Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
C.M. writes: I have been in a lengthy battle with Scottish Power following a botched and potentially lethal installation of a smart meter to the wrong property.
In October 2021, I attempted to change a socket in my flat and received a bad electric shock, despite the power being turned off.
I discovered this was because a smart meter was installed with electrics left in what’s called ‘reverse polarity’ or ‘hot-neutral reversed’. It was a matter of luck I was not killed.
Tony Hetherington replies: You live in a block of flats where meters are in a communal cupboard, and you had refused to have a smart meter. The one that was installed was actually meant for your neighbour.
Chaos: Report by Ombudsman Services fell short over Scottish Power’s botched meter installation
On the night you received the shock, you called an electrician who immediately shut off the supply, saying the wiring was dangerous and a fire risk. You were without power for 28 hours and, as you work from home, you lost two days work. You even had to fork out £120 to have your electricity reconnected.
But all Scottish Power offered was £75 and an apology, telling you that if you wanted more you would have to claim from its contractor. You then contacted Ombudsman Services – and as if things were not already bad, they got worse.
The first thing everyone should know about Ombudsman Services is that it is not a Government agency. It is a private business, based in Warrington, and paid by the companies who use it to referee complaints. For example, it runs POPLA, which considers drivers’ appeals against parking penalties.
Ombudsman Services told Scottish Power to give you £100 instead of £75, saying this was a ‘goodwill gesture’. But where is the goodwill in leaving you out of pocket – and electrocuted – because of mistakes for which Scottish Power was responsible?
The Ombudsman’s report was appalling. It described connecting the unauthorised meter to your flat as simply ‘a shortfall in service’. Electrocuting you, cutting off your power, costing you work, and landing you with an electrician’s bill – all got the same label: ‘a shortfall in service’.
The Ombudsman’s explanation was that ‘we are not a compensatory body’. It can only request its member companies to make goodwill payments, and these will not include anything to make up for actual expenses or loss of work. You were advised to sue Scottish Power’s contractor, but the Ombudsman could not even say for certain who this was. Some investigation then.
Not surprisingly, you appealed and I put my own questions to Ombudsman Services. The response was, in your words, ‘openly hostile’. You were told you had failed to provide evidence which, you say, you were never asked to produce.
You were asked to produce at the drop of a hat proof that Scottish Power’s engineer had visited the flats and connected the meter to the wrong address. And you were told to come up with proof of the meter details incorrectly attached to your flat.
You were even told you had to provide an engineer’s report and invoice from the electrician you called, and proof of your lost earnings. Both these demands – which Ombudsman Services has failed to explain to me – completely contradict the Ombudsman’s previous decision that you could not claim compensation for such things. All in all, this has the hallmarks of a spiteful bid to shut you up.
Despite being allowed just seven days to produce evidence which arguably should have been found far earlier by the Ombudsman, you made the deadline. Ombudsman Services now admits it was wrong to rule that Scottish Power was not responsible for installing the meter.
It has asked Scottish Power to apologise, correct charges linked to the wrong meter, and credit your account with a total of £370. This is intended to cover the £120 bill you paid, but not loss of earnings.
What stands out is the almost complete lack of investigative ability on the part of Ombudsman Services. It did not even contact the contractor who actually installed the meter. And both the Ombudsman and Scottish Power gave the names of two completely different installation companies as being responsible, before telling me they had settled on one. I am in touch with that contractor now and will report the outcome.
Ombudsman Services told me: ‘We only have a direct relationship with the energy supplier.’ And Scottish Power said it had received the appeal verdict, adding: ‘Mr M has yet to accept this, but we are ready to action as soon as he does.’
But what a disgraceful shambles from start to finish.
Vueling left us in the dark over refunds
C.G. writes: My 73-year-old mother and I were due to fly with Vueling from Gatwick to Barcelona. We arrived at Gatwick, only to be told the flight was cancelled.
We had to accept a flight 14 hours later. We were told to keep receipts for food and drink as costs would be refunded, but since then we have received nothing from Vueling and have been told we will get nothing.
This company needs to be stopped.
Turbulence: Vueling flight from Gatwick to Barcelona was cancelled
Tony Hetherington replies: Vueling is a budget airline owned by the Spanish company IAG, which also owns British Airways. Before contacting Vueling, I took a look at its website, which includes what seemed like a helpful page headed ‘Press Room’.
But when I clicked through, a message said: ‘Oh dear, this page seems to be on holiday! It looks like it found an irresistible offer and it has packed its bags.’ Very droll – but very bad public relations.
BA was far more helpful, putting me in touch with its Spanish sister company, and you suddenly received a message from Vueling, requesting your bank details. Then £438 appeared in your account – presumably to cover tickets, food and drink. All Vueling has told me is that it admits ‘compensation was denied by mistake.’
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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