Snowdrops at Burton Agnes Hall, E. Yorkshire

Snowdrops at Burton Agnes Hall, E. Yorkshire

Instead of spending time this week blogging, I’ve wasted hours trying to deal with combined – or ‘dual tariff’ as the phrase goes – gas and electricity bills. I pay by direct debit. So far, so good as far as Npower is concerned. I’m not sure about me. Every 6 months they take a reading (if the consumer doesn’t have time to do it) and tots up the bill. Smart meters won’t be installed until 2015. Last year about this time, I was repaid £360 approximately that they had overcharged during the preceding 6 months. I didn’t protest, lacking the required energy, and the amount was, I hope, refunded to my account. I was paying £143 monthly. In spite of their record of overcharging, Npower raised my monthly amount at the start of the summer to £158 monthly with a vague formulated letter about higher prices because of increases in the fuel market worldwide. I was too busy to delve into the whys and wherefores of this sudden increase.

Summoning up courage in a wave of new-year energy, I started to delve into it 2 weeks ago. After a wait I was put through to a girl who, with the information I duly had in front of me, brought up my account.

‘Why have I been charged £143, then £158 monthly when after the last 6 months I was found to be in credit for over £300?’ I began.

‘Let me see,’ and there was silence while a lot of key tapping went on. ‘We read your account in December. You will now be charged £112 monthly from February.’

‘Why in the summer, was my monthly charge put up to £158 when I had been paying too much with a monthly charge of £143?’ I repeated.

‘That must have been the amount our program calculated for you,’ she calmly replied while my hackles were rising. Calm down, I muttered to myself. If you even change your tone from sweetie pie, then the phone will be put down on you and you will be reported for insulting the operator as this call is being monitored for so-called ‘training purposes’. Watch out! I just thanked her for the explanation and asked her if the program was up to the job.

‘You will now pay £112 monthly,’ she repeated, slightly curtly.

A polite letter arrived confirming that in February I would be charged £117 a month. The Npower employee had informed me the computer said it would be £112 a month, but would it be worth losing all that time in a telephone queue for £5 a month or £60 a year which I would get back eventually, I hoped? A few days later an identical formulated letter came to tell me that I would from February be paying £112 a month for the ‘dual tariff’. Ah well, back to the original computer calculated amount I was quoted when I began my enquiries.  I needed time for my social media and revision of the novel in hand. Let it go. No time to bother, though I was concerned about the wonky brain that set up the program Npower is using. After so many complaints they are supposed, amid profuse apologies to their overcharged clients, to have changed it, together with a more comprehensive and understandable lay-out of the monthly bill (you pay more for it if it isn’t sent online). We hope they have a more accurate computer program.

Yesterday the new bills came, brimming with information in differently-coded bright colours. I’m informed how much I have spent per day on gas and electricity over the last 6 months and that my account is in credit by £290 and our monthly payments will be £93 – good news, if one can believe it. From £158 to £117 to £112 and now £93!

There is no mention of what they are doing with my £290. Will it be paid into my account or held, just in case they have miscalculated for the first time, in my favour? Curious to know, I telephoned the free number. Courteously the recorded voice told me that the wait would be 27 minutes 32 seconds. I’ll try some time next week when all the other disgruntled customers have their answers.

It’s strange how much of this computer behaviour I’m discovering in the revision of my novel.

So we went on the Snowdrop Walk at a lovely local Jacobean country house, Burton Agnes, to soothe my nerves. Tomorrow, back to the fray!