An energy company has apologised after a retired midwife was left paying a neighbouring family’s high bills over several years due to a crossed meter.
Judith Stenner, 72, from Manchester, said she has endured a “bit of a marathon” to try and resolve the situation which saw her energy bills increase from £60-a-month to more than £400.
ScottishPower told Ms Stenner that she was a “high energy user”, which prompted the mother-of-two to try everything possible to reduce her energy usage – including rarely cooking at home and turning her heating off during the winter months.
Ms Stenner said she went into a “numb phase that nobody is believing you and nobody is listening” as she struggled to resolve the issue and her bills kept rising despite becoming a “bit obsessive about switching everything off all the time”.
Her case was raised in the House of Commons and MPs heard the breast cancer survivor had been paying the energy bills of a family-of-four next door for much of the six years she had lived in the flat.
It was finally identified this summer that her meter was crossed although it took another 14 weeks for further necessary changes to be made.
Labour’s Afzal Khan, who represents Ms Stenner as the MP for Manchester Gorton, insisted no vulnerable person “should be going to bed cold at night” while Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt condemned the “appalling situation”.
ScottishPower apologised for the “issues and distress” experienced by Ms Stenner, adding it was “unacceptable and falls far below the level of service we aim to provide”.
The company added any overpayments and compensation would be considered as they recalculate the account.
Ms Stenner told the PA news agency: “It’s been frustrating, not to be heard, not to be listened to, it’s damaged me financially, my life has probably been on a bit of a hold because I’ve done a lot of things, but more than that it’s the wider issue of company policy, inefficiency, bad training, bad management.”
Ms Stenner questioned how many other people are experiencing similar treatment with other companies, including energy firms.
She said she moved into the flat in 2016 but the error became more obvious in 2018 and 2019 when there was a hike in her bills after a family became her neighbours.
Ms Stenner said “my head was a shed” trying to deal with the issue, saying: “You’re just not thinking logically. I’m used to fighting battles in the NHS, I’m used to defending women, I’m used to all sorts of issues, but personally I didn’t realise it at the time but, as they say up here, that did my head in.”
She said it felt as though a “weight has gone off my shoulders” following the intervention in the House of Commons, saying of her experience: “I’ve gone past crying, I’ve gone past shouting, you just go into a numb phase that nobody is believing you and nobody is listening, what am I going to do.
“But fortunately, which I should have done sooner, once my daughter was involved with her partner, they just took things in hand and that’s where we are today.”
Ms Stenner also said: “It’s been a bit of a marathon and I’m very grateful to everybody, but I just hope there’s a possible wider implication that my case could be a positive help for other people.”
Semra Kurutac said it had been “a little bit of a whirlwind” since her mother’s case was raised in Parliament, as she thanked Mr Khan and his team for their “wonderful” help and Ms Mordaunt for her response.
Piano teacher Ms Kurutac, who lives in Wiltshire, said: “Mum’s had electricians round to check her appliances in her flat, she’s even gone and got a new immersion heater installed that we now know was completely unnecessary.
“But in the winter months her bills last year got up to just over £400-a-month and we calculated – we’ve been taking readings ever since we got involved in April – that her bills, including standing charge, shouldn’t be much more than £80-a-month based on her current usage.”
Mr Khan said: “Judith has been treated terribly, and gaslit for years on the cost of her utilities.”
He added: “I believe energy providers should be working for their customers, but it feels too often they are working against them. The entire sector needs to get its act together.”
A ScottishPower spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry about the issues and distress experienced by Mr Khan’s constituent, which is unacceptable and falls far below the level of service we aim to provide.
“Since we visited the property and identified the crossed meter issue at the start of the summer, we’ve been working with the other energy supplier involved – who also had to take certain actions – to get this matter sorted as quickly as possible.
“We’re now at the point where we will be able to accurately calculate the constituent’s actual energy usage and costs and we are in touch with her directly and with Mr Khan’s office.
“We apologise again that it has taken longer than we would have liked to resolve this matter.”