Friday, 18 May 2012

Southern Electric - Is it Time to Switch?

My energy company Southern Electricity wrote to me today. Good News! I have been paying by direct debit and they owe me £337.65 on my gas account.

Even better they owe me another £88.40 on my electric account. 

Great! I am in the money by a whopping £426.05. Yippee! This cold and wet Spring weather is driving us all crazy, but I can afford to keep the heating on!

But hang on - a minute, there is a very nasty shock waiting here. When I go and check my gas meter I discover I have used 829 more units than they are showing on the letter. My last bill is for 555 units which cost £253.35 so the cost of another 829 units will be around £400. 

So I'm not in CREDIT - I'm in DEBT!

I look at the letter again more closely. Southern Electric have written to me with an acccount drawn up until 6th January. Today is the 18th May -  So why are Southern Electric sending me a gas and electricity account which is 5 months out of date?

I phone up Southern Electric to find out what on earth is going on. 36 minutes later I have spoken to 2 advisors and neither of them can really explain why Southern Electric would want to mislead their customers into thinking they are in CREDIT when they are actually in DEBT. They both agree the letter I have received is very confusing. 

Apparently the letter I am holding is an 'end of cycle' account. There will be a proper bill in June. So when my old tariff ended in DECEMBER, and I went onto a new tariff in JANUARY, Southern Electric thought it would be helpful  to write to me 5 months later in MAY and explain where we are with the finances. You're kidding right?

This letter even says the account is 'estimated' - when in fact a meter reader called at my home on 5th Jan.They've even used his reading. 

Confused? Yes I am.

So much is WRONG with this letter I think I might be with the WRONG energy company.

In fact I'm a bit fed up with Southern Electric, for the following reasons:

1. They said they had 'frozen' prices, then invited customers to sign up to the 'frozen price' but shortly afterwards reduced gas prices by 4.5%, leaving customers who agreed to fix for 2 years on the old higher rate. I wrote to their chief executive to complain - and wrote this article here. They agreed 'Frozen' was an unfortunate choice of word - but they carried on using it in all their marketing. (Although they did promise I could leave the tariff without penalty).

2. I got my mother to switch to Southern Electric. They wrote to say they wanted to increase her gas direct debits to £100 a month - but she was already £700 in credit! (I got the credit refunded).

3. My mother received a letter to say her gas meter must be changed. I drove to her property to keep the appointment. 3 hours into the appointment slot Onstream, the agent, phoned to say they could not keep the appointment. A wasted morning, and a wasted journey. (When I complained they paid me a paltry £20 compensation)

4. Now Southern Electric are telling me I'm in CREDIT when I'm actually in DEBT.

Measuring how much gas or electric we use, and how much it will cost, is very worrying for consumers

Uswitch (the leading energy provider switching service) published a survey today. They say consumers are even more worried about the soaring cost of energy than they are by the massive jump in food prices.

Since 2004 energy prices have increased 140%. The average energy bill in 2004 was £522 today it is a massive £1252.

Some consumers are so worried about how much their gas bill will be when it finally arrives that they are switching the heating off. Pensioners die at home from hypothermia every year.

Fill your car with fuel and the pump displays the price per litre and the total cost of the sale - and that's what you pay - there and then. With your energy provider your gas meter does not show the cost - just units. The units do not translate into cash in a simple way customers can calculate. The bill comes much later.

We all rely on our energy company to provide us with accurate information so we know how much we are using and how much we must pay.

I could use Southern Electric's latest information and believe I am £426.05 in CREDIT. But I prefer to use my own calculations which reveal I am actually in DEBIT. In June Southern Electric will write to me again and all will become clear.

Southern Electric will no doubt say as I'm spreadng the cost of energy by monthly payments I shouldn't be alarmed by these wildly innacurate statements. But I am. 

I am concerned about vulnerable customers like my mother who judge whether to put the heating on based on the size of the most recent bill to drop through their letterbox. They need information which is up to date and accurate - not spat out by some computer 5 months after the event.