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Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter

posted by AB89 | 11 months ago

At the end of November my partner and I moved into a house built in the early 1990s. The house is all electric; there is no gas in the cul-des-ac we live in.  The house also hasn't been modernised, in terms of infrastructure, since it was built.

We have two Creda-brand night storage heaters and a Horstmann-branded Comfort Plus white meter. Our electricity appears to enter the house via a single cable that firstly runs into a Henley cut-out. From here it runs into the meter as separate live and neutral cables, while an earth cable and additional heavily insulated cable runs to our consumer unit. Four heavily insulated cables, two lives and two neutrals, run from the white meter to the consumer unit. 

When our first electricity bill appeared after the first month I spotted that we are on a 3-tariff system, with a 'control' tariff alone accounting for £67! Ouch! We had run the storage heaters on the settings recommended in their instruction manual, circa early '90s, without realising that the control rate was more expensive than our night rate.

Naturally I wanted to find a cheaper supplier, but Scottish Power have blocked our transition to E.on. Having spoken to Scottish Power's customer support this afternoon I was told that I couldn't have our meter changed for a simpler two-tariff unit because it would leave us without heating. I asked the customer support chap what other options were available to us. None apparently. He spoke to two supervisors who both said the same thing. In their mind, removing our meter would leave us without heating because the control circuit's timings are remotely controlled (presumably from within the meter as we don't have a seperate teleswitch, unlike our neighbour). 

Having scoured this discussion forum it seems entirely possible to move onto an E7 tariff, or even single-rate tariff, and then use a timer or time-controlled two-circuit E7 meter to control the night storage heater circuit.

It seems that I have two options:

1) Find an electrician to either advise or take on the rewiring work, plus the installation of a timer. Then contact Scottish Power again to get a simpler and more universally recognised meter installed in the house (allowing us to switch supplier). Basically we run the storage heaters via a stand-alone timer unit on our main supply, rendering the control circuitry obsolete.

2) Somehow find the right Scottish Power staff (rather than generic call centre staff) who might better understand our tariff, meter system and the options available to us. This seems easy for some and difficult for others. I read here that the Payments team might be the best to approach?

Our neighbour has a teleswitch and simpler two-rate meter. Her energy provider is Octopus. She's been in the house for four years and hasn't had the meter changed. I think part of our issue is the legacy equipment and wiring in our house?

It seems perverse that some people have been able to get a meter changed for free by SP whereas others have gone through Ofgem, their local MP/MSP and are still stuck with this system. It is frustrating to be told by a member of SP staff that there is nobody I can talk to and no alternative options available to us. We are stuck paying an uncompetitively priced tariff with a comparatively expensive standing charge because SP are unwilling to change our meter, based on the limited technical comprehension of a call centre employee.

Oddly enough the SP customer support employee suggested that we could save money on a 'Help Beat Cancer' tariff. He quoted me a saving on our current bill (which I didn't believe), a cheaper daily standing charge, day rate and cheaper night rate. I asked him where our control rate fitted into this system and he became defensive. "I can only go on what the system is telling me" apparently. If I go with the 'Help Beat Cancer' tariff will they change my meters?!

45 comments
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posted by Davc | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter

@AB89   Thanks for the very detailed description of your Comfort Plus system, there is a lot in the community about this topic which I hope you found useful. It seems you need to get an electrician to give you a quote to remove the control circuit to your storage heaters and install a timer and direct feed connection. You could then ask SP for a simple E7 meter and assure them you would not lose your heating.   It’s likely the electrical work will get payed back quite quickly by having a cheaper tariff. 

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posted by AB89 | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter
@Davc thanks for your thoughts here. I spoke again with Scottish Power today, and had a very frustrating call with one customer support employee who gave me the same story as yesterday. I then tried to get hold of their complaints team and was told that they couldn't put me through without understanding my reason for calling. Cue another fairly lengthy chat. Luckily that person was able to book me in for a meter replacement at the end of the month. I'm not holding my breath until I see our old meter leaving the house and a new one entering, however.

I've been able to get the numbers for some local electricians, and my backstop plan is as you detail here. This will leave me out of pocket, but it does open up the possibility of going onto a better tariff or changing suppliers. I feel like this shouldn't cost me anything, and the process of having to beg and cajole Scottish Power, and play various rounds of Call Centre Roulette just to get somebody who isn't going to give me a pre-canned response, is ridiculous.


What irks me the most is that the customer support guys couldn't give me a detailed reason for why my meter couldn't be replaced. Even when I explained the solution others had achieved (SP installing a 2-rate meter and timer) they weren't buying it but couldn't give me any technical information at all. They don't understand the nuances and instead I'm being told "if you go down to a two rate tariff from a three-rate then that leave you one short", or that my storage heaters will stop working. They can't tell me why they would stop working!

I appreciate that I can't expect them to be qualified electricians, but I got the impression I was seeing too much of 'the man behind the curtain' and not enough professionalism and polish from these guys. Being placed on hold for minutes then being told a glorified version of "computer says no" is pretty terrible customer experience. SP couldn't adequately explain why they have done this work for some customers (including my neighbour) but couldn't do the same for me.

I became irate, though not abusive at all, with the first guy today because he was not listening to me at all. His take on it was "we're going round in circles here". For public-facing staff their lack of decorum and lack of 'active listening' skills were surprising. The unwillingness to put me through to a more relevant or knowledgeable team or member of staff is also surprising.
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posted by geoffmorley | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter
How on earth do you complain to ScottishPower? I have put in three directors complaints - action = NIL
This is the worst company I have ever dealt with !!!
There customer service rating is not zero it is - 2
If any one at ScottishPower power wants to contact me then please do.
Anyone else DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY!!!!!!!
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posted by nightstore | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter

Any Ideas?

    We are all electric & on Comfort Plus White meter & have been for 25 years without any bother . My 3 rate deal is coming to an end at the end of the month & I've been told my only options will be to go on the standard tariff which will increase my payments by 50% or remove my heating & go on a 2 rate tariff. ( what am I supposed to do for heating?) SP indicated there may be a better deal if I wait until after 25th of the month but doesnt leave me much option if no better deals are made available. 

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posted by Davc | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter
@nightstore. Read the other comments about Comfort Plus. SP will give you an economy7 meter if you persist. You may or may not need some rewiring in your house.
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posted by Graham09 | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter

hi 

 

I have been trying to get SP to replace the white meter comfort with an E7 and the latest is that they do not have any E7 meters and that there is a national shortage of them. They could not tell me when or if they were going to be coming back in stock.

 

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posted by Davc | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter
@Graham09. Smart meters can handle E7 and there is no shortage of smart meters. It seems everyone who asks about Comfort Plus gets a different response and occasionally they are told Certainly Sir we will do that for you. It’s a sort of CS lottery. Most CS staff do not have the training to answer questions about Comfort Plus, some have never even heard about it. So you could just keep trying until you get lucky.
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posted by Graham09 | 11 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter
@Davc
your correct about the lottery, I have just managed after four different phone calls to get a direct debit set up for mum. They said it could not be done unless she moved to the single rate tarrif of 17p per kw . No way of setting up dd on three reading tarrif

just got that sorted to DD

now to continue with the E7 challenge Smiley Sad

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posted by AB89 | 10 months ago
Re: Refusal to replace Comfort Plus white meter

To provide a brief update, we were scheduled to get our meter changed on the morning of the 31st of January. This was then somehow changed to the 28th of January, though we weren't notified of this change. I was given a reference number for the job on the 31st, but had to wangle out the reference number for the job on the 28th. Annoying as I had to notify people at work as I would need to be in the house when the job is carried out.

The job from the 28th has been cancelled. Email from Scottish Power said "if you believe your appointment is required then (please contact us)... (and) ...we're currently installing Smart Meters in your area". They are happy to cancel the job, but I had to phone back in to reschedule. My other option was to use the chat function in their app. I hate to think of an elderly customer who isn't as tech savvy trying to navigate this process.

I phoned this morning, and was told that my date of birth was wrong on their records by a factor of ten years. I've confirmed by date of birth several times with operators, so I'm surprised that this issue has only just been picked up on.

After a long-ish wait, as the cancelled job wasn't fully cancelled, I was rescheduled for the 7th of February for a meter change. At the moment I'm trying to favour 'chaos' rather than 'conspiracy' when it comes to the date shift. I hope I'm not going to be repeatedly knocked back.

 

There is something subtly dystopian about this whole debacle. It isn't in Scottish Power's interest, really, to have efficient processes in place if it means they might lose customers or give customers the option to shift onto a cheaper tariff. Customers can be stuck on expensive tarrifs while trying to navigate an almost intentionally ineffienct customer support system. It isn't in SP's interests to have customer support staff who know the minutiae of every metering system. One operator can say "we won't replace your meter ever" and another can say "I don't see why this is an issue". I can be offered a reference number one day and nothing the next. I can be offered a tariff that is incompatable with my meter, seconds after being told I can't change my meter to the type needed to support this tariff. 

Even the telephone system in their call centre appears to be cheap and shoddy. I've had two calls terminated because the staff simply can't hear my voice. I've had one call fail because their hold music started bleeding into the call and the support guy's voice became increasingly modulated and chopped up.  

 

Roll on the 7th.