Friday, 15 June 2012

Southern Electric - Another Wrong Bill

Southern Electric - Can SSE be trusted to send accurate bills?

I sent my last blog about Southern Electric to the Chief Executive Ian Marchant. He emailed back saying he would look into my complaint. Then I heard nothing. So I emailed again. Two weeks later I received an email from the Head of Customer Service. She said a lot had gone wrong with my account. She was sorry and offered me £50 credit because of the incorrect billing and delay in responding.

But I wasn't satisfied. I don't believe my mother and I are the only two SSE (as they now like to be called) customers who are receiving wildly inaccurate bills. So I asked the Head of Customer Service to phone me so we could have a discussion about what is really going on. 

  • My mother was £763 in credit but SSE was still collecting £100 a month more from her for gas. She is a pensioner. 
  • Last month SSE said I was £426 in credit but the bill was 5 months out of date.
  • This month SSE want to increase my monthly electricity payments by 200%!

The Head of Customer Service eventually phoned me on Tuesday to say she was having another look at mine and my mother's accounts to try and discover what was going on. Yesterday she phoned to update me further - but her 'head was spinning' there were so many things wrong. She has promised a full response next week.

Today I received a new electricity bill from Southern Electric (SSE) spat out by their computer. 

It is estimated, and drawn up until 10th April. Yes the 10th of April, that's 65 days ago. It shows my account is in credit by £34.71 (that includes the £50 compensation they awarded me.

But even though the account is ESTIMATED, and is SIXTY FIVE days out of date, SSE has worked out my monthly payments need to INCREASE by almost 200%. Yes TWO HUNDRED per cent from £20 a month to £59.

SSE then comes up with a calculation to show why my payment must increase so dramatically -even though my account is in CREDIT! 

Southern Electric appear to have made a big mistake. They don't know how many months there are in a year. There are only 6 months in SSE's calendar as you'll see...

Here is SSE's calculation:
Estimated annual use (£346.17) the standing charge (£64.71) the vat (£19.51) minus the credit on the account (£34.71) come up with a grand total (£374.91) less the next payment, and then divide the whole year by just 6 monthly instalments! New direct debit £59.

Here are my sums (Let's give SSE the considerable benefit of the doubt and assume their 'guess / estimate' about the annual consumption of units is correct): Estimated annual use (£430.39) minus the credit (£34.71) divided by 12 payments (=£32.93) a month. Let's call it £33, I can spare the extra 7p a month.

I should pay 12 x £33 = £396
SSE want to collect 12 x £59 = £708

I wonder what SSE will do with the extra £300+ they're planning to collect from my bank account over the next year?

The extra £300+ will sit in SSE's bank account instead of mine, earning them about 4% interest, and then next year my account will be hugely in credit and they will reduce my direct debit. In the meantime they will have had use of £300+ of my cash for no charge, just like they held onto £763 of my mother's money interest free.

This isn't an honest way to run the business, and it might help explain how SSE lost 100,000 customers last year. The same year SSE also received the largest ever fine for miss-selling energy on the doorstep - £1.25m.

We're all paying more for our energy use than we can really afford. We have to be sure we are only paying for what we actually use, not some fanciful figure dreamt up by SSE's accounts department to keep the company in profit. 

Last year SSE's boss Ian Marchant was paid £1.2m including a bonus of £158,000 (slashed from £378,000 the previous year - because of the miss-selling scandal). I don't want my monthly over-payments contributing to any more bonuses for the over-paid boss at SSE.

Of course SSE might say I can phone them to discuss the proposed new monthly charge, and give them an accurate up to date meter reading. 

But I'm sure not many customers get round to doing this (my mother didn't - and SSE collected £760 unnecessary credit from her, and she's a pensioner). 

Customers must be confident the bill they receive from their energy company is correct.