British Gas AI Fiasco

 I've heard of problems that electicity and gas consumers have had over huge bills but I never expected it to happen to me. It all started when my gas supplier PFP Energy couldn't afford to stay in business and my account was moved to British Gas by some sort of regulator in September 2021.

I was repeatedly asked for gas meter readings by PFP and BG and duly reported these on-line. The new supplier who had been emailing regularly to keep me in touch with goings on asked me to supply a second meter reading. The first reading they already had from previous updates. Then I was warned that if I didn't organise a Direct Debit my gas price would increase.

So I used the email link to begin the process. Before I could proceed I had to submit the latest meter reading which is where the story began. I couldn't log into my account so chose to renew my password. I did this and logged in then submitted my latest meter reading. I got a circling display telling me the reading was being dealt with but after ages nothing had happened so I decided to ring British Gas. I had to open a new browser page to discover a phone number and eventually was able to key in my latest meter reading on my telephone keypad which was acknowledged. By then the previous page with the circling display had stopped circling and showed me my new reading and an email told me all was well.

I then proceeded to follow instructions in the email to open a new Direct Debit to save cash. Much to my surprise a message asked me to proceed with an intial direct debit of £3903.25 followed by 11 more totalling £46,838.98. Oops... no wonder my previous gas supplier had gone bust as I was only paying 40 odd pounds a month. Obviously I didn't proceed. I'd rather get a log burner stove for heating as we use gas only for our central heating.

There clearly is a problem so I checked on line.. "our offices are open on the 28th December from 9am till 5pm", but when I tried a recorded message said they were closed. Clearly the information on the website is wrong. On this point... if call centres are in India why have UK working day hours,,, and does India recognise UK bank holidays??

I persevered and found I if raised a complaint I could actually talk to someone.. a real person called Abdul, by typing messages with my computer.

I explained the problem to Abdul and it became clear that the software running the British Gas website hadn't been written properly. My guess it assumed the first meter reading of around 14,000 odd somehow covered a gas usage from some previous reading which must have been pretty low.. maybe even zero? The account in fact showed two readings over about 5 weeks separated by only a couple of hundred units. Could these have been billed at some enormously expensive tariff or perhaps at a normal tariff but at a daily usage.. I don't know. I had rung British Gas back in October to enquire about my new prices but they refused to tell me how much their gas would be.

Anyway, after loads of typing Abdul sorted it all out by changing the direct debit to £46.91 per month (a reduction of £3,856.34). Odd that the numbers are calculated down to pence.. but they are.

If all this mess is put down to this new fangled AI then we're in trouble. Basically the term AI is pretty meaningless being entirely dependent only to the skill of computer programmers. They may call themselves "Software Engineers" but as far as engineering goes I'd rather trust the second engineer on a bacon slicer....
 
 The next morning I decded to confirm all was now well so went to the British Gas website, typed my email address and my new password. It responded after a few minutes with "Hello Charles".. OK I usually go by the name "Allan" but no problem, I can live with this. Then after ages of a row of odd sized blobs flashing on and off a message came up to the effect they were not prepared to tell me anything of interest except the message below followed by an attempt to sell Gas Homecare cover but I suppose it was trying to be welcoming.

 

 

 I spotted a tab labelled "Account" so I clicked it and was rewarded by a message

 

 While looking at the BG website an email arrived giving me good news from Abdul (saving the best part of £4,000). As usual emailing is not an option for customers as the phrase "no reply" is attached to the sender.

 

 Ages ago these utility people were obliged to read your meter not only to arrange an accurate bill but to ensure nothing was amiss safetywise. I notice that the regular meter reading period is now something like once every two years so quite clearly safety is no longer an issue.

 I went back to the website and clicked on Account and got the message below. Seems young Abdul's abacus had a bead missing perhaps?

 
 Not only that but another click revealed the tariff.

 

 I see I'm due to pay £595.56 per annum.. but hang on, after all I have O Level maths so 12 times £46.91=£562.92.

I'm advised that I'll be overpaying by £120 but according to my calculation I'll be underpaying by £32.64. This represents an error of £120 + £32.64 = £152.64. Maybe young Abdul hasn't got O Level maths?

Interesting to note is that if I'd chosen to pay by cash I'd have to pay more... Imagine going to the bank at the end of the year with a bag of money.. I'd like to pay my gas bill.. here's £46,839 and you can keep the 2p. That's not enough Allan because if you pay by cash it'll be extra.. let's say another grand or so....

A few days later I received yet another email with a link to my account and by carefully checking each option I think I found the reason BG had wanted to charge me a ridiculous amount.

 

The total usage is 14220-14102= 118

Further investigation reveals these are "gas units" so 1317.33kWh=118 gas units or 1 gas unit=11.16kWh

But what if that amount of power 1317kWh were to be used on just that day 28th Dec 2021 then that amount assumed for every day for a month?

£52.30 x 365/12=£1591 per month.

Add in the daily rate 365 x 24.879p = £7.57 per month making £1598 ... and add 5% VAT = £1678

But the bill below shows 40 days so the monthly sum should be less by 0.75 making £1259 per month which is still too low.

Maybe the calculation was based on 14102 gas units? That would make the usage 14102/118 (=120) times the cost of 118 gas units = £6276 for 40 days or £4707 per month

Add the daily rate of £7.57 and VAT for a month and you get £5,019 per month which is too much compared with £3,903.

I give up.

 

 During my computerised discussion with Abdul he'd stressed that I should cancel my direct debit with PfP Energy which I did, but then looked on their website to check my account and was surprised to see they must have been resurrected and were chasing me for money.

 

 Looking at their website I can see where some of my gas money was being wasted ( they were so keen on using stupid pictures they didn't think of putting the full date), much like local councils who are even more profligate insisting on producing tons of wasted paper and loads of expensive website designers.. I refer back to 1968 when my annual council bill was typed on a piece of A5 paper stating my name and address with "Rateable value £19", "Rate 12/6d in the pound", "Rates due £11:17:6d" (and that included water rates). Computers were being used for proper jobs such as tracking Russian aircraft and providing a 4 minute warning of a nuclear attack.

Incidentally PfP were taking £57.70 for January based on the contracted (cheap) rate but British Gas will be taking £46.91 which is supposed to be the maximum allowed rate. This is nearly 19% cheaper... very odd. I give up again.

 Wait till AI self-drive cars are with us

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