Home Money 86-year-old Peter’s problems with a faulty smart meter which caused his bills to skyrocket show why so many people avoid them, writes JEFF PRESTRIDGE

86-year-old Peter’s problems with a faulty smart meter which caused his bills to skyrocket show why so many people avoid them, writes JEFF PRESTRIDGE

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British Gas shouldn't wait for people like me to knock on its door before taking complaints seriously, writes Jeff Prestridge (file image)

Some financial services company press offices are brilliant at answering queries I pass on to them from readers, and many not so much.

British Gas, part of Centrica, is currently among the good guys. I recently resolved a long-standing problem that Peter Carr, an 86-year-old customer, had been unable to resolve and who came to me for help. This is not the first customer complaint I have sent them and it certainly won’t be the last.

It involved a smart accountant that had gone “dumb”, resulting in Peter, a pensioner and carer for his wife Margaret, receiving estimated bills that were out of scale (and which he paid before being reimbursed for overpayments ). Since September 2023, he had tried to solve the problem, but was pushed back and forth.

In January I intervened.

British Gas shouldn’t wait for people like me to knock on its door before taking complaints seriously, writes Jeff Prestridge (file image)

Earlier this month, Peter contacted me to tell me the issue had now been fixed. After waiting a bit, a British Gas engineer turned up at his Manchester home and, as a result, his smart meter is now fully functional.

He also received a “small offer of compensation” from British Gas which he accepted.

Peter, a former engineering lecturer at a college of higher education, told me: ‘Without your help, I have a clear feeling that the problem would never have been solved. I am very grateful for the time and effort he has put into helping me.’

Although it is brilliant that British Gas enthusiastically addresses the customer issues I bring to its attention, it is a shame that I have to get involved. Surely the company should approach all customer problems with the same zeal, regardless of whether they are initiated by them or through members of the press.

British Gas should not wait for people like me to knock on its door before taking complaints seriously.

As for Centrica boss Chris O’Shea’s call for homes to be forced to have a smart meter installed, I can only assume he has consumed too much laughing gas recently.

As your company’s own data indicates, many homes are not even touched with a barge pole.

Some 600,000 British Gas customers have told the utility giant they will never take one, while 36 per cent of its 7.5 million customers have ignored offers to install a smart meter.

Surely O’Shea would be better off spending his time making sure the smart meters his company installs actually work, and when they fail, as in Peter’s case, they are repaired immediately.

On Friday, Peter said he would spend his compensation on a quick meal for his grandchildren. Enjoy.

Another town abandoned by the banks

The nearest bank branch to Swanage, pictured, is ten miles from the Dorset town.

The nearest bank branch to Swanage, pictured, is ten miles from the Dorset town.

Thanks for all your emails about cities that have been abandoned by the big banks and the inconvenience caused.

Peter Wakefield says he is in disbelief that the seaside town where he lives, Swanage in Dorset, has been left without banks after Lloyds closed last year. He says Swanage is a thriving town, especially in summer when tourists spend money in its shops, cafes and pubs.

Although there remains a post office, the nearest bank branch (Lloyds) is now ten miles away, in Wareham, a tortuous journey in the summer when the roads are crowded.

Fifty miles west of Swanage, Lyme Regis has suffered a similar fate. It has no banks or post office, and local residents and businesses now rely on a banking center (community bank) in Axminster, 13 miles away.

Cities without banks are a growing feature of our country’s landscape. The TSB’s decision to close 36 branches, confirmed a few days ago, will soon mean that towns such as Bude in Cornwall and Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire will also lose their last banks.

Others, such as Amble in Northumberland and Crook in County Durham, will rely on banking centres, although these may take some time to set up. Do banks care about our communities? I think you and I know the answer to that question.

It is necessary to implement the Delay Repay train plan

The Delay Repay program provides financial compensation when trains are delayed or cancelled. I use it regularly as a result of the faulty service that South Western Railway and GWR provide for my daily journey to London from Berkshire and then back home.

However, sometimes the plan is woefully inadequate. Last Sunday was a good example when I tried to get home after a weekend watching football (West Bromwich Albion) and taking part in the AJ Bell Great Run.

What was supposed to be an easy hour and a half journey home from Birmingham to Reading turned into a nightmare when a broken down train blocked the line at Banbury. The CrossCountry train I was booked on was canceled as was the next scheduled service. When I finally got on a train, it crawled like a caterpillar up Warwick Parkway and then stopped.

While the staff on board were pleasant and apologetic, they had no idea when the train might move again. They opened the doors and allowed us to stretch our legs while we waited… and waited.

When one of the staff said that a recovery unit was on its way from south London to remove the damaged train, I decided to take up a fellow traveler’s offer and share a taxi to Oxford, then catch a GWR train to Reading. .

I arrived in Reading three hours late, somewhat gutted but determined to get my fare refunded (delays of two hours or more qualify for a full refund) plus my share of the Uber fare.

Inexplicably, Delay Repay rejected my online claim. With steam coming out of my ears, I contacted CrossCountry’s customer relations department expecting a verbal fight, but I was pleasantly surprised. He said the system could not support the split ticket he had purchased and that he would process the refund himself.

True to their word, an email arrived in my inbox within 15 minutes confirming that a full refund would be paid within ten business days.

Unfortunately, when it came to the price of the taxi, he confirmed that he was not eligible for a refund. Pity.

Split tickets are usually the cheapest way to travel by train. Online late payment systems should routinely be able to handle complaints from travelers using such tickets.

How do you buy the cover?

My gut tells me that more households than ever pay monthly for auto and home insurance. After all, as premiums skyrocket, it makes sense to spread the financial pain over the course of a year, especially for those on tight budgets.

The response from many insurers, such as consumer group Which? as has been highlighted in recent months, has been to impose interest charges exceeding 20 percent on these distressed clients. As I said in this column seven days ago, it is a tax on the poor and the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, should take drastic action.

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Although I trust my instinct, I want proof. So I asked the prestigious Association of British Insurers (ABI) what percentage of motor and home policies are paid monthly, now and in the past.

Despite boasting of its “extensive” data releases covering everything “from motor and property insurance to life insurance and pensions” (and possessing an army of data and analytics specialists), the ABI was unable to help. It said: “We do not collect this data.” How weird?

So, has the way you buy coverage changed and been hit by nasty interest charges in the process? Email jeff.prestridge @mailonsunday.co.uk.

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