By the Fly in the Ointment


YOU are always sure of a warm welcome at my house. When I say warm, what I really mean is roasting hot. It has always been one of the mysteries of life that my wife’s internal thermometer seems to run to a completely different scale to mine.

When I think the temperature in our house is just about right, she’s reaching for a woolly jumper and diving for the central heating thermostat.

And I’m not just talking about in the depths of winter. By my reckoning, I think we have something like a two-week window at the height of summer when the heating doesn’t go on.

The phrase ‘can we have the heating on for a bit just to take the chill off?’ is burned into my consciousness.

It would be funny if it didn’t cost us so much.

There is one regular visitor to our house who comes ready prepared and brings shorts and T-shirt with him just so he doesn’t overheat.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I think my wife had a point about the household temperature.

The thermostat on our ancient central heating system was broken which meant our heating had to be either off or on full blast – there was no middle ground. The upshot, of course, was that it was virtually always on.

Couple that with some very old, draughty single-glazed windows and I was fighting a losing battle in my attempts to keep our gas bill lower than the national debt of a medium-sized country.

Fast forward a couple of years and all that changed. New double glazing throughout the entire house and a new central heating system, complete with state-of-the-art thermostat, should have left our house as energy efficient as a 1930s semi could be.

I was looking forward to the double benefits of lower energy bills coupled with a more pleasant, stable temperature throughout our house.

Sadly, neither of those things really happened. Sharply rising energy prices more or less wiped out any efficiency savings (although I accept our bills would have been even higher had we not taken the steps we did), and my wife promptly installed herself as queen and ruler of the thermostat.

The upshot is our house is as hot as it ever was.

When you spend as much on your heating bills as we do, it becomes a significant issue in the household budget, and as a result, we keep a keen eye on how much we are spending with those nice people at Scottish Power.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, we can manage our account on-line.

Theoretically, this shouldn’t be a problem. But somehow, it is.

We pay our bill by direct debit, the same amount every month. We overpay during the summer months to build up a fairly large reservoir of credit, knowing full well that our consumption will increase sharply during the winter months.

The hope is that by the end of winter, we are all square on the account and can start again in spring, building up credit and so on.

This system, with a few minor adjustments over the years, has worked perfectly well for us. We know what we are doing and are quite happy with the arrangement.

Well we were happy with it until Scottish Power decided to start interfering. Without any reference to us, SP decided in summer we were paying too much and knocked £40 a month off our direct debit.

So I called them up. I do not exaggerate when I say I was on hold for 90 minutes before I finally got through to someone in the call centre. I explained I did not want my direct debit reducing, that I knew what I was doing, that I was happy to build up a large amount of credit to see us through winter and could they please restore the amount to the higher figure.

The very nice man at SP assured me the reduced direct debit was generated automatically by their computer system and he would restore our payment to the higher figure.

Guess what? It didn’t happen.

So the following month, I gritted my teeth, put my life on hold for more than an hour and phoned them again.

Same promises, same outcome. Our direct debit remained stubbornly low and we watched helplessly as the cold weather kicked in and our energy consumption started to rise.

Third time lucky, I thought. Don’t forget, every call to Scottish Power involved being kept on hold for at least an hour so it was a real effort of will to pick up the phone.

This time, I got a really helpful woman who went through my complaint thoroughly, promised to adjust my direct debit up to its original level and phone me back to tell me when it had been done.

And the outcome of all this effort...nothing changed. We were still paying less than we wanted.

How ironic that as customers, we were happy to give them more money than they wanted to take from us.

In the end, they simply wore me down. I couldn’t face what seemed like endless hours on hold so I stopped ringing them.

And what, you may ask, was the final outcome? Two months later, our direct debit magically returned to its higher level with no explanation from Scottish Power. Work that one out if you can.

As frustrating as my experience with SP may have been, it doesn’t compare to a colleague of mine who pays her bills quarterly, the old fashioned way.

Scottish Power has, without any notice or explanation, randomly started to take money out of her account, even when a bill hasn’t been generated.

I wish her the very best of luck sorting that one out.