Attention: Please take a moment to consider our terms and conditions before posting.

Seeking advice re debt collection agency/utility bills.

This is not a topic I thought I'd be posting, but here goes...

I kept my house in Surbiton but put it up for sale in August last year after the tenants (students) moved out. I had a letting agency for the tenancies which did a generally good job, and I gave them a shot at selling it too, which they flunked. Looks like that wasn't all they flunked.The house remained empty until completion on Mar 4th. I never heard anything about any liability for gas/electricity charges for the time the house was empty, until out of the blue I received a letter from a company trading as LCS demanding £100 or so for their "client" British Gas. I demanded to see the actual bills, so they asked me a load of questions to verify my email address "for data protection purposes" . I refused to give them a phone number or new personal address as that would not verify my email address but I suspected would be added to their cache of harvested data. So they refused to show me the bill. In exasperation i paid it just before I went on holiday, while still demanding to see the BG bill. While on hols they sent me another one, this time for £600 re  SSE,, and product "gas" .

I've now caught up with and kicked the letting agent. They say they have a note that BG actually supplied the electricity, and the gas was supplied by SSE. They suppose the SSE bill is some estimate based on previous usage.They claim they told all utility suppliers the status of the house, and that they should send all bills to my email address. That didn't happen in any case.  But having looked into LCS I see that they actually buy these "debts", rather than working as agents for the utility companies.

How should I deal with this? I'm now kicking myself for paying the electricity bill, which I'd assumed was a standing charge for gas, and as such, reasonable. I'm damned if I'm going to pay £600 for seven months supply of gas to an empty house. The agent has promised that they will contact SSE and BG but my concern is that they have sold the debt so they don't have any reason to respond. On the other hand it seems to me against the basics of law of contract that I should have to pay £600 for "gas" without any chance to inspect the bills to see how the figure was arrived at. Obviously a meter reading from the day the sale completed would help, and I have asked the agent who actually sold the house if he took it, or maybe can ask the buyers if they can help, but it's a bit of an ask. 

I expect some of you have had some dealings both with the utilities and the debt collectors they connive with, so hopefully you may have some suggestions. Of course I have always been willing to pay any reasonable amount, which I presume is, in the case of gas, a standing charge - whereas with electricity I though that just got switched off when a property was left empty (but its so long ago since I dealt with such things in the UK) Thanks anyway for any advice...
«1

Comments

  • they are about as bad as it gets but unfortunately also a legit company. https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.l-c-s-ltd.co.uk they have got a 5 star review here but only because the person was so impressed with how they set up their scam
  • Prague it would be really good for you if the Meters where read the day the house was sold. Normally letting agents take pictures but if I was you I would contact OFGEM as soon as possible they should be able to help 
  • If the house is like my house, then you may have run up a gas bill - I have a hot water system that heats up the tank twice a day - comes on for 2 hours in morning - 2 hours in evening - when the last occupants left, was the timer left on ?

    If so, the system has been heating up water every day, that is not being used, and thus using gas

    If this is not the case, ignore the above 
  • As said above, a good letting company will take photos of the gas, electric and water meters on the day the house was vacated. They should then tell the utility companies the closing readings and to direct future bills to you. 

    As you have found out, some utility companies back office processes are v poor. I would get the letting company to give you copy letters and photos and then phone BG. When you get the right person they can be helpful. You might even get a small compensation payment but you may think life is for living! Also get BG to call off the debt collectors. 
  • But an empty house is not going to use £600 so as HardyAddick says, get the meter readings recorded if they haven't already been done. It is clearly an estimate based on normal occupancy.
  • When my we sold our mum’s, it was vacant for about 6 months,  before that we had a couple of estimated bills. Then I posted the actual readings and they kept telling me to check the readings as they were lower than the previous readings. I went onto the live chat and told them the house was empty, they said ok. Despite that we kept getting requests to read the meters as the readings were below the ones they had.
  • Just reiterating what others have said. Assuming you didnt have a smart meter then the utility companies will just have been sending estimated 6 monthly statements based on prior usage. As part of leaving a letting the tenants/letting agents should be taking a meter reading as part of the inventory. Check with the agents as they would have the readings for the start of the let & at the end. 
  • @PragueAddick

    As per what everyone else says, start with the letting agent.

    I assume when the students moved out not only did they take readings but they/you switched everything off? If not it may be on the Gas that it was left on and heated all through winter with no one in it!!

    I'd also speak to SSE, they may have sold the debt on but they should still have a record of the account and readings etc.
  • So the good news is that the agent that sold my house - not the letting agency - has sent through photos of all three meters on 4th March, sale completion date. That gives me the ammo I need.

    That agent is Winkworth in Surbiton. Highly recommended. 
  • So the good news is that the agent that sold my house - not the letting agency - has sent through photos of all three meters on 4th March, sale completion date. That gives me the ammo I need.

    That agent is Winkworth in Surbiton. Highly recommended. 
    What about the readings when the students left?

  • Sponsored links:


  • Rob7Lee said:
    So the good news is that the agent that sold my house - not the letting agency - has sent through photos of all three meters on 4th March, sale completion date. That gives me the ammo I need.

    That agent is Winkworth in Surbiton. Highly recommended. 
    What about the readings when the students left?

    That's a matter for my first email this morning to the letting agent. While they are chalk and cheese compared to Winkworth, they handled the lettings competently since 1996. I just have a concern that the owner saw her biz shrink during Covid and let go of employees, so this one might not have been properly handled. We'll see. Fact remains that SSE had a contract with the tenants, and that needed to be terminated, so somebody must have read the bloody meter as part of that process, surely?
  • YouTube has a lot of films of debt collectors turning up at people’s houses.
    Can learn a lot from them.
    If it were me I would demand all debt collection correspondence in Czech, and that the bailiff turning up at my door only speaks Czech😃
  • Interestingly, I also owm a flat that has been purposely left empty since early December.

    Because it is a flat, and my flat is kept reasonably warm from the properties above and below, I completely turned off the gas boiler.

    Therefore I have returned a Zero useable for both the Gas and Electricity bills for each month since December 2021.

    However I am still being charged £24.00 a month for standing monthly Utility charges.

    The other question that I wonder is whether your Gas Boiler or Hot water Tank was not turned off during the period the property was empty.

    If these have been left on, this could be the reason that  you have been charged for Gas & Electricity.
  • Rob7Lee said:
    So the good news is that the agent that sold my house - not the letting agency - has sent through photos of all three meters on 4th March, sale completion date. That gives me the ammo I need.

    That agent is Winkworth in Surbiton. Highly recommended. 
    What about the readings when the students left?

    That's a matter for my first email this morning to the letting agent. While they are chalk and cheese compared to Winkworth, they handled the lettings competently since 1996. I just have a concern that the owner saw her biz shrink during Covid and let go of employees, so this one might not have been properly handled. We'll see. Fact remains that SSE had a contract with the tenants, and that needed to be terminated, so somebody must have read the bloody meter as part of that process, surely?
    Yes meter should have been read and then usage after  falls back to yourself. So it’ll depend on if heating etc was kept running or turned off/drained down etc then it’s just the standing charge. 

    on our properties the agent will always send in a plumber to turn everything off and drain down unless a new tenant is moving in very soon, occasionally over winter we may leave running at a low temp to stop any freezing but easier to drain down generally.
  • seth plum said:
    YouTube has a lot of films of debt collectors turning up at people’s houses.
    Can learn a lot from them.
    If it were me I would demand all debt collection correspondence in Czech, and that the bailiff turning up at my door only speaks Czech😃
    and it better be the right Czech dialect too.
  • Debt collectors have no legal power unless there is a Court order to enter a premises unless invited (an unlocked door is an invitation!), and have no power to levy a distress.
    Their “costs” have to be included in any claim and be justified. The Judge will decide what is reasonable. (Revenue and Customs do not need a Court order).

    When writing to the company assume that a Judge is going to read it and show how reasonable you are and explain why you don’t owe the money and keep asking for detailed explanations as to how they reached the figures they are claiming and pointing out they are wrong.
    Reply to any response quickly and write a full response repeating yourself if necessary. Don’t lose your temper and don’t discuss on phone. Do everything in writing/email.

    They are trained to collect money and will continue to ask for a part payment, a payment to show good faith etc etc. They are very very good at it.

    They may take the case to the Court, but not likely. Waste of time and money.
  • edited July 7
    Thanks everyone for your helpful comments so far, and @Off_it for reminding everyone that I'm a poor pensioner who deserves compassionate assistance ;)

    So the letting agents managed to keep the meter readings, and advised both utilities in writing, and provided me with copies so that's good.

    So one more question, both meters show some movement, but I'm not sure how much energy use they represent. Can anyone make an educated guess? The period is 2 July-4March,  so eight months

    Gas 6506-6613
    Electric 8261- 8386

    Cheers!
  • edited July 7
    Very roughly I'd estimate -
    Electricity £25
    Gas £50   (taking a rough look at my bills)
    Plus standing charges of perhaps £15pm on each.

    So perhaps Electricity £145
    Gas £170 including standing charges.
  • Standing charge for both gas and electric would have been 51p between them a day so £125.

    Electricity at 125 units at around 21p a unit so £26
    Gas at 107 used on the meter you have to convert to KwH, the calc is 107 x 2.83 × 1.02264 × 39.2 ÷ 3.6 = 3,372 KwH at 4.1p as it was then = £140.

    So just a bit shy of £300.


  • Sponsored links:


  • Thanks guys, so I can forget about the electricity, they demanded £109.73, and I paid it.

    The big fight is over the gas, then. 
  • edited July 7
    Yes, I'd say so.
    I'm assuming the gas bill is estimated on "normal" usage.
  • I'd suggest considering making a subject access request. Put it in writing asking for all correspondence, meter readings etc. Could be useful if they carry on being a pain in the backside. Will also help to see where the discrepancy is. 
  • edited July 8
    Thanks guys, so I can forget about the electricity, they demanded £109.73, and I paid it.

    The big fight is over the gas, then. 
    I can't imagine there would be a fight. They would have estimated the gas based on the house being occupied, and unless the heating was left on, it isn't going to come to the estimated total. When they have the reading they will have to revise the figure.
  • I'd assumed the bill wasn't just for the gas but also debt collectors charges? 
  • Rob7Lee said:
    I'd assumed the bill wasn't just for the gas but also debt collectors charges? 
    So did I.
  • Since this is still rumbling on, I thought some might be interested in an update.

    To recap, the debt collectors sent me a preposterous bill for £656. After some effort I established from the estate agents (both the letting and selling) that the account was with SSE. Both agents had checked mail while the house was empty and did not see a gas bill. The letting agent gave me a copy of the letter informing SSE of the new status and to send bills to me ℅ their office. The selling agent gave me a photo of the meter on final reading. I therefore managed to get through to SSE, and explained the situation thus far. I then sent them the photo of the final bill, as well as the letter from the agent. 

    They responded within 24 hours with a bill. But it was still absurdly high at £594. On further inspection I saw that it was based on meter readings that did not correspond, and trying to charge me for gas usage based on estimates. I wrote back to them pointing out these discrepancies.

    When nothing happened for two weeks I decided to nudge them. A polite mail saying that I would really like to pay them some money.

    A further two weeks passed and then I received a mail not from SSE but the bloody debt collectors again! They did however this time attach a revised SSE bill. By this time the total was down to £216, however the debt collectors expected me to pay more, to their account, and with this coy and slimy little explanation

    "In addition to the balance of £215.92, our client has applied a £53.98 administration fee, making the total amount owed £269.90. Please be advised, this does not show on the invoice." (I'm sure this fee is for the debt collector to keep).

    I noticed that within the SSE bill was £93 being "Total of last bill - you owed us'. But according to the bill it was the tenants that owed this, since this bill starts correctly on the day they left. 

    I wrote back to SSE (not the debt collector) pointing out this apparent discrepancy, asking them to explain it, and also explaining why I refused to pay any administration fee, repeating how LCS tried to suggest this was SSE making the charge. I gave them 7 days to reply, assuring them that the only amount in dispute is the £93 (plus the bogus admin fee).

    If they don't reply by then I might actually pay to SSE £123, and let them know, since this would be a clear sign of a customer who has both the means and willingness to pay (one eye on the County Court judge here).

    But dear Lord, what an absolute shower, and what will happen to customers with less means, stroppiness and spare time than I have?
    I would not pay anything at this stage. I would write again pointing out your willingness to pay the correct amount outstanding and an explanation as to why they have failed to do this to date and why they have taken draconian action before undertaking sufficient checks to make sure it was due.
    Also ask for their complaints and compensation procedures.
    As you know more than anyone, asking for data disclosure could get them moving quickly and help concentrate their minds to getting it right.
  • Debt collection agencies are not permitted to pursue a contested debt, and a Court Order is the only legal proof that the utility company has an enforceable debt against you. Until they have Court Order you simply refuse to pay. SSE will not want to actually go to Court and lose and so they will eventually settle for whatever seems reasonable.  How could SSE be successful in getting the Court to issue an order to pay a debt based on an estimated reading??

    You are correctly pursuing it with SSE and refusing to talk to the agency. I would personally not pay anything that was not based on the readings after the tenants left.  SSE can tell you exactly what the daily charge and unit prices are.

     
Sign In or Register to comment.

Roland Out Forever!