Questions of Cash: May 2014

Posted on September 17, 2014 · Posted in The Independent

Q. British Gas was my interim energy provider when I moved into my new home. BG has now sent me a final bill for £595 for just eight weeks of gas and electric. It based this on a fabricated gas reading and an estimated electricity reading. My annual bill is usually about £1,200, so this is unbelievable. When you move into a new home you have to be with the existing provider until the energy transfer is completed from your old address. The interim provider can charge its highest rate and the customer gets no say in the matter. I provided BG with final meter readings on the date of transfer, but it keeps asking for the £595. BO, by email.

A.  BG claims that you moved into your new home on 29 November, but only notified it on 1 January and only provided the readings at your move in date after you received BG’s bill. Npower had supplied BG with much higher readings than yours. BG has now challenged those readings through the energy suppliers’ dispute procedures.  It has revised your bill in line with your meter readings and you have paid that revised bill.

Q. I used the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter last year to get a UK company off the ground. It was trying to get $100,000 together and raised an amazing $647,658 for a new game console, GameStick. But that was over a year ago and many backers have not seen any rewards.  The game consoles arrived just before Christmas last year, nearly six months late. Many backers like myself also funded the development of a docking station, for which I provided $170. This docking station still has not appeared.  Could you investigate as over 5,000 people backed this, but the whole experience has been disappointing.  MG, by email.

A. Kickstarter declined to comment and referred us to Playjam, the company behind GameStick. Anthony Johnson, Playjam’s chief marketing officer, told us: “PlayJam is an established UK business with shareholders including GameStop, the world’s largest games retailer, and Adobe. The company’s core business is software, having developed a games platform designed to deliver affordable gaming to TV… We currently have our service running on between 80 million and 100 million devices in partnership with Samsung, LG, Sony & Panasonic. In January last year, we decided to use Kickstarter to raise funding – essentially through pre-orders – to develop GameStick, a micro-games console powered by the latest version of our software. We felt Kickstarter the ideal platform to launch on as it allows early adopters and enthusiasts unprecedented access to such projects from the conceptual stage, versus a tried and tested retail-ready product stage. This was a highly ambitious project and we were delighted to have finished as [Kickstarter’s] eighth most successful technology project at that time, not least because we were a British company on an American platform. Many such projects on Kickstarter are hit with delays just as they are in the regular retail world – the downside of being on Kickstarter is that these become very public. However, we were very pleased to have fulfilled the GameStick console and controller – the original offering to all our backers worldwide – towards the end of last year. If a Kickstarter project reaches its funding target during the campaign time limit – we reached ours in 30 hours – then additional products are often offered to help try and push the total higher.  These are called ‘stretch goals’. One of our stretch goals was an optional docking station for GameStick which was conceived on the fly during the campaign following feedback from backers. This has taken longer for us to fulfil. The delay is unfortunate and one which the entire staff at PlayJam have been working to mitigate for some time. The good news is that the product is palletised in China and awaiting shipment to forward distribution points in London, Texas and Hong Kong. They will be with our backers very shortly. Our chief executive has made updates via the Kickstarter platform and via direct e-mail to all backers concerning this, as would be expected. We understand [the reader’s] frustration and assure him that he will soon have his dock – we want that as much as he does.”

Q. In early 2013 BT said it would make a refund in my next bill. BT did not, so I complained and switched to Virgin Media. My dispute with BT ended up with the Ombudsman, who took months to come to a decision. BT told me I did not have to pay anything until the Ombudsman made that decision. Despite this, BT passed my debt to three debt collectors. The first two backed-off when I said the bill was in dispute. In February the Ombudsman decided that BT should apologise for the customer service shortfalls and deduct £25 from the account for goodwill, which was odd as it was less than BT said it would refund. As soon as the Ombudsman made the decision the debt collector threatened court proceedings for the outstanding sum without deducting the £25.  I am being told to also pay the debt collector’s charges, although the debt collection should have been put on hold while the Ombudsman considered the dispute.  EG, Leeds.

A. BT’s spokesman said: “We reduced the debt payable by [the reader] by £25, and contacted the debt collection agency to confirm this. [The reader] needs to contact the debt collection agency to discuss payment options for the outstanding balance of £32.69.” As the final account balance was £51.15, this left £26.15 outstanding, suggesting that £6.54 had been charged for debt collection costs.  We suggested to BT that given the small sum involved, it could avoid further dispute by writing this off.  BT agreed and you have now paid the outstanding £26.15.  But BT’s spokesman warned: “We advise customers when an issue goes to the Ombudsman that they still need to pay any charges and outstanding bills.”