Questions Of Cash: Why won't British Gas send me a bill?

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The Independent Online

Q. I have moved out of my flat after nearly three years of living there, during which time we never had a bill from British Gas. I still cannot get a final bill from them as they deny that a meter existed there - even though I have the meter readings for when we moved in and when we moved out, and Transco read the meter several times while we lived there.

The result is that our landlord is holding on to our deposit of £1,600 and overpaid rent of £500 because he expects a bill at some point. I can't get any sense from BG and I'm worried that BG will charge the whole bill at its current charges, rather than those covering most of the period. DB, London.

A. After protracted correspondence with BG, we have got them to accept that there was a meter, that gas was supplied, that your former address does exist and that it needs to raise a bill. It seems extraordinary that a customer can be provided with gas for three years without an invoice - this, says BG, is "very rare" but does happen.

There was, apparently, a breakdown in communications between BG, Transco and the developer of your block of flats, exacerbated by the failure of your landlord to make efforts to get the matter resolved. No blame can be attached to you.

As a result, BG intends to write-off "at least 50 per cent" of your bill - but will negotiate this directly with you.

We are sending a summary of your case to the energy regulator, Ofgem, with the request that it takes steps to improve communication within the industry to prevent similar problems afflicting other consumers.

Q. In September I bought a Jan Sport wheeled backpack for £69.99 from the House of Fraser in Oxford Street, which had a 30-year guarantee. In mid-November a hole appeared in a corner of the bag, which was used by my 12-year-old daughter to carry books to school.

Six weeks after giving it back to the shop, an assistant phoned to say that it was not economical to repair the bag, that the hole was not caused by normal wear and tear and that it was not covered by the guarantee, so it will not replace it or pay for a repair.

In my opinion the bag's fabric was not strong enough to cover a sharp edge at its base. But I can't get satisfaction from House of Fraser. ZS, London.

A. House of Fraser contains various concessions that retail within its premises and your bag was sold by one of these. Following House of Fraser's intervention, the concession has agreed to fully refund your payment.

Q. I placed a London flat for sale through the Clapham office of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (KFH) estate agents, which took 10 weeks to sell. Meanwhile, I bought another property through a different estate agent, but arranged the mortgage through KFH.

One week before the intended exchange of contracts, this property was removed from the agent who had been handling the sale and transferred to KFH.

I believe that KFH interrupted the sale by providing an unrealistic valuation that increased the price by £50,000. The property is still on the market. I have lost over £2,000 in mortgage application fees, building surveys and lawyers fees. KFH claims it is an unfortunate event, denies any responsibility and refuses to compensate me. NE, London.

A. Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward says that it has "Chinese walls" between different parts of its business to prevent the improper flow of information across them. Consequently, its valuers were unaware that an existing client was the prospective purchaser.

Regional sales director Lisa MacKenzie says: "The owner was concerned that his property had been undervalued and was in the process of being undersold. We gave a valuation based on our experience with selling similar-sized properties in the area." She adds that if the firm had been aware that a client whose sale it was handling was the prospective purchaser "we would have made the vendor aware of our interests and we could have declined to value the property. In this case, a valuation with another agent would have gone ahead and the same situation is likely to have occurred."

KFH says that it only agreed to take on the sale of the property after you were no longer involved in the purchase and that it was sold in line with its valuation. It adds that you have been misinformed in initially suggesting that the property remained unsold and in a subsequent allegation that the final sale price varied significantly from the firm's valuation.

You have exhausted KFH's internal complaints procedure, so your only options now are to pursue the matter in law - where your prospects of success are doubtful - or with trading standards officers. Although there is an Ombudsman for Estate Agents, KFH is not a member of this scheme.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. Please do not send original documents. Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; cash@independent.co.uk.

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