Bunhill: Gas cash

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THE BOILER chez Bunhill has been playing up, so I called in a British Gas engineer to repair it last week. He was a rather disgruntled gasman: more steam coming out of him than the boiler.

For British Gas is experimenting, and he and the other engineers of the Harrow district in north London are the guinea pigs. From last Monday, customers are being forced to pay at once. No longer do they enjoy weeks of free credit while they wait to be billed by post.

The engineers are being taught the art of demanding instant payment by cash, cheque or credit card. But because they only call in to their depots once a week, they can end up driving around with several thousand pounds in cash, cheques and credit card vouchers.

They are worried about being attacked. And the vans - not well camouflaged in their blue and white livery - are now having safes and alarms installed. The money is left in the safes overnight.

I call British Gas to learn more about this philanthropy towards thieves, only to be told there have been two other pilot projects in Leeds and Cambridge and the system may soon be rolled out throughout Britain. A spokesman, Richard Dymond, explains the system is being introduced because customers like to pay at once. They do not like the 'long, drawn-out, ponderous system' of waiting to be billed, he insists - and with a straight face too.

Personally, anyone sending me a bill can continue to be as long, drawn-out and ponderous as they like.