A FURIOUS British Gas customer is warning other Britons to take a closer look at their energy bills after his monthly charge soared by nearly £1,000.
Andy Hirst says he was paying £350 a month for his gas and electricity bills – but the supplier automatically updated it to £1,320 last month.
He says the steep jump was barely highlighted in his March-October energy statement and there was no advance warning.
The price hike took him by surprise and he worries for the thousands of other British Gas customers who might be stung.
Andy told Yorkshire Live: “We have a few rooms in the house and there can be five of us here so I expect our usage to be higher than the average house and it is because it turns out that we had spent a shadow over £2,000 on our gas and electricity since we joined them eight months ago.
“The statement said we were overdue by £303, so in my naivety I thought that wasn’t so bad.
“I checked the figures which had mainly been provided from meter readings and it was only when I looked closely at the bill that I noticed a blue box on the right hand side which indicated that my new monthly direct debit would be of £1,320.04 from December 10.”
The father-of-four did some research and discovered that British Gas can charge your direct debit any amount he wants.
Just let you know at least ten days before – which means that if you miss the warning, the money will be taken from your account.
He added: “No separate email to warn of this huge new figure and it wasn’t that easy to spot as it was under the rather bland heading Keeping You On Track.
“I finally found the section that said you can change your direct debit online in your own account, but British Gas had already quoted the figure as £1320.04 and you are not allowed to change it for less .
“So the only option then was to go through the agony of a phone call to try and sort everything out. It took me two hours.
“The first call handler insisted on meter readings and I took them over the phone and our deficit went from £300 to just over £400.
“My direct debit of £350 was due a few days later, so the arrears figure would have dropped significantly by then.
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“No matter how I tried to explain it, she kept insisting the £1,320 was correct as that was British Gas’ estimate of what I would be using that year, even though on the energy statement from March to October it clearly stated my projected annual cost for gas was £2,230 and for electricity £3,492 making a total of £5,722 – a third of what they were trying to charge me.
“In the end, she said all I could do was pay the bill every month – every penny that was owed.
“But she put me in touch with the wonderfully named Ability To Pay team and the call manager I spoke to was helpful, understood the meaning, agreed that the amount they were trying to get me charge was ‘crazy’ but, worryingly, had no idea how it had been calculated at that sum.
In the end, it was agreed to increase Andy’s monthly levy to £420 – based on his projected costs over 12 months and not just the next six months over the winter.
That’s £5,040 a year, less than a third of what the energy supplier was originally trying to charge Andy.
The Hirst family had to switch to British Gas in February after their former supplier went bankrupt.
Andy says he had to wait until June to set up direct debit for £350 a month, £100 more than his old bill, thinking it would cover the year-end cost which he estimated at £4,000 .
He explains: “It appears the problem is with customers who were transferred to British Gas as a supplier of last resort at the start of this year and then had to wait a long time for their direct debit to be put in place.”
“British Gas wants everyone to be free of debt to them at the end of each year, so do a review every six months and then increase the direct debit if they think you’ll still be in debt by the end of the year. next year, six months.
“Weirdly, the incredibly high monthly levy British Gas wanted me to pay would have earned three times what the company itself estimates I would use in a year in gas and electricity.
“British Gas estimated my usage at £5,722, but if I had paid £1,320 a month for a year it would have been £15,840.”
The former journalist says he was in contact with a complaints officer about his case.
Andy said: “He suggested the high amount of the levy would have been reviewed in March and would probably have come down, but that means I would still have paid over £7,380 by then.
“There was no indication that this increase in direct debits was temporary and it clearly did not take into account my (or anyone else’s) ability to pay.
“In short, I strongly believe that the 12-month contract should only start once the direct debits have been put in place, not once the offer begins, as they will eventually lead to a massive increase in direct debits when of the first 6 month review, because people would not have paid the full first 6 months and would be in arrears.
“But why mine should have gone from £350 to £1,320 when I was only £400 in arrears a few days before I paid them an additional £350 by direct debit remains a mystery.
“And I am deeply concerned that many people who switched to British Gas earlier this year are about to be caught off guard over the next few weeks.”
British Gas has been contacted for comment.