My father is 81, deaf and has various health problems. He has just moved into sheltered accommodation as he can no longer manage living alone, and I have been helping him sort out his bills.
When packing up his old house I noticed a bill from his energy supplier, Ovo Energy, which revealed a large in-credit balance of £2,285. I think this has happened because he cannot bend down to read the meter and has been charged based on estimates.
In August 2023, I asked for the account to be closed and for the credit to be refunded. As of January, it has not been – despite many, many calls and emails.
Credit refund catastrophe: I.C has tried to secure £2,285 back from Ovo Energy for his elderly father, but has not been able to do so after months of trying (stock image)
One person will say it is being processed, then weeks later someone else will tell me the process was never started and I need to send different information.
Sometimes they say I will have the money in a week, sometimes 10 days, and other times 28 or 40 days or even six weeks. I am incredibly frustrated.
Ovo’s customer service has been terrible. Please can you help? I.C, Essex
Helen Crane, This is Money’s consumer champion replies: I receive many emails from customers who are at their wits’ end with a company’s customer service department – but the ineptitude you have been subjected to is on another level.
The regulator Ofgem has already rapped energy firms on the knuckles for how they treat customers, and based on what we hear from our readers Ovo is one of the worst offenders.
You told me your father is unable to bend down to read his meter, so has not submitted a reading since the last time someone from his energy firm visited to do so several years ago.
This means he has been billed on estimates, rather than his actual usage.
The amount of credit he has built up suggests these estimates were hugely inflated.
As we have previously reported, many Ovo customers have had problems with their bills not being charged correctly.
Luckily for your father this meant he ended up with a huge amount of excess credit, rather than being debited for energy he did not use like others say they have been.
Your father’s problem stems from the fact that energy companies don’t often send someone to read a customer’s meter any more, instead relying on them to submit them themselves.
That wasn’t possible for him, and you live more than 500 miles away so were not easily able to help – though you have submitted the odd reading over the years.
If someone can’t read their meter, Ovo says it will send someone to do so each quarter. The person will need to be on its priority services register, a database of customers who are elderly, ill or otherwise in greater need of heat in their home.
It is also possible to get your meter moved if you can’t read it. If you are on your energy firm’s priority services register, they should do this for free.
But often, and as is the case with your father, people are not aware of the register and therefore don’t ask to be put on it.
Once you had noticed the huge balance on your father’s account, trying to get Ovo’s customer service staff to refund it revealed a catalogue of errors. Some of the messages you have shown me are laughable.
Thing of the past: Energy firms don’t generally send people to read customers’ meters unless they are registered as a priority customer – leading to over-billing based on estimated
Sadly that reflects the experience of hundreds of other customers of the firm, who have written to me to express their frustration.
You first contacted the firm in August and asked it to send you a refund of the credit balance, as you have power of attorney for your father.
Like many older people, your father did not have a direct debit set up and instead paid his energy bills over the phone or by cheque when he received them. This meant the money could not be automatically credited to his bank account and had to be sent by cheque instead.
At first, you were told a refund was under way. But a month later in September, you called again and were told no refund had previously been initiated and you would now need to wait 40 days for the money.
When 40 days passed, and no cheque had been received, you called Ovo again – only to hear once more that no refund had been initiated.
This time, you were told you needed to send a picture of your father’s meter in order to get the refund. Increasingly desperate to get it sorted, you asked a neighbour to take one and sent it on. You were assured you would have the cheque in 10 days.
But hours later, another member of staff emailed and said it would be four weeks. If that wasn’t enough, another person emailed the same day, again asking for a photo of the meter.
You told me you felt like you were working for Ovo at this point, as you were spending so much time emailing and calling back and forth with its staff.
You replied to one of these emails expressing your frustration, and received a reply saying no move-out or refund had been initiated and you needed to send photos of the meter readings.
So you sent them again, no doubt while banging your head against a wall.
A couple of weeks later, in December, you phoned again. This time, Ovo said the refund process had started and the money would be with you in a week.
But when a week passed, there was again no cheque. Just before Christmas you phoned again, to be told you would receive the final bills on the account in four to six weeks and a cheque 15 days after the final bill was received.
Back and forth: The customer’s son contacted Ovo repeatedly, but couldn’t get a straight answer about when his credit refund would arrive
Your patience finally ran out, and you demanded to know exactly when your father would get his £2,285.
Ovo looked into it again, and you were told there was a problem with the details on the account and that the information it had for you was not complete. You provided the information and were told it would take 14 days for the cheque to arrive.
Someone else emailed shortly after to say it would take 28 days. With all these missed deadlines, I think Ovo owes you a calendar. Yours will surely be running out of space.
Finally, in January, you received a call to say the cheque would be sent and you would get £30 compensation.
It did indeed arrive, but to your father’s home and not to yours as requested.
That didn’t matter, though, as the cheque you had waited nearly six months for was made out in the wrong name and was therefore impossible to cash.
After all that back and forth, Ovo’s failure to record a simple detail correctly rendered the whole exercise a total waste of your time. This was when you contacted me in frustration to ask if I could help.
I sent Ovo a (long) email detailing all the promises you were made about when the cheque would arrive.
It did finally get it posted to your father, this time in the right name, and your compensation has been increased to £100.
Ovo admitted it had your father’s name incorrectly recorded and that this had now been corrected.
A spokesman said: ‘We’re sorry for the length of time it has taken to refund [this customer]. A full refund has now been made and a gesture of goodwill accepted.’
Even though it is now sorted, you have continued to receive emails from the customer services team at Ovo.
‘It is a pity this wasted effort couldn’t go towards helping the many other customers who say they are having problems instead.
The latest one read: ‘I have checked the account and unfortunately you ain’t down as financially liable so we wouldn’t be able to send you anything out and we would need to discuss this check being send with the account holder.’
Between the mystifying phrase ‘financially liable’ and poor grammar, it is a message as confusing as it is unprofessional.
You told me: ‘I am just grateful to close this sorry saga and that I ‘ain’t’ gotta deal with them anymore’.
Tough pill to swallow: Our reader was told she couldn’t get a refund for her pharmacy delivery pass by giving details over the phone – even though that is how she originally paid
Boots will only refund my home delivery pass in store
In July 2023, I paid £55 for an annual delivery pass from my local Boots pharmacy. This was because I struggle to get to the shops to collect my medication in person.
However, on two occasions Boots was unable to get one of the drugs I was prescribed, meaning I had to get it from a different pharmacy and ask family and friends to pick it up for me.
I therefore requested a refund for the pass in September 2023. I initially paid for it on my card over the phone and just wanted a refund to the same account.
Now Boots says it can’t refund the money to my card unless I go to the store. I’m unable to do this – it was the point of getting a delivery pass. L.C, Tyne and Wear
Helen Crane replies: I am sorry to hear this. Life sounds tough enough for you without having to deal with this kind of admin issue.
Your original payment was processed through a till in the Boots store, when you read out your card details over the phone – but you have now been told it can only be refunded via the till if you take the card there in person.
I contacted Boots, and it has now sent you a form to fill out and post, in order to have the money refunded by BACS transfer.
I am not a payments expert, but filling out and posting a form seems a very long-winded way to get a simple refund.
In my opinion, you should be able to the money back the same way you paid – but at least you will now get it, however long it takes.
The person you spoke to has offered to add some points to your Advantage Card or send you a gift card to make up for how long this has taken.
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