20 Nov 2013

High energy company bill shatters my pipe dream

Just as the sub-zero temperatures take hold, so too does the energy giant SSE’s price rise. On its website there’s the somewhat laughable understatement: “Our prices have changed”.

In fact, that change means an 8.2 per cent price hike for millions of SSE customers.

20_sse_screenshot2_wIt’s been pointed out that the firm made profits of £354m in just six months, so you might have thought its long-suffering customers could have been spared this winter. Apparently not.

At this juncture I’d better declare an interest.

A few days ago a letter from Southern Gas – which is 50 per cent owned by SSE – dropped into the inbox. It had me spluttering over my cornflakes. It was a demand for £1171.20 (including VAT).

Quite an eye-watering sum. It’s the amount the company wants to charge us to disconnect an old gas pipe.

Two elderly siblings used to live in our house and they had separate kitchens, bathrooms and evidently gas supplies, even though the property wasn’t formally divided into two flats.

Since moving in we’ve never bothered about the 1970s-era gas box plonked in the middle of the front garden. But tidying up and doing a bit of planting the other day, we decided we wanted rid of it. And the only way to do that was to get the old pipe disconnected.

When we remonstrated with the original quote, we got a revised estimate – still a socking great £913.20.

We were further incensed when the contractor explained that the work was a matter of a mere 20 minutes.

What’s more, the sister company of Southern Gas in Scotland – Scotland Gas Networks – would charge £453 for the same work. That’s some North South divide for you.

No wonder the politicians are exercised about the energy companies. And no wonder customers are voting with their feet and looking for cheaper deals elsewhere.

USwitch tells me that since SSE’s became the first of the big six to announce price rises just last month, switching has increased by up to 600 per cent.

As for our little local difficulty, we now plan to plant something decorative in front of the box. Either that or we’ll stick a garden gnome on it and call it a retro feature.

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11 reader comments

  1. Jim Pettipher says:

    Cathy, I can’t recommend switching to Co-operative Energy highly enough. It’s basically a huge bulk buying scheme. They buy your energy for you and as much of it as they humanly can not from the big 6. I signed up when they started (2 years + I think) and I just had a letter to say that they’ve reviewed my direct debit and there is no need to change it as it’s spot on i.e. my bill hasn’t gone up since I signed up. (Happy to supply a copy if you think there might be an interesting story in it.) Despite the current furore surrounding the Bank, the wider co-op movement is quietly trundling on, looking out for its member owners. And Co-op Energy is but the latest unsung success story. Jim

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    Cough up you Southern softy…..After all, you lot voted in the tories after the energy companies had bribed them to allow these ripoffs.

    You played their tune, now pay their piper.

    No sympathy for you.

    1. bigLarry says:

      Ha ha..nice one: truth with a smile. I’ve just switched myself to another supplier and a fixed deal. We need a reorganisation of the whole industry- what we have just now, stinks. Shame on politicians who perpetrate this structure where greed wins out. Sadly , I don’t see any party out there who give me conifdence that they will do so.

    2. Philip says:

      A large number of those of us who live in the South – even including that hotbed of capitalist immorality London – have never voted Conservative, or LibDem for that matter. We didn’t vote for privatisation – nor did we buy any shares when the energy companies, etc were privatised. Quite a lot of us “southern softies” come from other parts of the UK (including the north) and ended up in the south because that’s where the work was. I realise that you have extremely fixed ideas, but tarring everyone with the same brush when it’s patently inaccurate devalues the force of your arguments.
      (It is also a fact – though it runs counter to this perceived wisdom – that after a suspected gas leak, all the gas pipes to our flats have been replaced by one of these privatised monsters without charge! This included having to put scaffolding up 4 storeys.)
      The world isn’t black and white. Some of us in the south have been resisting just as long as you have – and resent being labelled because of where we live.

      1. adil says:

        I detect some wry humour there in the first post. I’m certainly a southern softie born and bred ;) Looking back at the old Conservative party manifesto I borrow the following:

        A company which has to satisfy its customers and compete to survive is more likely to be efficient, alert to innovation, and genuinely accountable to the public. That is why we have transferred to private ownership, in whole or in part, Cable and Wireless, Associated British Ports, British Aerospace, Britoil, British Rail Hotels, Amersham International, and the National Freight Corporation. Many of their shares have been bought by their own employees and managers, which is the truest public ownership of all.

        Clearly those writing the manifesto had little connection with reality and a poor understanding of human nature.

        Perhaps there is something to learn from the past here that is perhaps a little bit relevant. Perhaps the privatisation of the postal service may not produce the hoped for panacea. Perhaps a bit more thought into instilling a sense of ownership is what is needed. Perhaps the model that John Lewis has?

      2. Philip says:

        That may be what they said after the event. But Thatcher’s motivation was a lot more political: 1. a belief that people who owned shares were more likely to vote Conservative 2 the money from the sales enabled taxes to be lowered for elections 3. private sector companies were more likely to be non-unionised or stand up to the trade unions.. The idea that privatisation was about better customer service was a convenient (& unproved) bolt-on.

      3. Caliban says:

        “A large number of those of us who live in the South . . . have never voted Conservative”

        You lost. It’s called democracy, get over it.

    3. Rob Rundle says:

      you dont know which way she voted you muppet

  3. adil says:

    That is not nice. But, the utility companies are motivated by profit. In particular profit for their shareholders which probably has a sizeable component of pension funds. With a captive audience they can charge what they like. This certainly is the face of irresponsible capitalism. But, the area-managers, directors are rewarded only for turning a profit. I think it’s driven by the shareholders which in a roundabout way is us.
    Unless we put a higher value on quality of life and a lower value on money and greed I don’t see any way out. Of course, we could do what any sensible country would do and regard utilities as an essential component of society and have society own it.

    Clearly Sid is perhaps turning in his grave now…

  4. sandy says:

    bleating for sympathy is childish, try writing journalism instead

  5. Richard says:

    I switched from SSE to, though bizarrely in their final letter confirming the switch had gone through they listed all the ‘special’ deals they could offer me. It kind of made me realise they didn’t really care one iota. Until the energy companies are subject to the same regulatory regime as the water companies regarding price rises, nothing will change, they will simply pass on all their costs to the customer and make no effort or investment to source energy from the wholesale market when it’s at its cheapest and then store it. I recently moved house and wanted an old clunky water meter moved out of my kitchen. Severn Trent water charged me £70 which I thought was quite reasonable and probably reflected the true cost with a small margin added on. They could have profiteered from it but they didn’t, it reflected a completely different culture towards their customers, despite being a privatised utility.

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