Questions Of Cash: 'We cannot afford an increase in our fuel bills'


Q. I have had a letter from Southern Electric saying that the "social care energy tariff" that we are on is being removed, so we shall have to pay more. We are classed as low fuel users, because we have been careful, efficient and have conserved energy – and because we can't afford to spend more than we do. Now that is being used against us. Southern Electric uses as its criteria the percentage of income used for fuel. We have phoned repeatedly to challenge this, without success. I would challenge this legally, but I can't afford to. I am 59 and disabled, and my husband is 62 and self- employed and we do not get any working tax credit or housing benefit. My disability allowance goes directly to pay for my motability car. I'm having sleepless nights worrying about how we will pay for the increased fuel costs. GR, Cambridge.

A. You had been on Southern Electric's "social tariff", but were removed from this. Scottish and Southern Energy, which owns Southern Electric says a record number of more than 100,000 low income customers are on the tariff. After re-examining your circumstances, Scottish and Southern accepts putting you on to a higher tariff would cause you real difficulty because of your circumstances. It has used its discretion to keep you on the social tariff for another year, after which the matter will be reviewed again.

Q. My pension fund owns an industrial unit. It had a tenant who bought electricity from British Gas Business. He left at the end of the lease in June without complying with his obligations to redecorate. Eventually he did so, finally returning the keys in October. He informed BGB before the end of June that he was leaving and that I, personally, would be paying the energy bills. I have explained the situation to both BGB, for electricity, and Scottish Power, for gas. With Scottish Power all was simple and no problem, but BGB do not seem to be able to grasp that the unit is owned by the pension fund and not me, nor am I the tenant. BGB wants payment for energy consumed by the tenant and is now asking for an extra £40 late payment charge and I have now had a letter from a debt collection agency. Yet there has been zero usage of electricity since the pension fund took responsibility of the unit in October. BGB will not discuss the matter without me giving them the business phone number of the pension fund, which is impossible as it does not have one. PW, Nuneaton.

A. British Gas now accepts that you do not have any responsibility for the outstanding debt. A spokeswoman for British Gas explains: "We've looked at the complaint and have spoken to [the reader] to find out exactly when the tenant moved out. There had been a dispute between the two parties – which has now been resolved with the involvement of a local solicitor. We were originally given a copy of the tenancy agreement which showed that [the tenant] was responsible for the property up until 29 June. We were contacted by them on 10 July with a closing meter reading – from which we finalised the account. Up until now we were not aware that there was a dispute and had not been satisfied that [the tenant's business] was liable for all bills up until the end of October 2009. The two letters of complaint from [the reader] were addressed to a different office and were never picked up by our BB [business to business] team, which is our oversight. We've explained this to [the reader] and apologised for the delay and confusion. He is happy that everything has been resolved." British Gas apologises for not replying to your complaints prior to our involvement.

Q. Over recent years, my house has been burgled several times. Personal details containing credit card statements and utility bills were taken. Subsequently, attempts have been made to use my details fraudulently. After contact from the anti-fraud agency CIFAS, I assumed these had been dealt with. In September I applied to Nationwide for an extension to my mortgage. This went fine until I provided a copy of my credit report from Experian. Nationwide insists that any addresses associated with fraudulent use of my details must be removed from the credit report before it can proceed. Apparently attempts were made to fraudulently use my ID with Santander and others. I have an identity protection insurance policy, but the insurer said I must deal with Experian directly. Experian went through the list of addresses and I assured them these were all connected with fraudulent attempts to use my details. Experian told me it would remove all of them from my report within 28 days at most "but probably within a week or so". That was nearly two months ago. SW, Belfast.

A. Experian has now corrected your credit file. When you originally contacted them it removed some of the addresses associated with your file as a result of fraudulent activity. Others required further checks to be made, which have now been completed. Experian suggests that everyone regularly checks their credit files to ensure their ID is not being misused. This is particularly important for people who believe their ID may have been misused. Nationwide points out it relies on credit information supplied and is unable to alter a report on the basis of contrary information provided by a customer. But it adds it does seek further information in some cases to assist in clarifying situations where information is inconsistent. Santander has been active in ensuring any information it has supplied about fraudulent claims in your name do not cause further credit problems.

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

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