In the Winter of 2014 my elderly aunt’s heating went off. Southern Electric responsible for her boiler cover left her without heating for 9 days. NINE! And inadequate for 11!
When I got to hear of this I decided to do something about it! Obviously. I won’t bore you with the details of the email I wrote to the CEO of Southern Electric for my cousin to write but this was the summary at the end:
Summary of complaint
1) My mother is a priority customer and should have had her heating fixed, with priority. This was not done, several times over.
2) My mother was without any heating for 9 days. This would be unacceptable for anyone never mind an 83 year old woman who has just come out of hospital recovering from recent major surgery.
3) Engineers arrived at 11.15pm on the first day. That is not an acceptable time to arrive at an elderly woman’s home. She wanted to go to bed and had to wait up for engineers and in addition to that, had to do so in a cold house.
4) The first engineer left my mother with some, but not all, heating for two days and none for one. Not acceptable.
5) On the 3rd November my mother was called at 5.00pm saying that they could not come until the following day, leaving her another day with no heating. Not acceptable
6) Late on the 4th November engineers informed my mother that the new circuit board, they had brought with them, was faulty and left her without heating again. Not acceptable.
7) On 5th November, another circuit board was fitted, but it still did not work and, yet again, my mother was left with no heating. Not acceptable.
8) On the 6th November my mother was told that the engineer would arrive at 11.55am, so was unable to go out for lunch. The engineer did not show up until after 2pm. Not acceptable.
9) On the 6th November the engineers arrived and left my mother without heating for another day. Not acceptable.
10) On the 7th November ‘phone calls were made but still nothing sorted as the engineer left my mother without heating for a further three days. Not acceptable.
11) One of your engineers made a wholly inappropriate and insensitive remark to my mother regarding saving heating costs. (He had said “think of the money you are saving on heating”) Not acceptable.
12) My mother had to stay in one room all day with two electric heaters at much greater costs than heating the whole house with gas would be.
13) One fan heater was not left for my mother until Wednesday 5th November and another on Friday 7th. Not acceptable.
14) My mother has the boiler serviced with you and it was serviced only in May of this year. It would appear that the service was not undertaken properly, a breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 as the work was not undertaken with reasonable skill and care.
15) There were clear communication issues between all the visits. Every time an engineer attended my mother’s property they did not know what previous engineers had done.
16) The engineer who repaired the boiler insinuated that the other engineers did not know what they were doing as no parts were ever needed. A clear breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.
My mother is due compensation. The amount of time without heating, not providing alternative heating, not arriving within agreed time slots and not repairing the fault within a reasonable length of time. The service has been appalling and a clear breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. Services have not been carried out with reasonable skill and care at any point and in addition have not been undertaken in a timely manner.
I, therefore, expect my mother to be fully and appropriately compensated (to which she is legally entitled) for all the breaches above. I also expect a partial refund for the service charge as this was seemingly not undertaken properly. Had it been, it would not have taken 7 visits to rectify the issue. I also expect her to be compensated for the serious amount of distress, stress and inconvenience caused. I also expect an apology and explanation for every stage of this sorry matter and an explanation for the engineer’s wholly inappropriate remark. I wonder if you would appreciate an elderly relative recovering from serious major surgery, unable to recover properly due to lack of heating, and being treated like my mother was? I am very interested in your comments on this.
I look forward to hearing from you within five days. Should I not do so I will not hesitate in taking the matter further. I will be sharing our experiences regarding Southern Electric on various social media and forums. I will also be contacting Trading Standards. I will also request a deadlock letter and take the matter to the Energy Ombudsman and through the small claims process if necessary.
(Yes that was the shortened version! Sometimes you have to put the work in when complaints are long. But shows the importance of keeping records of everything, all calls, visits etc.)
The CEO responded saying he would pass it to the Executive Complaints Office. (It is rare to get a response from the CEO when you contact him/her (You can get the email contact details at ceoemail.com for any CEO) but it will go higher than customer services, see more tips here.)
He told my cousin the following:
1) He had contacted the senior management team within the Home Services Department who would ensure that the engineer who made the comment is spoken to and given feedback on the potential effect that this type of comment can have on an already unhappy and vulnerable customer.
2) That there were no markers on the Gas, electric or home services accounts to indicate that her mother was vulnerable. The only marker held shows that she is an old age pensioner with a 1941 date of birth and that it was made clear that an emergency appointment it could go ahead any time morning, afternoon or evening.
3) Appointments are not guaranteed due to emergencies which can stop engineers attending as was the case on the 3rd November (Oh yes, you can believe that I went a little bit nuts at this one! Read on!)
4) A repeat of what we had told him about visits
5) In an ideal world they would be able to diagnose and repair every fault on the first visit however; as boilers are mechanical with many working parts it can sometimes take several days to repair faults such as that experienced by my aunt.
6) Disagreed that they failed in their contract when they serviced my aunt’s boiler as any potential fault may not have been picked up at this time as electrical faults, unlike mechanical faults, are not easily identified.
7) Apologised for not providing alternative heating.
8) Acknowledged failing in their service and offered a good will gesture of £150.00 and to let him know if was to be accepted.
Now, as financial journalist Paul Lewis said in his review of my book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! “Her guiding principle is never take yes for an answer. If you want £100 compensation and they offer £50 write back and demand £200…..
The response I wrote for my cousin
1) Pointed out inaccurate records, aunt born in 1931 not 1941.
2) Mother mentioned that she had had surgery when she telephoned. Unable to comment on why the member of staff did not note this down on records and even if she didn’t, every engineer who visited the house was told. Plus they would have also been able to see how distressed she was becoming and that her breathing was laboured.
3) Southern Electric were first rung at 8.00am, as soon as my mother realised there was no heating and actually had a friend with her to verify this. She was told that it would be a couple of hours before they could let her know when an engineer would get to her. She explained she had a doctors appointment at 10.10am and would be going out at 9.30am. On her return there was a message on her answer machine and she rang back – hence the phone call logged at 10.30am.
4) I fully understand that there cannot be guaranteed times. However, as you rightly state, my mother is listed as a vulnerable person and should have been a priority. I am afraid I do not believe that all your engineers were on the one emergency job or were all on cases more urgent than seeing a vulnerable person. I am interested in your evidence to prove otherwise. Also, I fail to understand that when the engineer is unable to find the fault, or get a part, why was she was then left until late every day – each time with no heating.
5) I note that you say had you known she had had surgery that it may have been possible to attend earlier on the very first day. I would have thought being an 83 year old woman was enough reason to be an emergency and leaving her without heating, for so long when she could at least have been in bed, is completely unacceptable.
6) Even if point 4 above can be proved that all cases were more urgent she should have been given alternative heating.
7) You state that the wiring was the last possible fault. This seems absurd. You seem to be suggesting that it is acceptable for engineers to diagnose anything regardless of any tests and just go through each part in turn. Utterly ridiculous. Why do the engineers not have parts in their vehicles or at least in stock? Why was my mother left again without heating so frequently when engineers could have gone through their “checklist” of possible errors until the fault was fixed?
8)You are covered by your code of conduct and in addition your complaints procedure is the same as for any other complaint.
Given the above questionable and inaccurate issues in your response, I trust that you will review it and provide a more acceptable reply with improved offer of goodwill gesture to cover the atrocious service my mother received. My mother is only just recovering from the breathing difficulties caused by the damp, cold house and electric heaters and the house has obviously taken some time to heat up given that it had been without heating for so long. The dreadful service from Southern Electric contributed to her illness, suffering and distress and I do not believe that anything you have said goes any way to assure me that this could not happen again. Should I not be satisfied that Southern Electric will provide a far superior (i.e. acceptable) service in the future I will be forced to move my mother’s account to another company.
Their next response
1) Sorry they didn’t recognise the vulnerability although this was mentioned at the time. Year of birth changed to 1931. Vulnerability markers now placed on Home Services records to ensure that should the boiler breakdown again we treat her case more sympathetically and that any breakdown is treated as a priority. The Home Services system is a stand alone system and does not interface with the customer system used for gas and electric accounts which did have a vulnerability marker present. We are in the process of installing a new Home Services system which should prevent a similar situation happening in the future.
2) Appreciated that not all engineers were on emergency jobs however; they would all have had their daily work allocated to them when they started their working day. The work would be set in such a way as to ensure each engineer had enough time to complete each job and would include travelling time between jobs. It is unfortunate that the engineer who was tasked with attending the initial breakdown was not made aware of the vulnerability otherwise it could have been dealt with as a priority.
3) Completely agreed they let her mother down on a number of occasions including, failing to leave alternative heating until 5 November almost a week after the boiler developed it’s fault.
4) Keen to make things right both for my cousin and her mother in the hope that it will resolve this matter for both. Offered a full years free boiler cover which would cost £214.80 and would mean not paying her next 12 monthly Direct Debit payments. They would also cover her next monthly Electric Direct Debit payment of £37.00 to cover any additional electricity she may have used as a result of heating with the fan heaters provided. Finally we would make this up to a total of £301.80 by applying a goodwill payment of £50.00 to either her gas or electric account.
For further stories on energy see:
One little known fact when your gas is cut off this Winter.
Ofgem Standards of Conduct and Quality
Your energy and rights what you should know
How to take care of your energy bills
If not resolved you can go to the ombudsman, more here
For more information and template letters about complaining about energy see: How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!