Here are a couple of facts. Firstly, I switched to N Power back in July 2004 when a young girl knocked on my door and randomly calculated that I'd be better off going with her favoured supplier. Never one to be rude to a female house-guest (albeit one paid to come into your house and tell you to switch supplier), I agreed, assuming it may or may not be cheaper (I guess one of those would definitely be true). Over a period of a year and a half, I failed to send them a meter reading, but eventually did, once I'd managed to move out as part of my "leave your home and move down south" scheme. N Power changed my monthly payments from about £40 to about £140 to accommodate the miscalculation and previous backlog of unpaid-for-gas. I rang up, complained and asked if I could pay the backlog and get the monthly total back to something realistic. I was told that I could. It didn't happen. In February this year, I switched suppliers again and they were given meter readings etc. Mid-February I received a reckoning showing that the electricity was in credit and the gas was in debit. I had direct debit set up and rather hoped that they would just direct debit what I owed them and maybe deduct what they owed me.
Date: 3rd March 2007
Gas Service Acc - Debt £338.27
When we checked this morning we found that you still owe us the above amount. Your payment is very overdue.
If you do not pay within the next 10 days or agree a payment method with us, we may appoint a Debt Collection Agency to call at your property, and this may lead to Court proceedings.
We may also share this information with a Credit Reference Agency, and this could affect your ability to obtain credit in future.
We want to help and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Kevin (I'm a twat) Hutchinson
Accounts Collection Manager
I put the "I'm a twat" bit in myself. So, within a couple of weeks of calculating final bills, despite having the means to just debit what they want, they're writing threating to send the heavies round. What a bunch of bastards. I particularly don't like the words "debt", "very overdue", "we may appoint a Debt Collection Agency to call at your property" and "this could affect your ability to obtain credit in future". As far as I'm concerned, these terms are reserved for the sort of people who spend above their means, perhaps wear sportswear and worry about whether their kneecaps will be removed for the sake of the last item of sovereign jewelery they bought from some catalogue. Sorry, I'm being all middle class about this. As far as I'm concerned, you don't have debts, you have outstanding invoices.
And what's with the "We want to help and look forward...". What's that like, a small sugaring of the pill? Do their debt collectors stop the kneecapping and setting of their illegal fighting dog on you to make you a nice cup of tea for your trouble, before continuing to smash your face in and take all your electrical items for putting on eBay? Ridiculous!
Anyway, I rang up their call centre today to sort it out. I'd had a weekend of partly stewing over this, and partly rationalising my approach. There's a great Mitchell and Webb sketch where they staff a call centre entirely with children so that people can ring up and shout at them like they're naughty children. I don't know whether it's meant to be a surreal thing, or an off-the-wall stupid thing, or whether the script writers were making a point that, if you're going to ring up and shout at people, it may as well be children as adults because it won't make shouting any more effective. What I do know is that you don't necessarily get anywhere, especially when you're only really dealing with how offended you are, by shouting.
My objectives? To pay what I owe in such a way as doesn't compromise my standards for fairness - i.e. I'm not goint to pay them what I owe them before they pay me what they owe me. Also, I wanted to make it known that I was deeply unsastisfied with being treated as a bad-debtor, given that they hadn't had any trouble with me and had messed me about by putting my monthly utility bill payments through the roof, despite my request to let me pay off this deficit a year ago, rather than have it whittled away with monthly payments.
So, I could have rung up, shouted my head off, made someone either apologise or justify something that wasn't even their fault, and gone out in a blaze of twattishness. Or, I could do something less "Kevin Hutchinson" and sort this out with at least a shred of dignity. So, I rang up and clarified the full situation before starting my complaint. I gathered the totals, the dates of the bills and the strategy we could use to sort it out. I.e. subtract the amount they owe me from the amount I owe them and then pay the resulting amount over the phone by card. We decided that. The guy who helped me, whose name I won't broadcast to the internet, was very nice, very polite and, I think, quite wooed by the logic behind the complaint I then presented to him. I presented the complaint in such a way as to point out that he was the friend/helpful one/reasonable voice, and that we were both to be impressed by how evil this Kevin Twat Hutchinson had been. I think I left him wooed. He agreed to present the issue to his manager as an example of how not to treat a customer.
I paid, I was pleasant, I still got to defend my right not to be threatened with debt collectors, and I almost enjoyed the call.
N Power are still bastards, though, for using their powers to send such evil letters. If only they could manage a letter of apology. Perhaps with Kev Twat's resignation attached...