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The British Gas Minute

Posted on Sunday 11th March 2007 at 00:00
Over the summer, our esteemed landlords made a desperate attempt to pull our house out of the 11th Century by installing gas central heating and a gas hob. Prior to this, everything had been on electricity generated by slaves pushing a big wheel round and round in the basement. We were not living in the house at the time, but were assured that everything was being taken care of for when we arrived.

In September we all moved in and began setting up our utility bills. We had a little difficulty setting the gas up at first, partly because A was supposed to be doing it, and he was a complete moron, and partly because no one seemed to know who our supplier was. The two possible candidates were British Gas and EDF Energy, both of whom denied having any knowledge of our existence at all. Rather odd we thought, but eventually we managed to persuade EDF to supply us, since this would allow us to benefit from a discount they were running for customers also receiving electricity from them.

A left in November and was therefore asked to change the utility bills out of his name and into one of the others. As far as we knew he'd done this successfully, and so were a little confused when, after 4 months of living in the house, we'd still not received a gas bill of any kind, but were receiving electricity bills.

We phoned EDF and asked them to forgo all the confusion about names and just set us up a new account for both gas and electricity in all of our names jointly, which they said they would do. A few days later we received confirmation of our contract with them and assurances that we'd be billed shortly.

We were mildly puzzled when, a month later we received a letter addressed to our landlady from British Gas informing her that she would soon be billed for her gas account which she had set up. We thought this rather odd, and so phoned her. She denied having ever set up an account for the gas, as it wasn't her responsibility.

Still no bills came, and so about a week ago we phoned up EDF again and were told that first of all they had no record of our names (which were eventually found in an account under A's name) and secondly that they were not actually supplying our gas, and so were unable to bill us for it. Apparently the problem is that British Gas are supplying the gas, and have yet to relinquish control of the account so that EDF can take it over and charge us.

We aren't sure why British Gas are involved at all, but we think that they were required to fit the gas supply and metre when the central heating was installed, and so automatically assumed that the landlords wanted an account with them as well. Until that account is cancelled, we can't be with EDF.

British Gas was unable to find anything on their computers when we phoned up originally because we think that they hadn't registered the new supply at that point in time. Sadly, upon our last attempt to contact British Gas, they were having a few problems with their computer system. During the first call, it was being upgraded and was therefore unavailable for use.

The second time we phoned, it was working well, until we gave the phone operator our address, at which point his computer crashed. Having failed to restart it, he promised to phone back in a minute, once he had got it working.

Now, I think, as a good customer service guy, he should have elaborated on this point. What he should have said was not 'I'll call back in a minute? but 'I'll call back in a British Gas minute', an entirely different scenario. A regular minute is a period of time lasting for exactly 60 seconds. It never alters this pattern and is so reliable that it can be used to keep track of time between the hours.

A British Gas minute, on the other hand is a so far undefined period of time, which to date has lasted for nearly 5 full days, with no sign of relenting anytime soon. Obviously we should probably pre-empt their phone call by calling them, but we aren't really sure there is much point. Either the guy was telling the truth and the computer system is buggered, in which case it'll probably take a year to fix, or he was lying about the crash, in which case he isn't going to start cooperating just because we phone him back.

To be honest, as far as we are concerned, if no one wants to charge us for the gas we use, that is fine by us. Our contract finishes in July, and if they haven't fixed the mistake (which is entirely on their part) by then, they'll have to write us off as a loss, because we won't be paying British Gas for a service we never asked them to supply us.

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