19 February 2007

Threatening Letters

In the middle of January 2007, we completed the sale of the house in North London that we loved so much.

The house had been empty since the beginning of August hence we had not used too much gas or electricity. Of course, The Utility Company grossly overestimated our final quarterly bill based on our previous winter consumption of gas and electricity.

We duly informed The Utility Company of the actual metre-readings on the date the new owner moved in; we never received a bill for the actual metre readings but yesterday, we received a nasty letter from the Head of 'Customer Services' informing us that if we did not pay the original - over-estimated - bill, that they would take action that would adversely affect our ability to have access to credit. I hope we have sorted out the matter. I don't know.

This seems to be a new development, this instant sending of threatening letters, even when the company gets it wrong and I know that banks have recently been told to cease and desist with this tactic.

Personally, I feel able to stand up for myself and be assertive, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who don't feel able to do so. It seems to me that these sorts of letters are just taking advantage of people who don't understand what is happening. I'm suspicious that companies want customers to over-pay whilst they hold on to the cash for months, gaining interest on it before refunding.

I'm wondering if this is an area that ethical investors are looking into? It's just plain wrong to threaten customers for the company's own mistakes. (In the case of our Utility Company, they actually possessed our correct metre readings but had somehow failed to record those much lower metre readings into their billing system!)


Sandalstraps said...

I, too, have recieved such letters from our Utility company (more like monopoly, which is part of the problem - they have no competition, and so feel no pressure to have decent customer service).

Interestingly, the last threatening letter I recieved was factually inaccurate in a way that showed a flagrant diregard for the truth. It turns out that it was a form letter, responding to the most common sort of billing problem - a problem which had nothing whatsoever to do with my particular problem.

The situation is maddening, but I haven't seen any treatments of the ethics involved.

PamBG said...

I'm sure that the threat is part of a "form" - the standard letter that they send to everyone.

But that's what irks me about it.

So many people (at least here in the UK) seem to have a phobia about anything to do with money and certainly people will be worried about their utilities being turned off. I wonder how many people just pay the bill out of fear? In this case - because it assumes that we've been heating the house during the winter - it's a matter of several hundred pounds sterling. We could have easily just paid them about £300 more than we actually owe and I'll bet they would have happily closed the account without giving us a refund.

Oh, the other thing that irks me as an American is that if you want to have your meter read and pay for what you've actually used, you can only pay quarterly. You can pay an estimated figure on a monthly basis, but this means people often pay too much or too little.

There IS actually competition here. One CAN change gas or electricity companies. The problem is that they are all acting the same - and the banks are too. Go overdrawn by £5 and you get hit with two £30 fees plus an immediate letter threatening to ruin your credit rating. No matter if you've been with the bank for many years and have a lot of money in a savings account with them!

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Sheesh! I thought that kind of thing only happened in the States!