Southern Electric billing

I was trained in the dockyard as an electrical apprentice, way back in the 1970s. Back then the electricity companies were public utilities and our electricity was provided by the SEB (Southern Electricity Board). We’d see the initials SEB everywhere, it was rather reassuring to have a local electricity company, and I have always had a soft spot for them.

So when I bought my house I made sure it was Southern Electric, as they had become, who provided my electricity and that was despite their use of an adjective when they surely meant to use a noun. Further I insisted my gas came via British Gas (electricity from the electricity experts and gas from the gas experts, simple), until I found their customer service particularly unhelpful and extremely rude following one house move. After that it seemed natural that I’d get SE to provide both fuels, and so things have been that way since. I have been with SE (or SSE as they now like to be called) through all subsequent house moves. Never a regret.

Until I decided to replace my gas boiler. That was a couple of years ago now and one day when I have recovered from the trauma, of the ordering and installation processes, and the subsequent need for their Shield people to get everything working properly, twice, I shall write about how not to run a boiler replacement company. I know all about it, I have seen them in action. I should have stuck with my gas from the gas experts mantra.

No, the current complaint is with their billing process. Last month I received an email asking me to provide meter readings so they could accurately bill me. The billing doesn’t really matter that much as I pay the same amount each month on some sort of budget system, it allows me to pay the same every month. I provided the meter readings and the bills arrived, or the emails telling me the bills were available online arrived.

I like to keep an eye on things so I looked at the bills and thought it odd that I was owing them so much money on the budget plan, it also showed high gas usage despite the efficiency of the new boiler. Hang on though, they have used estimated readings not mine, and the estimates are a good 30% higher.

Do I care? Well you could make the case that it will all sort itself out in the end at some point when they send a reader round to take readings for them. But that’s only true if the price stays the same. If they reduce the price, as seems to be happening with the other big utilities, then I will have paid for fuel I haven’t yet used at a higher price than I should. Is this another deliberate scheme to screw more money from their customers? I don’t know. I phoned SE and their customer service team didn’t sound at all surprised that my readings had got lost in the system, but they did update their estimated readings with mine. A fleeting apology, I didn’t want self immolation or anything like that, but it did just sound very automatic and scripted (it can’t have been scripted exactly, but I felt as though they were taught to say sorry as a Pavlovian response to a complaint, apologise without understanding and move on seemed to be the approach). Say sorry, but please sound sincere.

We are probably only talking a few pounds here, but they are my pounds, and I don’t like companies who have a cavalier disregard of that. Your customer meter reading process appears not to work SE, and your customer service seem uninterested, addressing not the problem but only the effects of the problem. Maybe the time has come for me to bury the ghost of the SEB and move on.

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