Dear First Utility

Dear First Utility,

Do you remember the good times? I do.

I remember switching to you on a hot summer’s day, gleefully accepting your very cheap rates and wondering how – just how – you could afford to be so, well, affordable.

Why couldn’t more energy providers be like you? The amount I would have to pay you each month made switching the easy choice, and I was happy with such service for the next two years. We never had a problem, you and I. I’d pay you the pittance you asked for, you’d keep my power on, and we’d get on with our respective lives.

Those were the good times.

The happy times.

The times that are long since over.

Ever since moving home and having to cancel my account, you’ve been far removed from the cheerfully cheap utilities provider I once admired.

You’ve been clingy, stubborn, and at times plain threatening as you refuse to accept our time is now over.

Having mistakenly tried to take you with me to my new address (something I could not do, due to my landlord controlling the power there), you refunded me the £30 you’d taken from my account. Sure, you shouldn’t have taken that money from me in the first place – I’d already cancelled my account by then – but mistakes happen, we’re all prone to them. I mean, I tried to switch my energy provider when I couldn’t. What larks!

You sent it back without much fuss, and I cashed the cheque in without a second thought.

Then you got annoyed.

The very next day I received an email telling me I still owed you money based on my final meter reading. I wasn’t sure how this could be the case, so I called you to talk it through.

I was on hold – as is always the case when I try and get through to you – for a very, very long time, before I was given the option to have someone call me back. They did, and explained to me that I did owe you money, and that I really had no choice but to pay it. So, being the law abiding citizen I am, and trusting in businesses like we’re told we can do, I paid you the money.

I was told by the lady on the phone that my business with you was now done. My account was cleared, and once and for all, would be closed down.

Easy as that.

Or not.

The next week I received a letter in the post. It told me that I owed you yet more money, and that despite several attempts to contact me I was still to pay it. Now, for the sake of the reader, I can confirm that no previous attempts to contact me were ever made. I assumed this letter was a mistake.

You disagreed.

A few days later you sent me an email in a much sterner tone of voice. You wanted your money, and were giving me one last chance to pay it.

I called you again, but as I’d previously discovered, getting through to anyone at your call centre was almost impossible. I’m a working man, and I couldn’t spend my whole day chasing you. What ever would I put on my time sheet?

Instead, I tweeted you, and someone got back to me immediately. I explained the situation to them – that I’d already cleared my account, that I owed you nothing else, that this was just a mistake – and you agreed.

Sorry, you said. It won’t happen again, you said. It was just a flaw in the system, you said.

Good old First Utility, I thought. They might make the odd error now and again, but they’ll hold their hands up and admit when they’re wrong. They’d always have a joke or two on Twitter too, and seemed like decent people.

But you wouldn’t give it up, would you?

Time passed, and then once again, up popped your name in my inbox.

“You owe us money, Mr Billinghay, and we assume because of your repeated refusal to reply to our REGULAR attempts to contact you, that you do not intend to pay this.

This leaves us no option but to involve external agents to claim the money back.”

Well, now things were getting serious. I’m a big fan of the Channel 5 programme “Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away,” but I did not want to ever appear on it. External agents sounded menacing, and me being a little old consumer was a tiny bit scared. Surely you wouldn’t keep making this mistake unless I really did owe you. Surely you wouldn’t send this kind of message unless I was really in trouble. Gosh, I must have done something very wrong. Bad me.

Again I called you. Again I heard your hold music. Again I resorted to Twitter.

The Twitter man told me that the money I owed was due to the following:

We (First Utility) mistakenly paid you back £30 on more than one occasion. We sent you two cheques, and also transferred the money into your account. That is why you now owe us.

You couldn’t be serious, could you? I’d received one cheque, not two, and no such payment had ever been made to my account. I proved it with a statement, and your Twitter man apologised (again) for your mistake, and promised to pass this information onto your payments team.

Phew. I was glad this whole mess was over with. I did not want external agents knocking on my door and taking my things away. I like my things.

ONLY IT WASN’T OVER WITH, WAS IT FIRST UTILITY?

While sitting at my desk I received a phone call, and unlike you I picked it up straight away.

“Hello, it’s blah from First Utility. Can I just confirm some details please?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Good, thank you Mr Billinghay. I’m calling because you have an outstanding balance with us. Despite repeated communications with you, you still have not paid the balance you owe us. We need to take that money today to prevent legal action.”

It’s a good job I’m a nice man, First Utility, because I wanted to shout very unseemly things at the man on the phone.  I explained the situation to him, just as I had done numerous times before, citing the number of Twitter conversations I’ve had with you in which you’ve said sorry and promised to sort things out. I told you about the phone call in which you’d said the very same thing. I told you about the letters, the emails and the threats you’d made, and said that while I understood it was not the man on the phone’s fault, I was getting quite annoyed.

Guess what you did?

You apologised, accepted you were wrong, and said it would never happen again.

Again.

It better not happen again, First Utility, because there’s an energy ombudsman tab open on my desktop right now, and I will fill in various forms about your repeated nagging of me to pay you money I do not, never have and never will owe.

If you were doing this to any normal consumer, that may have already happened. But you’re not. You’re doing it to a professional copywriter who chooses to take his annoyance out via the way of a sarcastic blog post, so consider yourself lucky that only the few thousand people who visit my website will know of how bad you’re being.

You started out as such a breath of fresh air, but now that air is stale and smells quite bad.

But with service like that, at least I do now understand why your tariffs are so cheap.

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