Aethelread 1: Sinister, faceless bureaucracy 0

Those of you with long memories and little else to occupy your minds may remember that I have been having some problems with my electricity company.  Specifically, I have been subject to increasingly strident demands that I allow representatives of the company into my flat in order that they can replace my meter.  These demands had escalated to the point where I was being threatened with police involvement if I did not allow them in.

I was unwilling to agree to this.  I knew that my electricity meter didn’t need replacing on the grounds that it was, and I quote, ‘at least 15 years old’, not least because I stood and watched as engineers from the exact same electricity company replaced the meter in December 2005.  I was certain of the date because the engineers helpfully stuck a signed and dated label on the meter after they had finished their work.  I also provided a digital signature (i.e. I signed on a touch sensitive screen) at the time the work was completed, so I knew the company’s records must confirm that the work had been carried out.  I did try several times to sort this out.  I contacted the company by phone (I was assured the problem had been resolved – it wasn’t), by email (I received no reply), and by letter (I received no reply).

At this point I will freely admit that I got a bit weird about the whole thing.  I had moved into a new phase of my mentalism in which I became rather paranoid, and extremely reluctant to let anyone into my flat, especially when those people were demanding access with menaces.  I started to ignore all the company’s letters, and to make a point of being out whenever they arranged an appointment either to replace the meter, or to read it.  I was aware that I wasn’t being especially rational any more, but I wasn’t particularly motivated to try and change my behaviour because the problems were so obviously the fault of the company.  In a rather childish way, it also amused me that they had used their ‘nuclear option’ in threatening me with the police when they were clearly in no position to make good on the threat – police involvement was conspicuous by its absence.

And so things were continuing until the middle of last month, with a new computerised letter of threat or demand dropping onto my mat every couple of weeks, and me tossing them all straight in the bin.  But then, all of a sudden, I got a letter from an actual, named human being, with an actual, personal email address (and a direct number – but I don’t do phones).  She was asking questions which made it obvious that the company had begun to realise that there might be a problem at their end, and I was in a reasonably non-paranoid state, so I replied.  This is the record of that correspondence {with some satirically intended annotations} and, best of all, it has a happy ending…

Letter from Ms X at electricity company Y:

17th March 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

At electricity company Y we are constantly reviewing our processes in order to deliver a level of service that meets our customers needs and expectations.  {Translation: I was looking at our records, and we obviously fucked up in a way that completely failed to meet your needs and expectations.}

You will shortly be receiving an electricity invoice {I had received it a week earlier, but never mind…} that is showing a large credit balance and it is possible you are entitled to have this refunded {can we bribe you with free money?}, however I require the following information.

I would appreciate if you could email me your account number, meter serial number and a current meter reading to ms_x@electricitycompany-y.com.  {Hah!  Meter Serial number – so that means you’ve woken up to the possibility that you don’t actually know what meter I have installed.}  If you have either a card or key meter, please could you also provide me with your credit display balance.  {Blimey, you really aren’t taking anything for definite are you?  Though I do wonder how many of your customers would be prepared to shell out indefinitely on a monthly direct debit while also being made to buy power cards without wanting to come and set fire to your offices.}

Alternatively you could call me on xxxxx xxxxxx with these details, between the hours of 10-6 (Mon-Fri).  {Eek!  Phone = scary.  Aethelread not do the scary thing.  Aethelread do nice, safe emailing instead.}

After receipt of this information, you will shortly receive {Are you calling me short?  Or did you mean to type ‘Shortly after receipt of this information you will receive…’?} a revised invoice, with any credit you are entitled to being sent on separately a few days later.  {Don’t forget – Free Money!}

Yours sincerely,

Ms X.

 

Email from Aethelread:

25th March 2009

Dear Ms X,

I am emailing you with reference to your letter dated 17/03/09.  In that letter you asked me to supply you with the following three pieces of information:

Account No.: XXXXXXXXXX

Meter serial no.: XXXXXXXXXX (this is the long number appearing under the barcode on the meter and is, I assume, the serial number, although it is not labelled as such.  {I wonder, has it occurred to your company that, if they are going to ask their customers to provide information like this, it might be helpful to actually make it EASY TO FIND?  Especially given that I was having to search in a dark cupboard containing much dust and many spiders’ webs.}   If this is the wrong number, please let me know and I will try to supply you with the correct one.)  {PLEASE don’t use this as an excuse not to do anything because you’ve suddenly realised this is a complicated situation. }
 
Meter reading: Rate 1 – XXXXX  Rate 2 – XXXXX

I would be very pleased if you could reply to this email acknowledging that this information makes sense to you.  I have submitted meter readings on several previous occasions, via email, your automated telephone system, and direct to a customer service representative, and the readings have always ended up being rejected, even when a CSR has assured me that there should be no difficulty.  {Ok, I admit it, that’s unnecessarily snarky, but I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with this company.}

I am not certain why this is (no-one has ever contacted me to explain what the difficulty is) {snark, snark}, but I think it may be because my account still seems to be associated with the old meter in this flat, which was replaced on XX.12.05.  {I’m telling you this in the hopes you won’t just email me back saying ‘Computer says no.’}  I have taken this date from the label stuck on the new equipment by the engineer who carried out the work – the same label appears to have the reading taken from both the old and new meters on that date, and I can email you with these, if that would be helpful.  {I can be a sarcastic bastard sometimes, can’t I?}

Thank you in advance for your help, {please do something  that I’ll want to say thank you for}

Yours sincerely,

Aethelread Unread.

 

Email from Ms X

27th March 2009

Dear Mr Unread

Thank you for your email of 25 March 2009, regarding your meter and readings.  {Well, bugger me!  You’ve actually replied!}  I am sorry that you have given us readings in the past which have not been acted upon. {Well, bugger me more!  You’ve said sorry!}  You are right in thinking that we still have your previous meter on your account records, and so each time you gave readings, they were thought to be incorrect because they were unlike the readings we had been using.  {Finally!  Finally!  You have no idea how long I’ve waited for  somebody from your company to admit that.}

I have managed to find details of the meter change in one of the background systems, {computer system A did not talk to computer system B…} so I have got the removal and installation readings, thank you. The only problem in correcting your account {uh-oh, here we go…} is that this system shows that the meter should be a three-rate meter (night, day and probably off-peak). {WTF?  You mean night isn’t ‘off-peak’?}  Could you possibly re-check your meter for a third reading, and if there is one, could you let me know what the reading is and what it might be for? {So… you want me to go back in the dark, dusty cupboard, to look for something that you seem to think might not actually exist, and if it does, you’re not sure what it’s for?  And all to put right your company’s mistakes?  Well, ok, since you’re behaving like an actual, human person.}  It might be for storage heaters, for example.

Thank you for your help. As soon as I have all the information, I will correct your account.

Yours sincerely

Ms X.

 

Email from Aethelread

29th March 2009

Dear Ms X,

Thank you very much for your reply.  I am pleased you have been able to make use of the information I have given you so far.

I have checked my meter again {you do realise this means going into a dusty, spidery cupboard, right?}, and while there is nothing listed as Rate 3, scrolling through the displays on the meter I have come across something listed as ‘Total’.  I notice that this total is shown as relating to ‘Element 2’, whereas Rates 1 & 2 relate to ‘Element 1’.  {Did it not occur to the people designing the meter that the average customer, having scrolled through two screens marked Rate 1 and Rate 2 and then coming to a screen marked Total, will naturally assume that this screen shows the combined total of rates 1 & 2, and not a completely unrelated Rate 3?}  I don’t know if this is the 3rd rate you are looking for, but the figure listed here is XXXXX.

I happened to be awake in the early hours this morning {I didn’t deliberately stay up in order to look at it.  Goodness me, no!  Only some kind of obsessive nutjob would do that…}, and I noticed that the LED for element 2 was active at that time – I have never noticed it flashing before {Oooh, see the pretty light go flash!}.  Given this, and the fact that I do have night storage heaters, it would seem reasonable to assume the third rate (if this is what ‘Element 2’ relates to) is for night storage heaters.

I would be very grateful if you could email me to let me know if this is the information you have been looking for, and if you are now in a position to update my account.  Having come so far, I would obviously like to get this sorted out if at all possible.  {PLEASE don’t start ignoring me now! }

Thank you very much for all your help.

Yours sincerely,

Aethelread Unread.

 

Email from Aethelread

7th April 2009

Dear Ms X

I note that it has been over a week since I sent you the email attached below, and that, despite my request that you email me back to confirm whether or not I had provided you with the information you requested, I have not yet heard anything from you.  {I knew it was too good to last.  You did what they all do, didn’t you?  You thought ‘oh, I’ll sort this out no bother’, and then you realised it was difficult, and now you’re going to just ignore me and hope I go away.  Well, you’re out of luck, madam!  I’ve got your email, and your phone number, and I ain’t going nowhere…}

I trust that you will now give this your urgent attention, and I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.  {This is Aethelread in ultra-polite bitch mode.  I don’t get to do enough of that these days.}

Yours sincerely,

Aethelread Unread

 

Email from Ms X

7th April 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

I apologise for the delay in your receiving a reply. {Bugger me!  You’ve replied!  I was already composing snotty letters to your manager in my head.}  I had missed out a letter on your email address and so it must never have got to you. {Why don’t you just click ‘Reply’ like a normal person?}  I am attaching what was sent, and I will ask for a delivery receipt so that I should know that you have received it.  {Are you implying, madam, that I only pretended that I didn’t get the last one?  Because that really doesn’t go down well…}

As you can see, I am hoping you would be so kind as to supply a little more information.  {Well, doubtless I could see, if you’d actually attached the damn email instead of just saying you will and then forgetting about it.  The words ‘piss-up’ ‘couldn’t’ ‘a brewery’ and ‘organise’ are occurring to me, though not necessarily in that order.}

Yours sincerely,

Ms X.

 

Email from Aethelread

8th April 2009

Dear Ms X,

Thank you for your very prompt response.

Unfortunately, the previous email was not attached to the mail you sent yesterday {D’oh!}, and as a result I do not know what extra information is needed.  If you can let me know what the information is, then I will of course do my best to supply it to you.  {I’m actually impressed by how un-sarcastic I managed to be there}

Thank you for your help.

Yours sincerely,

Aethelread Unread.

 

Email from Ms X

9th April 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

I received your email just now, and I apologise again.  {Would I be right in sensing you’re just  a teensy bit embarrassed?}

I’m emailing from my email address so you can get back directly to me. {Where have you been emailing from?  The emails have all shown up as being from ‘Ms X’ at this end.}  We don’t normally do this in case correspondence is received when we’re off sick or take time off unexpectedly; it prevents delays in replying. {We had a similar system at a place where I worked.  It was great in principle, if it weren’t for the fact the arseholes I worked with just left the emails for me to deal with when I got back, even though I covered theirs for them when they were off…  But that’s a whole other grievance.}  I shall be away from the office from this evening until Tuesday morning {that’ll be the easter weekend, then}, but otherwise if you send an email I will reply within a short while. If you don’t receive a reply or acknowledgement within one working day, please email group-email@electricitycompany-y.com, as it will mean I’m not in the office.

I am forwarding the email I sent you. If any part is missing, please let me know.  {No, it’s ok, you got it right this time.}

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Ms X.

Attached Email from Ms X

Date not given {Nothing suspicious about that then…}

>Thank you for your reply dated 29 March 2009. Unfortunately, I was not in the office yesterday so couldn’t reply straight away.

> The reading for ‘Element 2’ seems to be the one we were looking for {Hooray!}, and almost all the information is available for me to correct your account now. {Almost?  What do you mean almost?  If I have to go back in that damn cupboard again, I’ll scream…}  The only problem seems to be that your reading XXXXX is lower than the reading showing on the installation date in our system. That reading is shown as 10XXX.  {Oh, ffs!  And this is my problem?}

> I do need a little more help from you, please. {It’s going to be the cupboard, isn’t it?  I can feel it…}  Could you send in the readings from the installation sticker and a further set of current readings? {I KNEW it was going to be the damned cupboard.}  If the installation reading for your off-peak usage is higher than the current reading, I’ll use the recent readings to estimate the installation reading on your off-peak service.  {Well, isn’t that awfully spiffing of you?}

> I am sorry that I have not been able to complete my amendments yet, but if you could let me have these last bits of information, I should then be able to sort everything out.  {Ah well, at least you apologise.  It’s amazing what a little bit of human politeness can achieve.}

> Yours sincerely,

>Ms X

 

Email from Aethelread

9th April 2009

Dear Ms X,

Thank you for your reply, and for your personal attention to this issue – I really do appreciate it.  {Hmmm, re-reading that it sounds a bit pervy, doesn’t it – ‘Come over here and pay some more personal attention to my  issue, why don’t you, baby?  Let me cover you in my red-hot appreciation…’}

The readings on the installation label are not labelled as Rate 1, Rate 2 etc, but the three readings in the order they appear on the label are as follows: XXXXX, XXXXX, 01XXX.  It appears as though the last reading almost matches the reading you have on your system, but with the first two digits reversed.  If it would be helpful, I can take a digital photo of the label and attach it to an email for you.  {Bloody hell, that’s patronising.  I meant it to sound helpful.  Oh dear…}

The current readings are as follows: Rate 1 – XXXXX; Rate 2 – XXXXX; Element 2 – XXXXX.

I hope this gives you the information you need, but if not then please do get in touch and I will try to find the information you need.  {Cos, you know, I really haven’t spent enough of my life rooting around in dirty cupboards.}

Thank you again for all your help, and if you receive this before you finish work for the day, I hope you enjoy your Easter break.  {Now does that sound friendly, or just like I’m a stalker?}

Yours sincerely,

Aethelread Unread.

 

Email from Ms X

9th April 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

Thank you for the information.  {You mean you don’t want any more?  Wow.}  I’ve begun correcting your account, but it may take a few days for some amendments to go through.  {How long, exactly, does it take to type some numbers into a computer?}

I will let you know as soon as everything is sorted out, but if you want any other information in the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  I hope you also enjoy a pleasant Easter.  {Well, thank you.  I shall do my very best.}

Thank you,

Ms X.

 

Email from Ms X

15th April 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

Just to let you know that I am still amending your account.

I have to have it checked by another team, because it has had to be re-billed from the start date.  When they have approved it, I’ll be able to do my final amendments and issue corrected statements.  When I’ve done this, and I’m hoping it will be Friday or Monday at the latest, I will be able to email you with a full explanation of what I have done.

Thank you,

Ms X.

 

Email from Aethelread

15th April 2009

Dear Ms X,

Thank you very much for the update – I greatly appreciate it.

Kind regards,

Aethelread Unread.

 

Email from Ms X

17th April 2009

Dear Mr Unread,

I am writing to let you know that all the amendments to your account have been completed.  {Really?  I mean, really?  Woo-hoo!}

As you know, your meter has three registers; day, night and off-peak. We have only been billing you on two registers since its installation. I have amended your account to show a three-rate meter and three-rate tariff from the date your meter was installed. I have re-billed your account from the start date to show the amendments.  {Ah.  So, if I’ve been paying a monthly direct debit on the basis of my electricity usage minus my night storage heaters, and you’re now worked out everything I should have paid, then that presumably means I now owe your company £Allmymoney.  Bugger.}

However, because we already had details of your meter which we hadn’t used, as part of our commitment to the Energy Retail Association Code of Practice for Accurate Bills, I have adjusted your account so that we have only billed you your actual usage for the last one years usage. (We have effectively not charged you any extra for the period up to XX April 2008.) The amount we originally charged you for this period was £xxx.xx and the amount we should have charged is £xxxx.xx. The difference (£xxx.xx) has been credited to your account to cancel out the extra charges for the period up to XX April 2008. We will send you a statement showing this adjustment shortly.  {Right.  So you’re not going to charge me for all the electricity I’ve actually used, because it was your company’s fault that you weren’t billing me accurately?  Well, that counts as a result, I’d say.}

Your account shows a credit of £xxx.xx, so in accordance with departmental policy I am refunding this amount less one month’s Direct Debit payment, to give a refund amount of £xxx.xx. {Er…sorry…what?  I should actually owe you money, but because of the fuck-up at your end, you’re actually going to send me a refund on what I’ve already paid?  Well, bugger me, but that’s fantastic news!  Woo-hoo!  Woo-hoo!!}  Your Direct Debit will be adjusted to £xx per month, which is what the system estimates to be the amount of your ongoing usage.  {How much?  Yikes.  Time to go round my flat obsessively turning off every electrical appliance…}

If you have any queries about this, please contact me again.

Yours sincerely,

Ms X.

 

And that is, basically, that.  I did reply again to Ms X thanking her for all her help, and, taking a leaf out of The Duck Quacks‘ book, I have emailed her manager as well to let him know how helpful and efficient she was.  I hope the company have a staff recognition programme – if so, my appreciative email might be worth a couple of Marks & Spenser tokens to her, and she deserves them.

If I’m honest, a lot of my gratitude stems from the fact that I’m getting a refund of about £150.  I know that makes me sound very mercenary, but in the context of someone on Income Support, it’s a lot of money.  But it’s also a huge weight off my mind to finally have the whole thing sorted out.  It really hasn’t been good for me to have sinister people banging on my door, then hanging around outside for ages.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood silently by my front door listening to the people on the other side shuffling their feet only millimetres away from me.  That really hasn’t been a healthy way of life.

Anyway, I’ve actually been pretty lucky with this whole thing, I think.  Not just in terms of the refund – although getting a cheque for £150 from a company I really ought to owe money to certainly is lucky – but also in terms of the fact that this opportunity to deal with things coincided with the recent temporary improvements in my mood.  I managed to keep contact going once my mood had slipped back down, but I don’t think I’d have probably been up to initiating it when I was in a bad way.  So, this is a Good Thing – something permanent that has flowed from my short-lived burst of (comparative) healthfulness.

Ok, yes, I know it sounds a bit pathetic, but I’m trying to cheer myself up here, alright?

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9 Responses to Aethelread 1: Sinister, faceless bureaucracy 0

  1. cellar_door says:

    Excellent news! £150 will buy a lot of socks ;o) You were very patient, much admiration here…

    x

  2. Lucy McGough says:

    Nice one!

    “Dear Mr Unread”… LOL.

  3. loopykate says:

    once I’ve swilled these evening’s vodka out my systm I promise to read back through this post since I believe it may highlight some key points re. consumer relations with utility boards that we deal with on a daily basis at the CAB. Presently it’s all swimming about my vision but I think i have the general gist.
    Thanks aethel.
    I’ll check in again later.
    Hic.
    K/x

  4. Mandy says:

    Glad that you sticking with the communications has paid off.

    It isn’t the easiest thing to do…that is keep on top of something (particularly as you have written that other parts of your life/mental state haven’t been so good).

    Hope the £150 means you can treat yourself to something nice.

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    cellar_door – Thank you for saying nice things. Oh, and having gone sock shopping so recently, i’m hoping i’ll be suitably socked-up for the foreseeable future… ;o)

    Lucy – thanks! I rather like the idea of people calling me mr unread… ;o)

    loopykate – i hope the hangover wasn’t/ isn’t too bad!

    Mandy – well, my tv is showing distinct signs of being on its last legs, so i think there’s a fair-to-middling chance that’s where the money will go. Of course what i ought to do is save it up and do something sensible with it… but there’s no chance of that! :o)

  6. Mandy says:

    Hi A

    Nah, don’t do something sensible with it. When the chance comes to do something frivolous, I say “Go for it”.

    Replacing a dodgy tv is practical and hopefully you will be able to find some half decent programmes on a new set. However, hiring out a 10 foot chocolate fountain is my kind of frivolous. :>)

    Enjoy the money, whatever you do with it

  7. cb says:

    Nice work!

  8. J.Wibble says:

    Hurrah with beating the faceless bureaucrats! Shame it wasn’t with a stick, but then that probably wouldn’t have yielded £150 (I’m still researching how to defecate £10 notes, I’ll let you know when I’ve found out). Well done and enjoy your money :)

  9. Woohoo! Well done! And I must say the series of emails from the company would try the patience of a saint, although my guess is that their IT systems are god-awful and impossible to use, and this is where the problem comes from in terms of the endless reuests for info from her. Y’see some engineer in 1986 will have taken a quick shortcut on a search screen thinking oh, no-one will be using this after next year’s new system comes in and well, there never was a new system and the old IBM 360 is still running…

    Anyway well done. Buy yourself something nice with some of the dosh.

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