Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Scottish Power - dont waste time complaining to Ombudsman

Don't waste your time complaining to 
the Energy Ombudsman about Scottish Power 
(or any other energy company)

Scottish Power has the worst customer service record of the 'Big 6' energy companies.
it was fined £18m (2016) by Ofgem the energy regulator for terrible customer service that provoked one million complaints.

In February 2019 I left Scottish Power for Eon. The previous December they cancelled my direct debit and emailed to threaten me with higher charges. It took a few weeks to sort out. They blamed me, or my bank for the error - when in fact they later agreed they had cancelled the direct debit by mistake. So when my energy fix ended in February I switched immediately (avoiding an early switch penalty). Who wants to be a customer of a company that blames everyone else for their mistakes?

Switching energy companies should be straightforward these days. There is an Energy Switch Guarantee and the companies have to swap meter readings to generate final bills and refund credits on closing accounts. Scottish Power signs up to all these promises - it just didn't keep them.

Scottish Power failed to send me a final bill - even though I provided the meter readings - which my new company happily used. But they did keep debiting my bank account for another 2 months (until April) - even though my account was in credit. 

When I phoned SP to complain they were helping themselves to money I did not owe them, they offered me £20 - and suggested I use the direct debit indemnity scheme to claim back the money from my bank. I refused the £20 - I wanted a final bill so I could get my credit back. It doesn't seem right to me that banks should devote resources to sorting out Scottish Power's failure to comply with the switching rules. 

I emailed SP's Chief Executive to complain. I got no reply. 

So eventually I did claim my previous 2 direct debits back from Santander (by mistake Santander also cancelled the wrong DD and awarded me £50 as a goodwill gesture for cancelling my DD with Sky - more hassle).

In April - I emailed Scottish Power's Chief Executive again with a reminder SP still had not produced a final bill - which it promises to do within 6 weeks of leaving. Without a final bill they could not refund the credit on my account.

As SP wasn't responding to my complaint I looked at the Energy Ombudsman website. Consumers can only complain to them after a final decision letter from their energy company, or 8 weeks after first complaining. As Scottish Power hadn't bothered responding to my emails or phone calls I took my complaint to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman's website is terrible. It will take you around in loops trying to file a claim. When you finally get to upload your case it requires lots of documents, dates, emails and bills which can take considerable time to locate. Then halfway through the process the site crashed - not once, but twice. I phoned them to find out what was wrong - you can send the evidence in a message they responded - as though the website crashes often.

My complaint:
Scottish Power failed to issue a final bill within the switch guarantee period

Scottish Power continued to take my direct debit - even though I was in credit
Scottish Power failed to respond to my emails or phone calls of complaint

The Energy Company you are complaining about has to provide a response to the Ombudsman. I discovered Scottish Power wanted the complaint sorted out as soon as the Ombudsman became involved. They contacted me to offer £125 and an apology.

I should have accepted their £125. I didn't. BIG MISTAKE.

I decided Scottish Power had behaved so badly - I'd given them plenty of opportunity to sort out their mistake - that I would see them punished. ANOTHER BIG MISTAKE.

Ombudsman Services says the average award to consumers is £77, which seems reasonable. 

Of course it takes time to complain. When I refused Scottish Power's offer of £125 I had to go through the whole Energy Ombudsman process. That means SP upload their evidence and I had a few days to respond and upload any counter evidence. SP get to respond to that. I respond again and then the Ombudsman adjudication officer looks at the evidence and reaches a decision. This is very time consuming and I absolutely don't reccomend you do it. I wonder how many consumers give up part-way thorugh?

Scottish Power of course has paid employed staff who can spend hours entering data (and re-entering it when the site crashes) and uploading documents. Consumers get nothing for their trouble.

The Energy Ombudsman adjudicator upheld my complaint. No surprises there. I hadn't received a final bill, they had taken my money when I was in credit, and they hadn't responded to my complaint. But there was one big surprise - the penalty awarded was just £30.

Scottish Power had offered me £20 not to complain the first time I phoned them. I refused. They offered £125 when I went to the Ombudsman. I refused. 

Now the Ombudsman had awarded £30. This was in July - 5 months since I'd left SP. It had taken hours of time, and had been stressful.

I appealed the decision with the Ombudsman. The same adjudiactor reviewed their original decision. 

I lost the appeal. This was August.

A few weeks after the appeal Scottish Power came up with a another final bill. It was based on the same meter readings but was for more money. They said I should pay immediately.  This was in September - 7 months after I'd left Scottish Power. I contacted The Ombudsman and asked them to open the case again. They refused. 

I contacted Scottish Power and they investigated and cancelled the demand.

This is what I have learned - so you don't have to make my mistakes 

Do not complain to the Energy Ombudsman.
Their decisions are not binding on the energy companies - they are simply 'opinions'
Wait 8 weeks for a deadlock letter, or no response
Issue a small claims court demand MCOL (money claims online) for the balance you believe you are owed
The energy company will not want to go to court
They will offer to settle, and refund your court registration fee
If they don't do this you will win in court - and will be allowed to claim all your expenses and add interest at 8% to any money they owe you

If you really must complain to the Energy Ombudsman I suggest you take whatever goodwill / compensation the energy company offers NOT to complain - in my experience it could be much more money than the Ombudsman will award.

I wrote to the Chief Executive of Ombudsman Services to complain about their website and their service. He didn't reply.

The Energy Ombudsman website does point out that you can refuse it's decision. If you do you'll get nothing. Also if you decide to proceed to court the energy compnay will say the Ombudsman has ruled and you refused its decision. The court will favour the Ombudsman's expertise and will most likely accept their judgement. You won't get your costs - because court time has been wasted.

Now I agree all of this sounds like a lot of hassle and stress. And it certainly would be. Fortunately there is a simpler way. 

Don't ever switch to Scottish Power

Martin Lewis's Moneysavingexpert website - when pointing out Scottish Power currently has one of the cheapest  rates on the market reluctantly had to point out it also has the worst customer service and if that's important - avoid. Any small saving you might make will be more than lost by hours and hours complaining when things go wrong.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Beware Churchcastle also called Wynnington Wynners - Word Search phone bill shock

Beware phone bill shock - Churchcastle now running Word Search contests under the name 'Wynnington Wynners'

I've previously written about Churchcastle - they run word search competitions often with a £10,000 prize. These contests appeal to elderly players who like hunting for words but don't have eyesight good enough to read the small print.

When they've found the hidden word entrants must phone a premium rate phone line to enter. Finding the hidden word is easy, spotting the hidden phone charges is less obvious. 

Each phone call costs just over £10. Yes, £10. The phone number is 0906 6350368. These are among the most expensive call types allowed by the phone regulator. The cost per minute is £3.60 + your network operator's service charge. Calls last around 3 minutes.

My elderly relative was caught with the Churchcastle bug. She was among thousands of people convinced they had won a big prize, lured into making further expensive phone calls to claim it. She hadn't won anything. The Regulator for premium rate phone services (then called Phone Pay Plus, now called the PSA Authority) ruled they had broken the rules as the contests were misleading. Churchcastle was fined £800,000.

But now Churchcastle are back in business running word search contests under the brand 'Wynnington Wynners'. These puzzles appear to run in newspapers, online and on TV. Not much has changed. After spotting the hidden word in a grid contestants must make a 3 minute phone call costing over £10 to submit their answer.

THIS CONTEST COSTS £10 to enter online

The fun doesn't stop there though. After entering the contest and leaving their name and address entrants are sent more puzzles in the post. These are often entered in the same prize fund pool. So that means unwittingly players are making another entry for the same £10,000 prize - not a different prize. All the Wynnington organised contests typically run for 2 - 3 months. All the entries go into one pot and there is 1 winner. 

Unfortunately my partner's 96 year old mum has entered. We spotted it on her phone bill. She phoned twice, one call followed immediately by another in late April. The first call lasted 2 minutes 51 seconds and cost £10.32. The second entry took 3 minutes and 1 second and cost £10.92 - those extra 10 seconds cost 60p more to enter the same contest.

The Regulator has strict rules about the use of premium rate phone calls. The cost must be clear, vulnerable people (e.g. children, elderly, ill) must not be targeted. The Authority has the power to levy large fines and stop services if companies break those rules. 

You can check numbers on their website here. The PSA Authority lists contact numbers for customer service in the search results. The rules state these must be standard cost numbers.

I phoned Wynnington to ask them to consider refunding the cost of at least the second call - as it was clearly made because my partner's 96 year old mum didn't think her call had entered correctly. She had no idea it cost £10 for each entry. When I asked her about whether she'd entered she said 'oh yes, I found the word'. When I asked if she knew it cost £10 to enter she gasped, 'oh no, really?'.

Wynnington answered the phone quickly. The operator was helpful and immediately offered to remove her name and address from further mailings - but this could take a  few days, so she may receive further contests in the post. He said he would refer the refund request if I emailed or posted evidence of the call cost (the phone bill). My partner sent this by email. We haven't heard anything yet, but its was only a few days ago.

When I complained about Churchcastle to the Sun (who ran their puzzles) in 2012 the reader services dept instructed them to refund the £120 my partner's mum spent entering their contests. That was the contest Phone Pay Plus later levied the £800,000 fine for - and instructed Churchcastle to pay back anyone who asked. When I complained to Phone Pay Plus they declined to investigate - my complaint was too early, after mine the flood gates opened and they acted.

It may be that the PSA Authority is already monitoring Wynnington. Google searches for my original articles about Churchcastle here and here are receiving more requests than ever. 

If you, or a friend or relative has been caught out, unaware it costs £10 to enter, or that it is unclear entries for the £10,000 prize are pooled together with entries for other contests then you can complain to the PSA Authority. You should also complain to Wynnington on their customer care line 0179 730 9000 (standard call costs apply) or write to them at Flat 23, Shackleton Court, 2 Maritime Quay, London E14 3QF.

According to Companies House Wynnington Limited is a subsiduary of Churchcastle Limited and was registered in October 2012 (the same month Churchcastle was fined). The listed Director of Wynnington is Werner Straub, born 1941 with a contact address in Switzerland. Werner Straub and Thomas Alfred Backer are listed as the 2 current Directors of Churchcastle. Proof that Wynnington and Churchcastle Word Search contests are run by the same company.