However, we have now reviewed this as [the reader] has supplied detailed records of her consumption that strongly suggest that there was a fault with the meter. We apologise for the delay in resolving [the reader's] complaint and have agreed to credit her account by £60.30 to cover any potential errors with the meter readings and, as a gesture of apology an additional £39.70."

Nursing homes charge by the day, and that makes a difference

Q. I booked my disabled husband, who is aged 92, into a Bupa nursing home in Maidenhead for a week. The manager quoted a sum of £1,100 for the week. I took him in about 3pm on the 20th and brought him home about 10am on the 27th. When I went to pay the bill I was informed that that amounted to eight days and I had to pay an extra £140. Is this right, as I would consider that the charges should be based on seven days of 24 hours a day? If it is right I would like to warn others not to fall into this financial trap. MS, Maidenhead.

A. Bupa says that its charges are per day, or part of day, unlike hotels, which charge per night. It says the charging policy is clearly spelt out in its terms and conditions. Charging per day represents the extra daily costs for nursing care, meals and entertainment, Bupa says. It adds that the higher cost you were charged was the result of you bringing your husband in a day earlier than initially discussed.

Rate used for big currency conversion worse than expected

Q. After three years living in France we sold our house and moved back to the UK. We transferred two amounts from our French bank account to our current account with Barclays in the UK, the first for €75,000 and the second for €14,985. These converted to £64,463.23 and £12,882.57. The exchange rate was approximately €1.163 to the pound. On 30 October 2011, the quoted rate was slightly better at €1.153. We transferred €130,000 and at this rate we expected to receive £112,700.47 in our UK account. Instead we received only £107,954.23, a rate of €1.2043. Barclays wrote to say it was unable to provide a detailed explanation for this. When we checked the official exchange rate online for the period, the rate was never more than €1.17 to the pound. We feel we have lost about £3,000. RM, by email.

A. Barclays has rejected your complaint "as no error has been identified". Its spokesman explains: "Our exchange rates are advised to us on a daily basis by our global treasury department. The rate received by [the reader] was the current day exchange rate. This rate would have been confirmed before the payment was undertaken and is in accordance with our retail terms and conditions." All financial institutions impose margins on these transactions, but you received a preferential rate because of the large size of the transaction.

Our advice is to always obtain a few quotations from foreign exchange specialists for this type of transaction, rather than assume that your bank will offer you the best exchange rate. We spoke to HiFX, Moneycorp and Currencies Direct, each of which said they would have offered better rates. Currencies Direct calculates that using its services would have saved you £5,470.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But we'll do our best to help if you have a financial dilemma. Email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk

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