Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Ms J.F. writes: I live in a small block of flats which has a communal boiler.
We have one communal gas meter, and bills are paid by the block’s managing agents and then billed to leaseholders through service charges.
However, I have been receiving emails, letters and calls from Eon, asking for my meter reading, and now I have received a demand for £3,658 dating back to 2013 when the flats were built.
Error: Eon does not even supply gas to Ms F’s block but still billed her
Tony Hetherington replies: This is one of the oddest utility customer problems I have ever had to investigate.
Not only do you pay your gas bills as part of your service charges, but Eon is not even the gas supplier to your block of flats.
You have not been able to make callers from Eon understand that you have no gas meter, and the meter number that Eon gave you is not the number shown on the communal meter that covers the block.
When I asked Eon to explain, I was told: ‘We set up the gas account based on information provided to us by the building company, and this led to us incorrectly issuing bills to Ms F.’
So far, so good. But why would Countryside Properties, the developer that built the flats, wait all these years and then suddenly tell Eon to send bills to you?
There are 17 other leaseholders in the block, so why hand over your details and nobody else’s?
At first, Countryside denied to you and me that it had told Eon to bill you. It insisted: ‘Countryside do not provide customer details to third parties.’ And it hinted that Eon could have got your name from Land Registry records or the local electoral register.
So, back to Eon, where further questioning revealed that Eon was actually given your name by a completely different company called AJR Management Limited, which was acting on behalf of Countryside.
And Countryside told me that AJR’s job was to deal with ‘legacy utility issues’ involving a large number of developments.
AJR boss Andrew Read explained that his company had been hired in 2018 to sort out any problems arising from when Countryside handed over completed properties to buyers.
AJR found that Eon had incorrectly opened an account in 2013 and incorrectly attached that account to your address, and it was holding Countryside responsible.
AJR gave your name as the person who occupied the flat. The account was blocked, but AJR says: ‘Unfortunately, someone from Eon removed the block on this account in error, causing an invoice to be issued for eight years of estimated usage.’
I know you have been concerned that your details were handed over in an apparent breach of data protection rules. However, property developers are allowed to give utility companies the names of property buyers so bills can be issued to the right person.
What went wrong in this case was a series of errors that were not your fault in any way. You tried hard for months to sort this out yourself before contacting me, but nobody took real responsibility.
In a final statement, Countryside told me: ‘Following a misunderstanding by Eon, Ms F was sent bills in error.’ It is just a shame that it has taken months for all those concerned to identify this ‘misunderstanding’ which should have been clear from the start. Eon’s demands have now been scrapped.
How NatWest met its match with Black Watch
Honour: Bank offered goodwill gesture of £250
P.D. writes: I am Secretary of the Newcastle upon Tyne branch of the Black Watch Association.
Our long-serving treasurer sadly passed away in 2020 and the only other signatory on our NatWest account was also deceased.
In July 2020, we elected a new treasurer and notified the bank. NatWest provided various documents, which we submitted, but later when our treasurer enquired he was told the forms were not completed correctly and further forms were needed.
Tony Hetherington replies: The Black Watch – now absorbed into the Royal Regiment of Scotland – has a long and distinguished history in battle, but your association came close to defeat at the hands of NatWest.
Frequent visits to the bank were always met with a fresh problem or requests for further documentation including passports. NatWest would accept deposits from you but banned withdrawals, and you have been in banking limbo for 18 months.
I asked officials at the bank’s head office to step in. They stuck to their guns over the forms they said were incomplete, but they also cleared up every single outstanding issue simply by speaking to your treasurer.
Your account is now fully operational, and NatWest added that ‘the consistency of our communication could have been better, and to apologise for this aspect of the experience, we have credited the account of the Black Watch Association with £250 as a gesture of goodwill’. Honour preserved all round.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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