Thursday, 29 January 2009

An electric shock

I have mentioned before that the south wing of FatBigot Towers was turned into a separate dwelling not long ago. Something very irritating happened during the course of the works and the irritation has now turned into a festering sore. I am sure both my regular readers will enjoy my discomfort, so here goes.

Because a new dwelling was being created it was necessary to have a new electricity supply. What an extraordinary example of inefficiency it proved to be. A team arrived early one morning to dig up the pavement, expose the existing supply cable and erect barriers to prevent passing drunks falling into the hole. The next day the electrician arrived to do what he had to do, but the hole was not deep enough. FatBigot Towers was teeming with builders at the time and he could have borrowed a spade or asked one of them to dig out a couple more inches of London clay, but no. He phoned his office and sat in his car for a couple of hours while another digging team was dispatched to expand the hole to the required dimensions. Then he fitted the new supply cable and went home. Two days later a filling-in team attended to shovel the clay and earth back into the hole. But they were a hole filling team not a paving team, so the paving slabs remained stacked by the hedge. A few days later the pavers arrived to restore the pavement to its former glory. But they were pavers not barrier removers, so the barriers previously protecting the hole from damage by passing drunks replaced the paving slabs and formed a new pile by the hedge. The next day the barriers were removed. Altogether six visits (hole diggers, electrician, hole diggers again, hole fillers, pavers, barrier collectors) to replace a four foot length of old cable with a four foot length of new cable suitably arranged to supply an additional meter.

Mains supplies are administered by one company. They run cables up to a fixed point but they do not fit meters. Meters are the responsibility of the company from which one actually buys electricity. It had been arranged for that company to attend on the same day the electrician fitted the new supply cables, but attendance was there none. A few phone calls elicited the information that no appointment appeared on their computer. This came as a tiny weeny little surprise to me because I have telephoned them to confirm the appointment the previous day. It was a grim portent of things to come. "So they will be here tomorrow then?" I asked, more in hope than expectation. The earliest available appointment was more than a month later. In fact this was no great problem because no one was in residence while the building works were taking place and the builders themselves did not need a mains supply. True to their word, a fellow turned up on the new date and took all of ten minutes to fit the new meters.

My direct debit was already in place for the existing supply and a new one created for the new supply to the new property. I was informed that my existing direct debit facility would be used to pay for the new supply to the part of FatBigot Towers I was retaining and money was duly sucked from my bank account with the usual alarming regularity. Then some strange letters started arriving demanding settlement of my outstanding electricity bill. I did the sensible thing and ignored the first few, but they persisted so I resorted to the telephone. Things were sorted out very quickly and the obvious had happened, the payments they received had been allocated to the old account attached to the old meter rather than being allocated to the new account attached to the new meter. Oh well, these things happen, at least it was sorted out quickly.

Then more threatening letters arrived informing me of the company's right to apply to the local Magistrates' Court for a warrant to break into FatBigot Towers and disconnect the supply. Leaving aside that, as per current regulations, the meters are housed in a separate purpose built shelter outside the house so forcing entry would be pretty pointless, the fact remained that they have had every penny they have ever asked for. Back to the telephone: "so sorry Mr FatBigot, our mistake, the computer record has been amended, you won't get any more letters", all said with the undertone in the operatives voice: "please don't make a formal complaint". That was early last October. A week later the matter had been referred to a firm of debt collectors and bailiffs, as appeared from the next threatening letter.

Before resuming the sorry tale, a word of advice in case you ever find yourself being chased by debt collectors for money you do not owe. The debt collection firm knows only what it is told. It has no independent record of your dealings with its client, so write to them and set out the full story. Fax the letter and keep a copy of the transmission slip, also send the hard copy by recorded delivery. Do not rant and rage in your letter, just state the facts and be absolutely truthful. Inform them that every word you have written is true and invite them (do not tell them, invite them) to check those facts with their client. Many debt collection businesses are also certificated bailiffs, inform them that failure to check the facts with their client or taking any further step against you will result in you reporting their conduct to the Court. It scares the hot willies out of them. Do not expect a reply, they are not interested in debating with you. On checking things with their client they will either be told you are correct or that you are incorrect; if the former they will disappear from your life, if the latter they will just plough on with their usual procedures.

Anyway, I followed my own sage advice. A week later the debt collectors sent another standard-form threatening letter. Three more telephone calls to the electricity company resulted in them saying the matter can be resolved once and for all by one of their people coming round, noting down the meter numbers and seeing that the old meter is no longer in situ. He arrived, as arranged, at the end of November on the very day I received yet another threatening letter from the debt collectors. Meter numbers were noted, the absence of the old meter was noted, all would be well. Ho hum. The Christmas Eve post contained formal notice of the debt collectors' intention to apply for a warrant. More telephone calls between Christmas and New Year did not abate the flow of threats but did result in a second appointment for someone to attend and inspect the meters. They are due next Wednesday.

Then I received calls from the electricity company asking for a meter reading. Three calls on successive days, two of which were made by the same person. They don't need me to give them a reading, they attend and take them regularly, but I am a friendly and cooperative chap so the first call resulted in me waddling out to the bus-shelter type structure and telling them what the meter recorded. The other two requests resulted in a suggestion that they refer to the reading I gave them the first time they called.

Things were quiet for ten days or so. This morning two letters arrived, purportedly from the electricity supply company itself not its hired thugs. One informing me that they have applied to the Magistrates' Court for a warrant and the other informing me that they have the right to enter and cut-off my supply under the Electricity Act 1989. What fun it is for a lawyer to receive such contradictory letters. The first tells me they need a warrant, they have applied for one and I will be informed of the date of the Court hearing, thereby making clear they do not currently have a warrant and, therefore, they do not have the right to enter; and the second informing me that an Act of Parliament gives them the right to enter. Such foolishness is grist to an ancient litigator's mill. A letter has already been dispatched.

The problem, of course, is that despite all the assurances they have given in the past that the matter has been resolved, it has not been resolved. It was time to telephone their "Complaints Department". Within thirty seconds it became clear that the Complaints Department is where they keep the sensible people. The fellow I spoke to called up the records of all my previous telephone calls, saw what the situation is and expressed appropriate disgust on seeing that the things his junior colleagues had said they would do had not been done. He gave me a degree of reassurance, but I still expect to be plunged into darkness any minute just as the coldest days of winter are about to arrive.

If I am not here tomorrow, you will know why.


The Great Simpleton said...

You have my commiserations and respect for holding your temper so long.

About half way through your story I would have been sending a nicely worded letter/fax to the Chairman's office setting out the facts and asking them what they would do in my position. It is amazing how quickly a lumbering giant of an organisation can move when it wants to.

The first time I tried this manoeuvre I was trying to get a shed from a well known DIY company. Time became of the essence because I needed it to store goods from my garage which was being demolished to make way for an extension. After 6 weeks of fruitless telephne calls and missed deliveries I sent a fax to the Chairman at 8am on a Monday morning, at 8:30am The Great Wiseone called me at work to say the Area Manager had been on and the shed would be deliverd by Friday. It was and we recieved some vouchers as well.

PS I would love to be a fly on the wall if you do go to court to challenge them. Let us know if it happens it may be worth taking a day off to see the look on their faces as you point out the errors of their ways.

PPS If we don't heae from you in 24 hours we'll start a Fee The Islington One campaign in the blogosphere :-)

Pogo said...

Whilst agreeing that this was basically a bit of entertainment for a retired litigator, it's not so funny when you think that "ordinary" citizens, especially those who've had the "benefit" of a recent state education cop for the same old rigmarole...

Anonymous said...


Funny story, but you have my sympathy.

BTW, saw your link on WUWT and I came over here to check it out.
I'll read more when I get some time.

Tom in Texas