Charles Moore Charles Moore

People want revenge on energy companies

Friends of mine called Georgiana and Mouse Campbell recently bought a new house. In the period between completion and moving in, Mouse arranged for British Gas, who supplied the electricity, to switch the account to his name. British Gas said that this involved changing it from a business account to a residential one. While this was supposedly in progress, BG’s business division sent Mouse a bill for £299.80, although the Campbells’ actual use of electricity was virtually nonexistent. Despite many calls to BG, and its promises to sort things out, the company pursued Mouse for the fictional bill with threats of a debt recovery company and damaging his credit rating. No one seemed capable of solving BG’s self-created problem until Mouse wrote to BG threatening legal action and saying that if the dispute involved any more trouble for him, ‘My time shall be charged at my normal charge-out rate [sum specified]…’. Within three days, British Gas suddenly turned helpful, and on Monday, Mouse got a credit note for £300. Mouse is highly intelligent, and a businessman, but one wonders what happens to similarly guiltless customers who are old or ill-educated. They probably pay up, terrified of bailiffs. It is not surprising that people think of the utilities as rotten bureaucracies, differing from state-run services only in the size of their executive salaries. Ed Miliband’s absurd price-freeze promise has an allure to voters, not because they believe it is economically sensible, but because they want to punish the companies.

GoveThis is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator’s Notes in this week’s magazine. Click here to read for free with a trial of The Spectator app for iPad and iPhone.

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