News, Culture & Society

ASK TONY: A meter farce left me smarting over a £753 energy bill 

One reader asks: My wife and I have stuck with British Gas for 42 years. In February 2019, I noticed our smart meter monitor was not working. I contacted British Gas many times and was told the readings were still going through. The firm repeated this when I received an estimated bill in August 2020, and again in December. 

Now I have received a bill for an additional £753, after my meters were physically read last week. My gas bill is fine but the electricity one is massive. Nothing has changed in our lives — we’re just two pensioners dodging along through the pandemic. 

I. S., Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. 

One reader found themselves landed with a ‘massive’ electricity bill

Tony replies: My immediate thought on reading your letter was that surely back-billing rules should apply. These state that as long as you have given readings and allowed your meter to be read then a supplier will not back-bill for energy used more than one year ago. I was right. 

At my request, British Gas knocked off £300 — apparently back-billing adjustments must be done manually. The supplier says there was a communication issue with your meters, Money Mail, August 11 you have your say so they were recording energy use but not sending readings. 

New smart meters have been fitted and British Gas has added an additional goodwill gesture of £253.49 which, along with your recent direct debit payments, has wiped out your bill. A spokesperson says: ‘We know we let down Mr S, who is a longstanding customer, but we’re really pleased we’ve been able to turn this around for him and regain his trust.’ 

You’ve been given the direct line of a head office manager in case you need it. 

One reader says: My husband, who is a joiner, and I have had our business account with HSBC for more than 20 years. He is clinically vulnerable, was unable to work for much of 2020 and was in hospital this year. In February, HSBC asked us to complete a safeguarding review. It was complicated and appears to be aimed at big firms. 

I filled in the form as best I could. The bank later emailed asking for more information. A lady on the helpline talked me through the review and assured me it was complete. In April, several payments were stopped, including my husband’s road tax direct debit, a cheque for car repairs and his mobile phone bill. HSBC said I had not completed the form. 

Then we received an email on April 27 stating the review was complete but, ten minutes later, we were told more information was needed. On May 14, I was informed our review had been escalated, the form was pre-filled and the final questions were confirmed. But on May 19 another email said we hadn’t finished the review and needed to do so by July 21. 

YOU HAVE YOUR SAY 

Every week Money Mail receives hundreds of your letters and emails about our stories. Here are some in response to an article about what the energy price cap means for your bills: 

Families already have to be so careful about how much energy they use. I can’t see how increasing the price cap will reduce consumption. All it will do is increase suppliers’ profits. C. S., Gloucester. 

All that money used to pay for smart meters and subsidise renewable fuels has to come from somewhere. Even then, we still have to pay for green boilers and electric cars ourselves. L. S., Basildon, Essex. 

I worry about us oldies, especially if we are deprived of our triple lock. We are already going to have to find the money to pay for TV licences and rising food bills, and now we will have higher energy costs, as well. N. K., by email. 

Energy bills are just the thin edge of the wedge. The cost of living is about to soar because high inflation is on its way. I hope that all the furloughed workers saved some of their cash, because they are going to need it soon. P. L., Leicester. 

Most of the cheaper deals include a smart meter, dual fuel and monthly direct debits. The problem is not everyone wants all of that. Even if you sign up to a cheap deal with a small supplier it might end up going bust, and that will be another headache. B. S., Hampshire. 

The energy regulator is a joke, and so is the price of electricity. I don’t even want to start on standing charges. Energy firms need to be more transparent about wholesale prices, as it just looks like their chief executives are walking away with millions of pounds. M. E., by email. 

M. D., Basildon, Essex. 

Banks must conduct Know Your Customer reviews and attempt to combat financial crime. But while small businesses and individuals can end up buried in reams of forms, crooks still seem to be able to open accounts on the nod and run off with people’s life savings. You suffered weeks of anxiety and unpaid bills. For its part, HSBC says that in October 2020 you were asked to complete the review by January 29 this year. 

When this didn’t happen, it warned that restrictions would be placed on the account. From then on your accounts diverge, but if someone talked you through the form and agreed it was complete, then there was no excuse for the months of chaos which followed. HSBC confirms that all restrictions were removed on April 26. 

It wrote to you on April 30 to say the account would be closed on May 27 if the review was not completed but you were under the impression that it had been. HSBC says the review was finally completed on May 14, yet you received an email on May 19 saying it wasn’t — it took a further three weeks to formalise it. An HSBC UK spokesperson admits: ‘Regrettably the service levels on this occasion fell short of what we would expect.’ 

You have accepted the £200 compensation offered. 

One reader says: Lloyds Bank gave me a payment protection insurance (PPI) refund. I was told I could apply for a refund for the tax charged on the interest I received on the sum, too. So I filled in an R40 form and sent this to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). But when I called to chase, it said a cheque for £1,162.17 had been issued and cashed on November 24 last year. I’ve been trying to get a new cheque issued without success as I did not get the original one. 

A. C., Hull, E. Yorks. 

Tony replies: I’m afraid there has been a bit of confusion. Since April 2016, tax is no longer deducted from the interest paid on savings by banks and building societies. However, interest on PPI compensation still has tax deducted at source. This can be reclaimed by those who have not used all of their Personal Savings Allowance — which lets basic-rate taxpayers earn up to £1,000 interest a year tax-free, or £500 if you are a higher earner. 

Some people may be entitled to more if they have not used up their other income tax allowances. You received £5,810 interest on your compensation and 20pc tax was deducted, leading to the £1,162.17 figure. However, you only received a tax refund on the first £1,000 of interest — which, at 20pc, would be £200. In fact, you were sent a cheque for £197.77 due to other income earned over the tax year — which you had banked as HMRC said. You just hadn’t realised this was the full amount you were due. 

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT 

My Travelex single currency card is being phased out, so I asked to withdraw a balance of more than €2,300. On June 24, a customer service representative agreed to transfer £1,915 into my account but I have still not received it. 

E. S, Chorley, Lancs. 

A Travelex spokesperson apologises for the delay and has now transferred the sum to your account. 

I have power of attorney for my uncle who had a stroke. But I cannot cancel his Amazon Prime subscription because it is considered a data protection breach. 

F. C., Coventry, Warks. 

Amazon says you would need to log into his online account and add your details to it before you can cancel his subscription. As you do not have access to his online passwords, Amazon has agreed to cancel the subscription for you. 

My husband and I paid £80 for two Covid test kits from Chronomics ahead of our TUI holiday to Porto Santo, the Portuguese island just off Madeira. We postponed the trip and cancelled the tests but are still waiting for a refund. 

P. M., by email. 

Chronomics admits it was slow to respond and apologises for the delay. You have now had your money back. 

I can’t log in to my online bank account using the Microsoft Edge browser. I tried to contact Barclays using its online chat service but I’m yet to receive a response. 

C. J., Reading, Berks. 

Barclays was quick to help you once I got in touch, and an employee has now helped you log in using another browser. The bank has also taken on board your feedback about its chat service. 

We love hearing from our loyal readers, so ask that during this challenging time you write to us by email where possible, as we will not pick up letters sent to our postal address as regularly as usual. You can write to: asktony@dailymail.co.uk  or, if you prefer, Ask Tony, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — please include your daytime phone number, postal address and a separate note addressed to the offending organisation giving them permission to talk to Tony Hazell. We regret we cannot reply to individual letters. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk