Questions of Cash: November 2015

Q. I live with my husband and two children in a ten year old terraced house with double glazing, solar panels and LED lights.  I buy energy from ExtraEnergy, paying £100 per month by direct debit.  This is based on my energy usage for previous years (4229 KWh electricity and 18955KWh for gas).  I give them meter readings and a meter reader sometimes comes round.  On 24 September, ExtraEnergy sent me a dual fuel statement for gas and electricity used, raising my payment to £393 a month.  My estimated gas use for the year had been increased by 368%.  I contacted ExtraEnergy, which said it was a computer glitch that would be sorted out.  I then received a revised statement, saying my new bill would be £360 a month.  I phoned again and was told by the operative that the computer problem was continuing, but that she would change the monthly payment to £125.  When I checked its website, I found it continued to say that I would pay £360 a month.  I emailed the company twice, but got no response.  Now £360 has been taken from my bank account and my account with ExtraEnergy is £537.79 in credit.  As a result, I am going to switch suppliers, but I do not see why I must pay exit charges given the situation is not my fault.  JE, Cambridge.

A. ExtraEnergy says the fault lies with the gas wholesaler, not with it.  An ‘Annual Quantity’ estimate for your consumption had been provided to ExtraEnergy, which led to the increase in charge.  It promises to reimburse your overpayment and will not impose an exit penalty if you close your account.  Ben Jones, managing director of ExtraEnergy, says: “When a customer switches, their new energy supplier relies on readings provided by the independent gas transporter, and the direct debit is calculated from this information. In this case the figure provided was incorrect, which unfortunately meant that [the reader] had a higher gas bill than she should have. As soon as we were made aware of the problem, we amended her direct debit and will reimburse her for any mispayments.”

Q. I moved to a new fixed price dual fuel tariff with ExtraEnergy on 1 October, following the expiry of my previous deal. The document forming the basis of the contract estimated my annual dual fuel costs at £1,541, equal to £128 per month. This estimate is in line with my previous usage. I accepted this contract. Meter readings on 30 September indicated a £24 debit to carry forward.  A downloaded account then told me my monthly payment would be £157. Having queried this, I was informed by email that a recalculation had now fixed my payment at £129. However, on 14 October £182 was taken from my current account by direct debit.  I have tried to discuss this with ExtraEnergy, but my email, letter and website ‘contact us’ message have all gone unanswered.  MG, Derbyshire.

A. ExtraEnergy’s Ben Jones says: “Customer service is our number one priority and I recognise that the service [the reader] received does not meet the high standards we expect at ExtraEnergy. We’re growing fast and unfortunately this meant that [the reader’s] direct debit was not updated based on his meter readings quickly enough.”

Q. The Co-operative Bank explained it has closed the bank accounts of Palestinian support groups in order to comply with money laundering regulations (see Questions of Cash, 21 November). Those groups are engaged in poverty alleviation in Palestine. But I am involved with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and our local groups – which do not send money abroad – have also had their bank accounts closed down by The Co-operative Bank. Some of them have had accounts with the bank for many years. The Boycott Israel Campaign has also had its account closed – and it does not send money abroad. JN, Manchester.

A. A spokesman for The Co-operative Bank provided a clarification of his previous remarks. He said: “As previously advised, for customers who operate in, or send money to, high risk locations throughout the world, advanced due diligence checks are required by all banks to ensure that funds do not inadvertently fund illegal or other proscribed activities. Although some charities may not make direct payments to higher risk locations, their activities and payments may be linked directly to other organisations that do send money internationally.” The bank asked us to include an additional statement. “This is not a reflection on the excellent work carried out by many organisations throughout the world, or a statement about the causes they support,” said the bank. “We remain a committed supporter of charities which can meet the industry level requirements.”

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