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Spend & Save

Questions of Cash: My electricity meter is broken but I keep being asked for readings

Q I changed electricity supplier 18 months ago, after the visit of a door-to-door salesman. The paperwork went through smoothly, until I was asked for a meter reading so that the old account could be closed correctly and the new one opened. I then discovered that my digital meter – installed three months before – had gone blank. I had been checking the meter when it was first installed, but it was working correctly, so I stopped monitoring it. As soon as I realised the problem, I contacted the old and new electricity suppliers and the people I have spoken to have referred the matter to their colleagues, but the problem is not sorted out. I am getting estimated bills on the assumption that my consumption has not changed significantly over the last few years. But it has, as I had a combi-gas boiler with radiators installed soon after I changed supplier. I no longer use electricity for water heating or space heating. I keep getting letters asking for meter readings and I keep explaining that I cannot provide these.JM, Dorset.

A. Your meter states that it is the property of Scottish and Southern Energy, so we began by contacting them. Scottish and Southern said that although it is the electricity distributor, your supplier is NPower. Problems relating to the meter and billing must be resolved by NPower. We then raised the issue with NPower, which apologises for the difficulties you have had and is arranging to replace the meter. NPower promises to provide a goodwill gesture in recognition of the problems you have had. That goodwill gesture will be to write off some of your next bill, but the company cannot quantify this "until the account has been billed up to date on actual meter readings and the bill is produced". This is likely to take another four weeks or so.

Q. I work for a charity that banks with Santander. It was formerly with the GiroBank, which was taken over by Alliance & Leicester, which was taken over by Santander. For some years our salaries have been paid by bank transfer. A trustee phones the bank and arranges this. This arrangement was set up and approved by the bank. Now, with no notice, Santander has told him that this arrangement has been cancelled for security reasons and in future every transaction must be accompanied by two signatures from trustees. This means that staff will be paid late this month because of the running around required to get the signatures, with possible knock-on effects to their own banks if they go overdrawn in the meantime. In future we will have to go back to cheques because this will be just as easy as arranging forms with two signatures and posting them to Santander! The operator suggested internet banking, but could not say how Santander would arrange this if two people are required for every transaction! Why should a bank be able to change the arrangement for paying regular salary transfers with no notice, regardless of the effect on third parties? The bank can see that similar payments are made every month to the same accounts, so where is the security problem? If this is not stupid enough, Santander has been allowing the charity's account to be raided by unauthorised third parties via direct debit, without any signatures from us whatsoever. This has taken some sorting out and there is no guarantee it won't happen again as they seem to have no system checks on electronic direct debit requests. NS, London.

A. It would seem that the error was in the way the payments were authorised in the past. Santander says it is the new arrangement that conforms with the terms of the account, as agreed between the bank and the charity. A spokeswoman for Santander says: "When the business account was opened with Alliance & Leicester, the application requested that two signatories be required for all transactions. When the account migrated to Santander this arrangement continued. We have listened to calls received from [a trustee of the charity], and he is clear that he does not wish the account to move to a single signatory basis. However, the option is available for [the charity] to change the arrangement so that an individual signatory can transact over the phone. We have provided details of the business banking department, who [the charity] can contact to make this change should they choose to. Unfortunately, [the charity's trustee] was given incorrect information about online access. We have now clarified that internet access on a two-signature account is view only. We have credited [the charity's] account with a goodwill payment of £30 to apologise for this mistake." The issue regarding the payment of direct debits was resolved previously and Santander has previously refunded the charity.

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