My mother, who is 85, suffers from osteoarthritis and had a hip replacement earlier this year from which she is still recovering.

She lives alone in a two-bedroom flat in a remote part of Devon and recently received a bill from British Gas saying her direct debit payments will rise from £80 a month to £805 a month.

She was shocked and upset. When she called the company to question the price increase, no one pointed out the absurdity of the new direct debit amount.

Shock rise: British Gas told reader’s 85-year-old mother her direct debit payments will rise from £80 a month to £805 a month

And even though one person said the bill might be incorrect, my mom was told twice to switch to a prepaid plan to help manage the debt.

I worry that other elderly and vulnerable people are hearing the same advice from energy companies.

AH, Glasgow.

Sally Hamilton answers: Getting an unexpected electricity bill that is ten times the normal amount will chill anyone to the bone.

Being an elderly person and living alone, your mother felt particularly vulnerable, especially as you told me she was very careful about using the heating and only turned it on for short bursts each day.

With her new bill of £805 a month, she would expect to pay an annual fee of £9,660.

We all know that energy prices are skyrocketing, but this difference in bills seems ridiculous. And the government’s guarantee of energy prices should protect it from the worst growth — at least until April.

A customer in an average home with typical energy use can expect to pay around £2,500 a year from this month. But your mother lives alone in a small apartment, so her bills will be much lower than that?

You have sent me a copy of the offending bill, which reveals a nasty contradiction. In the bottom left hand corner of the page it was shown that your mother’s annual usage would cost £2,267.30.

So how did British Gas arrive at the absurd direct debit calculation of over £800 a month – almost £10,000 a year?

I was even more confused by the fact that your mother has a smart meter installed which is designed to get accurate usage readings and bill you accurately.

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I asked the energy giant to shed some light on this drastic bill. I also wanted to explain why your mother was asked to consider the prepaid option. This is the most expensive way to pay for energy and customers can be vulnerable to supply cuts if they don’t pay enough upfront.

First, British Gas quickly came back with an apology and confirmation that your mother’s direct debit had been reversed to ensure that the £805 had not been withdrawn from her bank account.

A spokesman confirmed she would not be switched to a prepaid meter and said British Gas would never have forced her to do so.

They claimed that she was simply given the opportunity to manage her accounts and repay the debt at a low rate.

When I asked for recordings or transcripts of the calls to independently verify what she was told, British Gas refused.

However, he said he was satisfied that call handlers did not direct her to prepay.

I still had to sort out the tenfold increase in bills so asked the firm to check the smart meter. After a few days, the engineer reported that it was without failures. Then Calum Robertson, the senior complaints officer who took your mother’s case after my intervention, had a brilliant moment.

As your mother’s account was one of thousands that were seized by British Gas earlier this year when her previous supplier, Together Energy, went bust, he thought the problem might have been caused by a transfer.

Your case is a warning to other people who have strange electricity bills: don’t give up the fight to get them investigated and fixed

He contacted the administrators of this firm to verify the accuracy of the meter readings that came in when your mother moved. More days passed. Then, finally, the mystery was solved.

The energy giant discovered a serious error in the meter reading during transmission. Now the numbers have been reset and the account has been transferred. This resulted in a refund of around £300 to your mother’s bank account.

British Gas also sent her flowers to apologize for the upset.

Her monthly direct debit payments will be higher in future, but at a much more manageable £138 – £1,656 a year. You and your mom are so relieved.

Your case is a warning to others who are faced with strange electricity bills: don’t give up the fight to investigate and fix them.

Norwich City gambler should not bet on sympathy

Last week I wrote about the case of a NatWest customer whose £20,000 bid was stopped by the bank because he was afraid that such a large transaction might be fraudulent.

The customer was angry because by the time the payment was finally released, after he visited his bank branch, the odds on his bet on Norwich City FC being relegated from the Premier League had gone down slightly.

Although he eventually won the bet and took home £5,700 in winnings, it was £286 less than he would have collected had NatWest not been so vigilant. Despite his pleas to take up his cause, I decided not to and instead invited readers to give their opinion.

I got a fantastic response – including from Tony Hazell, the former Money Mail editor who I mentioned in my article and who is a keen supporter of Norwich City.

Almost all the correspondence I received was in support of my decision not to waste my time on compensation when the bank was only fulfilling its duty to protect its customers.

Some of you, including Tony, said he should have contacted the bank to give them advance notice of the large transaction.

Some have praised NatWest for its caution in a world where fraud is rife, while others have expressed concern that the compensation culture has gotten out of hand when someone wants to help pay back £286 after claiming an already big win.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to write to me and support my decision.

Straight to the point

In March, I opened a two-year fixed rate bond with Virgin Money online. In June I discovered that the interest for the first three months had been reinvested in bonds rather than paid into a nominated account as required.

Virgin says the cash is locked up until the bond matures in 2024, but I need the interest now to pay the bills.

CL, by email.

Virgin Money says the interest is automatically reinvested. Customers who wish to transfer them to another account must add their bank details.

The bank has now agreed to pay you the money you are missing and has asked you to contact you if you have incurred any late fees as a result of the delay. You will also receive £150 as an apology for the mistake.


I have booked one night at the Marc Pierre White Hotel, Rudloe Arms, near Bath, for the 3rd of June for myself, my daughter and her boyfriend.

I was charged £332.53 at checkout but later found out that had already taken payment on booking.

I’ve lost count of the number of emails and calls I’ve made but I still haven’t heard back.

CP, Birmingham.

Your refund has been processed and should be with you shortly. A representative apologizes for the delay.


I arranged a phone meeting with a Barclays mortgage advisor after getting the 3.54% deal agreed in principle.

But the market was in turmoil the following week and the bank called for a reversal. Now the best deal I can get is 3.8%.

CW, by email.

Barclays says the adviser could have done more to help you and has agreed to honor the 3.54% deal as a goodwill gesture.

  • Write to Sally Hamilton at Sally Sorts It, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email – include a telephone number, address and a note addressed to the offending organization with permission to speak Sally Hamilton. Please do not send original documents as we are not responsible for them. The Daily Mail is not legally responsible for the answers given.

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