Friday, 29 January 2010

Not Rocket Science, Surely?


I do get annoyed with with bloody utility companies. I got home this evening to find a letter from my Gas & Electricity Company, who were writing to tell me that they have noticed my bill was quite high so have decided to increase my direct debit.

Now, the payment plan I have is that I pay a fixed amount each month, rather than a variable amount based on the amount of fuel actually used, which works for me because it allows me to budget. Obviously, it also means that some months you overpay, and some you underpay, the idea being that the direct debit is reviewed from time to time and adjusted if you are building up a substantial credit or debit balance.

At the end of the last quarter, my statement showed I'd paid for more than I'd used, and had built up a credit balance of about £150. Scottish Power's suggestion was that I should pay a bit less for a while to use this up.
My suggestion, having down some sums and worked out that on their figures, they would get to keep my money for about 14 months til it was used up, was that they should give me my money back, and then set a new regular payment at a more realistic level.

After a bit of pressure, they agreed.

Today, they wrote to point out that (quelle surprise) the amount I'd paid for December-Jan was less than the cost of the fuel used, so "to help you to avoid building up a debt", they propose to increase the monthly payments. Because, obviously using the 3 coldest months of the year (in the worst winter for a decade) as representative and working out a payment schedule on the assumption that I will be using the same amount of gas and electricity in every other month as I did in January makes perfect sense.

Cannot help but notice that it only takes them 3 months to try to change things when the balance is in my favour, and 12 months when it's in theirs.

After holding on the phone for 10 minutes and explaining several times that yes, I understand that I might end up with a bigger bill later, yes, I understand that I will have to pay for the fule I use, plus pointing out that it's fairly likely that I will be using rather less gas and elecricity in (say) April & May than I did in January, things will even out, I eventually managed to convince them to change it back to the original payment.

But honestly, they couldn't work out for themselves that January is colder than June? Or that their own selling point for this plan is that you get to average the costs out, over the year?

(Yes, I know, I could change suppliers. But I doubt any of the rest are any better, and as I have pretty low bills (one of the few advantages of living in a terrced house and only having central heating in half of it) the possible savings are not worth all the faffing about to research and change)

In more cheerful news, the organisers of OctoCon have finally fixed the dates of the Con, so I have registered, and will be going to Dublin in October, and meeting up with Fabulous Lorraine and SpacedLawyer, and no doubt seeing RavenBooks too, all of which should be fun.

Of course, this may involve flying with RyanAir, which takes the gloss off a little, but such is life.

And it turns out my library books are due back tomorrow, not, as I thought, yesterday, so no fines for me after all!

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Ah, something in my area of business. Let me explain.

Retail energy is a very low margin business. Survey after survey has shown that all the customers care about is price. You can't offer them electricity with go faster stripes on the side, or gas in charming shades of Princess Pink and Sparkly Goth. You can't offer better service because that's all down to the distribution company. Companies have "green power" offerings because it is expected of them, but the vast majority of customers won't pay more to save the planet.

So the energy retailers are faced with a stark choice - either they offer rates at least as low as the competition, or they lose business. How can they get more money? Inevitably they fallback on the idea that the customer is stupid and can be persuaded to loan them cash under the pretence of a scheme to help budgeting. It might not seem that much to you, but a 100 quid loan from each of 5 million customers soon adds up to a heck of a lot of interest.

If you want to avoid this the thing to do is do the budgeting yourself. In the summer months put money away to pay the winter bill, and avoid direct debit. But it is a pain. And maybe you are better off just loaning the company that 100 quid or so, especially as they may give you a small discount for paying by direct debit. Which is what they are relying on.

BTW, am trying Aer Arann from Cardiff for P-Con. Will report back.