Life’s A Gas

by Quinn

Donald S writes an open letter to his gas supplier.

Dear Atlantic Gas

Quick question about a letter you just sent me last week, dated October 2008. I don’t understand how you can write to me in October telling me that gas prices “will” (future tense) increase from 25 August 2008 (2 months ago). This is gas I’ve already used at an agreed price. You surely aren’t allowed to raise prices retrospectively for goods I’ve already bought? After all, PC World can’t come and call on me for an extra tenner for that Epson printer they sold me at 49.99 last month. Why are you allowed to do the equivalent?

I know the feeling, or rather I know a similar feeling. We recently received our statement from British Gas wherein they announced that it was their sad duty to inform us that our direct debit payment would be increasing from £63 to £87 a month. Curious, I thought, since the statement showed that we are over £120 in credit with them as it is, having paid them £189 this quarter while using £50 worth of gas; but winter’s a-coming, and as they explained, over the last 6 months wholesale gas prices has risen by over 60%, and British Gas’s new prices came into effect on the 30th of July, so this explains the dramatic rise.

Or does it? Because it was only three months ago in our previous statement that British Gas said they were increasing our monthly payment from £42 to £63, when we were just £15 in debit at the time and heading into those lean summer months. So how can a 60% increase in the price of gas in the last 6 months translate into a doubling of our monthly payment in the course of 3 months? Well, it evidently can, but it shouldn’t. Perhaps they just want my money to be earning interest in their bank account rather than in mine.

British Gas helpfully included a little brochure with our statement explaining how they work out the monthly direct debit charge, taking into account gas usage as averaged over the year, long term weather forecasts, current payment levels and so on. It’s pretty easy to work out, I can only think it a shame that the cack-handed all-fingers-and-thumbs numpty with the calculator who came up with our new monthly figure must have done it last thing on a Friday when his mind was already in the pub and without him referring to any of our previous statements.

Now I know that I could phone up British Gas and point all this out to them, perhaps ask if they can come up with a more sensible payment figure which has some basis in reality, but I’ve been there before and I have bad memories of the last time I tried such a tack. The friendly call handler agreed that the new payment at the time of £45 was indeed way too high and she said she would lower it to more a common sense figure of £28. Job done. In fact all that happened was that we continued to be charged £45 but our payment date moved from the 1st of the month to the 28th, meaning we actually paid them £45 twice in the month they made the change. Once bitten, and all that, so I’m leaving it be for now.

Instead I can guarantee that history will repeat itself in another way; come April, British Gas will realise, not for the first time, that we’ve massively overpaid for the gas we’ve used, they’ll again send us a cheque to repay what they owe us, and then they’ll once more concoct a brand new but lower monthly direct debit payment, but this time one so low that it won’t even come close to covering our consumption of gas.

Then, and only then, will I be tempted to call them up and tell them not to bother, that they can spare themselves the effort; I’ll reach for that handy guide to how they figure out the monthly direct debit and I’ll do their work for them, simply presenting them with my new, higher, reality-based monthly charge and telling them that they can like it or lump it. Either that or I’ll just pluck a new figure out of mid air, for all the difference it would make.