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Customer bills British Gas over billing debacle

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6th Aug 2010
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A British Gas payout to a customer who claimed the utility wasted his time trying to sort out a series of billing errors has opened up the way for unhappy consumers to claim similar compensation.

British Gas paid out more than £2,000 to Barry Payling, after the freelance photographer threatened to take the firm to County Court for allegedly miscalculating his bills, sending debt collectors to his home for money that he did not owe and sending a letter to his deceased mother’s home asking her to sign up to one of its services.
Payling, a British Gas customer for more than 20 years, said that he logged all of the phone calls made and letters written about the situation during office hours over the course of the two-year dispute. He then billed the company for loss of earnings and planned to demand the £2,108 sum as compensation in court.
Although the case was settled out of court and the utility did not admit any liability, which means that no legal precedent has been set, its decision to make him an “ex-gratia” payment as a goodwill gesture is likely to encourage other disgruntled consumers to follow suit.
Payling said: "They either thought they were on a loser or it wasn't worth turning up to court. I'm elated. It's a David and Goliath job. Stick with it and if you are right you may just be able to prove that there's nothing a bully hates more than being bullied."
Sara Powell-Davies, a British Gas spokewoman, said: “Mr Payling was not happy with the way his account had been run and decided to pursue his case through court. As this was an ex gratia payment, it would be inappropriate for us to issue further comment about this case.”
Clearly aware that Payling's actions are likely to lead to a flood of similar claims, British Gas added that "ex-gratia payments are not made for time or loss of earnings; they are a gesture of goodwill, paid as an apology, and the amount is set on a case by case basis."
But Audrey Gallacher, head of energy at government watchdog Consumer Focus, said that consumers would be well advised to follow Payling’s lead and keep a record of all phone calls and correspondence in such situations. “If the energy company fails to put things right and takes up excessive amounts of a consumers’ time, they are right to ask for compensation,” she said.
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