Power firm apologises to pastor over debt error

Favour Asante
Favour Asante has been wrangling for years over a non-existent debt

After years of battling with her energy supplier over a non-existent debt, Favour Asante has finally had an apology and the full amount written off.

Scottish Power wrongly believed she owed them more than £2,000 which eventually led to the firm forcibly installing a prepayment meter in her home while she was visiting family abroad.

The 52-year-old had previously used a pay-as-you-go prepayment meter for the gas at her home in Merrylee in Glasgow but when she reported a fault it was changed to a monthly credit meter without her knowledge.

Favour continued to successfully use a "top-up key" to pay for her gas at a local shop.

As Scottish Power did not receive any monthly payments from Favour they continued to think she owed them money, despite accepting her top-up payments.

The company, which had previously agreed to wipe about £1,700 of the mistaken amount, has now agreed to drop the remaining balance.

It also apologised for the ‘inconvenience and frustration’ she has faced.

Prepayment electricity meter
Prepayment electricity meter

In 2017, Favour - a church pastor - started to receive monthly bills which she did not pay as she was already topping up her prepayment meter.

Scottish Power continued to say Favour was building up debt as a result and registered a default against her name – barring her from taking out credit elsewhere.

Favour told BBC Scotland News: “I was frustrated. If I owed them money, I would have negotiated with them and asked them ‘please let me pay in instalments’, but this wasn’t the case.

"I wasn’t owing them and I was being harassed and bombarded with letters every time asking me to pay.

“There was a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I also wasn’t too well so it was really troubling.”

In late 2022, when Favour was on holiday in Ghana for a family wedding, she received a call from her husband, who had stayed at home in Glasgow.

He told her that Scottish Power had entered their home to install a new prepayment meter while he had been at work.

“They never left us with any emergency voucher or a card to top-up whatsoever," Favour says.

"My old card had credit, but they didn’t transfer it on to the prepayment meter they installed.

"My husband called to tell me there was no gas. So, he was sitting in the cold for a few days."

New regulations

Last year Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, asked suppliers to pause the practice of forced prepayment meters after agents for British Gas were exposed installing them inappropriately.

Now, EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power have been granted permission to restart the action under strict new guidelines.

The rules state that meters should not be fitted when customers are over 75, in households with children under the age of two, and if anyone lives there with a terminal illness or conditions which would get worse in a cold home.

Companies should also attempt to contact customers at least 10 times before action is taken.

Any company that breaks the rules faces enforcement action and unlimited fines.

They are also required to refit a standard meter within 24 hours and pay compensation.

Billing error

After investigations by local community support group South Seeds, on Favour’s behalf, it was found that Scottish Power had wrongly opened and closed multiple accounts in her name.

Scottish Power has since recognised the mistakes made in Favour’s case and has written off the debt they claimed she owed the company.

A spokesperson for Scottish Power said it was committed to adhering to the new rules and no prepayment meter installation would ever go ahead if any high-risk factors were identified at the visit.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and frustration Ms Asante has experienced," they said.

"We’ve rectified the billing error and have removed the outstanding amount on her account.

"We have also removed the default marker and are in contact with South Seeds for a resolution that Ms Asante is happy with.”

Amanda
Amanda is fighting get her prepayment meter back

Campaigners are continuing to call for the outright ban of forced installation of prepayment meters by energy companies.

However, some customers prefer prepayment meters as it helps them understand exactly how much they are spending on gas and electricity.

Amanda, who receives support from the Star Project in Paisley, says her energy company forced her into having a smart meter, which she has to pay for each month.

“I'm still trying to fight with them to get it back onto a prepayment," she says.

“With the prepayment meter, I was able to just go ‘right, I’ll put that in and when it's done, it's done'.

"That's fine, I've got no gas. I’ll just need to wait until payday'."

Amanda says her current meter does not display how much her energy is costing so she does not know what her bill will be.

"It makes me very anxious because I can't control how much I'm using in the sense that they can just go - 'this is your bill, and that's it'," she says.

Heather Kay
Heather Kay says not being able to use your gas and electricity is becoming normalised

The Star Project runs drop-in sessions for those concerned about their energy bills and negotiates with energy companies on their members’ behalf.

Manager Heather Kay told BBC Scotland News: “We are waiting daily for somebody to come in and tell us somebody has frozen to death.

“Not being able to use your gas and electricity is so normalised in this day and age.

"You hear people talking about exactly how much it costs to have a shower versus how much it costs to heat up food.

"That’s the situation people are in. People are constantly trying to figure out which child gets heating, which child gets to eat.

“We already have a large proportion of our community turning their fridges and freezers off. That has an impact on the food they can bring into the house and that impacts their health.”