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Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

posted by ItsRKM | 4 weeks ago

Does anyone else get bills from Scottish Power issued much more frequently than their tariff and payment plan claims?

I am on a Dual Fuel "Help Beat Cancer Fixed Price Energy April 2019 V2 Online" tariff with "Quarterly Cash" payment terms.  I could have found a cheaper tariff if I accepted Monthly Direct Debit payments, but I prefer to actually pay for what I use rather than some robotic estimate of what I should use.

So the procedure is that SP send me a message every quarter to submit the meter readings and they then issue the appropriate bill for my useage and I pay that online from my bank account.  So far, so good.

The problem is that for the last 3 quarterly periods, SP have accepted my quartely payment and then issued me with a follow up bill about a month later based on an estimated reading.  The last one was for my estimated usage over a period of 3 weeks from 24th July to 15th August - the paultry sum of £17!

Admittedly it has been some time, but when I went to school a quarter was 3 months, not 3 weeks.

I queried this latest bill in the online chat last night and was told that this was an automatic bill issued in error, I shouldn't worry and I did not need to pay it.  (Yes, that surprised me too, but I have kept the chat transcript).

This morning  I received an email from SP thanking me for my "Promise to Pay" and threatening that if they did not receive payment by 16th October then they will instruct debt collectors to recover the money and additional costs!

I have never made any "Promise to Pay"; on the contrary, I dispute the validity of the bill, which is for a period of 3 weeks after the quarterly bill for the account was paid in full.

In 50 years of paying household bills, this is the first time I have ever had any utility company issue any threat of debt collection, let alone for a bill that their own Chat Operative claimed was an automated error.

Has anyone had similar experiences with Scottish Power?

Can anyone explain why SP issue estimated bills for short periods after they have issued and been paid for quarterly bills of actual meter readings?

I appear to be being forced by SP onto monthly payments which is in breach of the payment terms of the tariff that I was offered and accepted.  Either that or the tariff has been mis-sold by SP to gain customers from comparison sites, as there were several better tariffs on the terms that SP are now applying to my account.

9 comments

posted by Jonnel | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

Though this exact scenario hasn't happened to me, something similar is. I'm on the same tarifff as you are, except I opted for the DD payment method. I went for this because I've been a customer of Scottish Power for years and their payment amounts have always been fair... up to last year, that is.

SP explained to me that the way SP calculate monthly DDs is basically by taking your previous year's actual usage, estimating an increase, converting to sterling and then dividing by 12. Then, the customer pays a twelfth of their annual bill each month, getting ahead (building up credit) in the summer when traditioanlly they use less energy, and clawing that back in the winter when usage increases. Over the year, the payments and usage balance out.

Simple you would think, but in actual fact should your monthly usage be even a little more than that the annual bill was based on, the DD is increased by an amount that assumes the ratio increase will continue for the rest of the year, meaning if you have one blip in usage, you can build up a HUGE credit balance. Under-using energy doesn't seem to trigger a reduction in DD amount though until the once-a-year review day.

Now, most customers shouldn't be and arn't worried by being a little in credit with their supplier, but when these credit balances run into the hundreds of pounds it gets a little silly - the discount for paying by DD is very small.

To be fair, customers CAN claim a refund each and every month for over-paid DDs, but SP will never refund the full amount a customer is in credit, claiming if they did, the customer wouldn't have time to pay up front for the coming winter bills.

Added to that, the online DD manager SP trumpets will only allow a customer to reduce their DD if they make a one-off payment, effectively negating the reduction in DD amount, as the following month, the DD will be automatically increased again.

It does make me think that perhaps you are slightly over-using in comparison to what SP estimated your annual usage would be when you took up the tariff, and therefore they are attempting to compensate by billing you for more. I can't say if this is right, but I kind of get the feeling they would like EVERYONE to have a positive balance. If every Scottish Power customer was in credit with them by £100, the total asset could run into the millions...

posted by ItsRKM | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

I can partially understand that with DDs, even though it sounds like they are operating an unlicensed investment bank.  It is precisely the reason why I didn't accept the DD option, even though it was marginally cheaper.

Getting back to my situation, I called the helpline yesterday (after having spent hours in online chat to "resolve" the issue the previous evening) and they cancelled the "Promise to Pay" notice together with the estimated 3 week bill and provided a complaint reference number.

This morning, SP issued ANOTHER estimated 3 week bill! 

So I called them again this morning and that bill has been cancelled as well.  The operative couldn't explain why the bills are being issued, but assured me I won't get another until the quarterly bill is due towards the end of next month.  He didn't agree that his assurance was unjustified given his failure to identify the cause of the problem.

Unfortunately, the operative appears to have also removed the bill dated 24th July from the account record (although its subsequent payment is still there).  So now the SP account record looks like my last bill was at the beginning of May.  Smiley Mad

I fully expect that I'll get yet another bill tomorrow, but this time it will claim to be for usage since May: making it appear to be for more than a quarter.  That will be a bit more difficult to explain to the operative when I call tomorrow. Smiley Frustrated

posted by Hooloovoo | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms
Does it really matter? You're still paying in arrears even if you get 12 bills rather than 4. That's not the same as being on a "monthly direct debit" tariff where, as Jonnel explained you're paying in advance and the monthly payment is estimated based on previous usage.

I'd recommend submitting meter readings at least monthly (I do mine on the 1st of each month) and that way any bills you receive will always be accurate and not based on estimates. After that you might like to consider getting a hobby so you've got more enjoyable things to worry about than whether you get the right number of bills per year.

posted by ItsRKM | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

Of course it matters!  They are in effect taking their cake (a more expensive quarterly tariff) and eating it (billing on the basis of what would otherwise be a lower tariff, paid monthly).

Even if I had submitted meter readings a month after the previous ones, as you suggest, they would still have issued the bill for 3 weeks estimated useage.  So where does it end?  Submitting weekly readings?  Daily? Hourly?

Apart from the inconvenience of unexpected bills based on fictitious (estimated) use, and their threats of debt collection agents being actioned, SP clearly misrepresented and miss-sold the tariff in the first place.  As already stated, other tariffs from competitors (and even SP!) were cheaper but on more frequent payment terms that I did not find as convenient.  This is no different from a classic "Bait and Switch" operation.

Furthermore, although I provided them with exact meter readings, these short term bills are based on entirely fictitious usage , which is actually worse than the monthly direct debit offers that I specifically rejected when I chose this tariff.

posted by Hooloovoo | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms
You're still misunderstanding the difference between a "pay quarterly" tariff and a "pay monthly" tariff.

The difference isn't the number of payments per year, it's whether you pay in arrears or in advance. Even if you end up making more than 4 payments per year, they're not "having their cake and eating it" because you're still paying in arrears. You're not paying extra in advance and building up credit, as you would with a "pay monthly" tariff.

You're making a big issue out of absolutely nothing. Haven't you got more important things to worry about?
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Top answer

posted by ItsRKM | 4 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

No, Hooloovoo, you seem to be misunderstanding possiby deliberately so. The only difference between "Monthly" and "Quarterly" is the period. Arrears or Advance don't come into it. However, as it turns out, that isn't the only thing that you are completely wrong about...

Yesterday evening I had a call from SP's Customer Complaints Director, as my complaint had been escalated to him. He had examined the account records earlier and agreed these bills were in error. He apologised for the "unjustified" threats of debt collection and attempted to explain the source of the problem thus...

About 3 weeks after I had entered my meter readings and paid the bill, SP sent out a contractor to check the meter readings, which is a normal, random, practice. However, instead of just checking the meter reading the contractor marked them as "Pay immediately". At the same time the contractor also amended the account to "daily billing". (Why any customer or company would need that is another question, but I didn't ask.)

That is why I have had a new bill issued every day since three weeks after the account was brought up to date - even when the helpline operatives cancelled the bills.

The CCD claimed to have corrected this original problem and assured me that no more bills would be issued until the next quarterly bill is actually due, towards the end of next month. He also offered compensation.

So far so good, except that overnight yet another bill was issued. Hopefully this is just a lag in the system, so I'll wait and see if another arrives tomorrow.

Whilst you think this is a non-issue, Hooloovoo, it wasn't you that was being threated by debt collection bailiffs, with their additional costs and permanent entry on your credit record. That may be "nothing" to you, but I think you are in a minority with that opinion and no idea whatsoever.

posted by ItsRKM | 3 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms
3 days without a new bill being issued. Looks like the problem has really been resolved this time. ;-)

posted by ImATarget | 2 weeks ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

I am glad that you appear to be all sorted now. I had the same today. I am on a quarterly cash basis. Had a bill in August and paid it after I had sent in my readings.  Today I got sent an email saying my new bill was ready. Mine must have been easier to sort out because I used the chat online thingy and the chap deleted the bills and put everything back to "normal" again. I have taken the precaution of copying the conversation though just in case.

 

posted by ghstewart | A week ago
Re: Bills being issued more frequently than tariff terms

I was always under the impression that a quarterly bill meant 12 weeks ,give or take a couple of days in either direction.

Now it’s defined to me , just your luck!!

Pay up & look sweet, luv from Scottish Power