TONY HETHERINGTON: Ovo saga is enough to make anyone weep!

Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

D.M. writes: I moved into my flat in 2021. Utility supplier SSE discovered that the gas meter was on its database as Pay As You Go, but I could see that it was a normal credit meter. 

I provided photos of the meter and was told the mix-up would be sorted out and my dual-fuel, two-year contract would be up and running. 

Well, nearly two years on, I have still not been charged for gas. I even got Ombudsman Services involved last year and they gave a ruling, but SSE ignored it and the Ombudsman failed to chase this up.

Tony Hetherington replies: You kept a diary of all your contacts with SSE – part of the huge Ovo utility empire – and with the Ombudsman. It covers 17 pages of typed notes, and it reads like the script for a movie in which the victim is slowly driven crazy. 

Mix up: The gas meter was on a database as Pay As You Go, but it was a normal credit meter

Mix up: The gas meter was on a database as Pay As You Go, but it was a normal credit meter

The tale begins with a dash of humour. When you moved in, you found the gas meter was attached to a wall, nine feet off the ground. The idea that anyone would climb a ladder every time a Pay As You Go (PAYG) top-up card had to be inserted was ridiculous. Ovo agreed, promised to put things right, and set up a direct debit for £75 a month.

Five months later Ovo complained you were not paying for your PAYG gas, and you found it was only drawing £45, not £75. You explained again, and Ovo said an engineer would have to inspect the meter. No engineer arrived, but you received a letter addressed to ‘The Occupier’, saying your PAYG charges were rising.

You complained to the Ombudsman, who said you should get an apology, a £100 payment, and a visit from the engineer. By then, you had been in your flat for nine months. Three months later none of the Ombudsman’s decisions had been implemented. You read the meter and sent the readings to Ovo, which promptly billed you at the costly PAYG rates and not the agreed dual-fuel rates.

Thirteen months after you moved in, Ovo wrote to ask if you were OK as you had not topped up the gas meter. You helpfully drafted a Customer Service Manual and sent it to Ovo. Your Ovo Manual says: ‘If a customer presents an issue that needs a solution, at no point should you make any effort to find one. More importantly, ensure you never read account notes, never pass any information to another team, and absolutely never involve a line manager. You must keep sending out automatic mail to the customer just to ensure they are fully aware their issue is being 100 per cent ignored.’ Brilliant!

More weeks and months passed. Then suddenly Ovo said it would remove your meter and install a smart meter. But bad news – it would be a PAYG smart meter. In January this year, an engineer arrived. He looked at the existing meter and left, saying it had the wrong serial number. In March, the Ombudsman declined to open a new complaint, saying it was just a repeat of your original complaint, even though Ovo had ignored the Ombudsman’s decision.

Ovo, meanwhile, replied to a letter by emailing you, asking for your name and address, both of which were provided in your letter. You called Ovo’s customer services and were asked whether your address in Cardiff was in Scotland, Wales or England. The speaker was in South Africa.

I contacted the Ombudsman and Ovo. Ombudsman Services said it had pursued Ovo ‘on several occasions’, which rather highlights its lack of powers. And Ovo said the £100 was credited to your gas account, though this was pointless as you were supposed to be on PAYG. It admitted everything else was ‘unacceptable’.

Finally, Ovo has used the correct tariff and billed you for £332, which you have paid. It has apologised and sent you £200. And you have decided that when your two-year contract is up, you will be switching to a new supplier. Who can blame you.

Your tax refund is due to a PPI claim

M.C. writes: Unexpectedly, I have received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs informing me I am owed a refund of £220. 

However, it says my refund will be sent to a company called Phillipson Hardwick Advisory Limited, with which I have never had any dealings.

Confusion: HMRC says the PPI refund will be sent to Phillipson Hardwick Advisory Limited

Confusion: HMRC says the PPI refund will be sent to Phillipson Hardwick Advisory Limited

Confusion: HMRC says the PPI refund will be sent to Phillipson Hardwick Advisory Limited

Tony Hetherington replies: The taxman assured me that HMRC was happy that Phillipson Hardwick was genuinely your agent in claiming a refund, but declined to produce any evidence because that would have breached the firm’s right to confidentiality. 

So, I asked Kamran Pervaze, who runs the Manchester-based tax advice business, if he could help. I also explained that while the Revenue said the refund was tax that had been charged on £1,102 savings income, you had denied having any such income.

He told me you had dealt with a claims company that won you a PPI refund, plus interest of £1,102. Tax was charged on the interest, and the claims company put you in touch online with Phillipson Hardwick, which has given me a copy of your signed consent, authorising the firm to claim back your tax. 

I have to say the signature is the same as on your letter to me. Phillipson Hardwick has now been in touch with you to say the refund has arrived, and the balance after charges will be transferred to you.

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 

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