The UK’s elderly population are falling prey to energy suppliers’ appalling billing processes, which are causing them a burden of unwanted and unnecessary stress.
E.ON was found to have failed several elderly customers, who were forced to pay exorbitant amounts on their energy bills. Two separate incidents involving retirees were reported, in which they had to pay thousands for billing errors beyond their control.
Big Six energy supplier E.ON sent out a notice to a 65-year-old prostate cancer patient that he had to pay a £6.14 million bill for energy use over a 4-month period.
The firm told Frank Lancaster, a former motor electrician, that monthly Direct Debit payments of £1.53 million per month would be automatically deducted from his account.
Lancaster typically paid £320 per month for his electricity and heating bills, for a four-bedroom home he shares with his wife.
Talking about the bill, Lancaster said that being diagnosed with cancer left him little to be scared about, but that the overly massive debt left him furious. He also believed that the firm should have a system in place that alerts staff regarding unusually high bills such as this.
Lancaster added that the incident left both he and his wife very upset, and could have had a negative effect on his health.
E.ON informed the customer that the direct debit payments would be automated until his annual energy review. The firm added that it reviews fees and found that Lancaster’s fixed monthly payment had been changed from only £320 to £1,535,374, based on estimated consumption that would be valid until his next annual review.
This blunder can be attributed to faulty automated meter readers that provide inaccurate readings, and therefore inaccurate estimates. Lancaster said that the company never sent a meter reader to their home. These clear errors in readings and billing are often overlooked by energy suppliers in favour of profit. With direct debit payments, it’s easy to get money from customers’ accounts, regardless of the amount.
The letter sent to Lancaster also stated that if he decides to cancel the direct debit, he would have to pay £35 in penalties, along with the indicated energy charges.
According to Citizens Advice, two-thirds of complaints regarding energy suppliers are related to inaccurate bills.
An E.ON spokesperson apologised to Lancaster and said that it was an ‘isolated incident’. They also promised to send a revised bill to the customer.
Fred Birkett, 90, was advised by E.ON that he should have his previous meter replaced with a newer one. His modest bungalow in the Lincolnshire area, which he shares with wife, typically incurred between £1,000 and £1,200 in electricity and gas bills per year.
However, after the new device was installed, the customers noticed that their energy bills were skyrocketing.
The year after the installation, their bills soared to over £3,000. Their annual debt increased to £4,000 a year later – already four times more than what they were paying before the meter replacement.
The Birketts insisted that there wasn’t any change in their energy consumption after switching to the new device – they always turned the lights and TV off when they weren’t being used. Both Mr. Birkett and his wife felt an unfair amount of stress due to the unfolding incident.
The average annual energy bill in the East Midlands was only £1,284, while the average annual energy bill across the whole of Britain was only £1,318 — a vast difference from the £4,000 that the Birketts were ordered to pay.
Mr. Birkett said that he has approached several people from E.ON but has yet to see any action from the company. He recalled two years of worry and sleeplessness, and the effort made to hide the E.ON error from his unwell wife.
E.ON refused to respond to the matter, which pushed Mr. Birkett to have professionals review his energy supply. The electrician and boiler engineer he hired agreed that everything was in good working condition.
An E.ON representative said that they offered to test the meter and visit the couple for a home energy efficiency check, but was still waiting for a response from the customer.
Professionals are saying that the Birkett’s case mirrored several other incidents across the country, with the elderly and sick falling victim to such issues. However more often than not, a solution remains elusive.