Shocked pensioner Janet Thornton had an unwelcome Christmas delivery when two Npower bills arrived out of the blue - dating back to 2008 and totalling £3,377.
Despite having never missed a quarterly payment, the 77-year-old was horrified when 11 pages of bills arrived through her letterbox on Saturday - demanding she pay within just six working days, by December 9.
One bill, headed ‘Your electricity bill’ covered from October 2013 to September 2014 and totalled £2,331.
The second was headed ‘Your amended electricity bill’ and covered from June 2008 to October 2013, totalling £1,046.
Despite calls to the utility company, Miss Thornton was given no explanation about the sums or dates of the bills but Npower have now confirmed to the YEP that they are investigating.
Miss Thornton, of Middleton, said: “It’s really got me a bit wound up. I haven’t been able to sleep. I usually go to church on Sunday but I spent the day trying to concoct a letter to Npower. I went out for a walk, because it all got too much for me.”
She added: “I find it utterly frustrating that someone can’t look back two or three bills and see what the readings have been. To me it would be a simple thing.”
Miss Thornton said she was particularly surprised to see the large bills as last year Npower had switched her to what they said was a cheaper tariff.
“I agreed to go on that - I started on November 13 2013. I would have thought that they wouldn’t have suggested I could go on a cheaper rate if I had been under charged? It’s all very confusing.”
Miss Thornton, who has night storage heaters, has lived in her house since 1963 and has never switched utility companies despite having had problems with Npower in the past.
She said a few years ago she had to enlist the help of an industry watchdog after being inexplicably chased for a bill of £55, which was later cancelled. She said: “I’m exceedingly disappointed. I would like them to get it sorted and I won’t worry. I need them to do that. You just don’t feel you have got to the bottom of it. It doesn’t make sense.”
Miss Thornton’s neighbour Sandra Bavill, who has been helping her with the issue, said: “I was horrified - the way that they have done it. They have just sent her these two bills and just expected her to pay it, with no explanation of why. How can they do this to people? They just seem to be a big company doing exactly what it wants. And that’s the impression we got when we spoke to them too. The ‘we’re right and you’re wrong’. You can’t treat people like that.”
A spokeswoman for Npower said: “We’re really sorry to hear about the problems Miss Thornton has had with her account.
“We suspect that the meter readings are incorrect. We’ll make sure this is sorted as quickly as possible as we don’t want her to worry. We’ll also factor in a suitable goodwill gesture to apologise.”
The company has been hitting the headlines for the past year for issues with its billing system. Industry watchdog Ofgem was forced to intervene last December because of longstanding problems with late bills and direct debit payments.
The move led to an apology by Npower’s CEO Paul Massara to all its customers, a payment of £1m to good causes, and a commitment that no customer would be left out of pocket as a result of billing failures.
But in June this year, Ofgem told Npower to halt its telesales unless it resolved ongoing billing issues. The utility company agreed to take immediate action to put right its billing and complaints issue and resolve major issues no later than the end of August 2014.
It also had to publish monthly progress updates on its website - which now says the company is meeting Ofgem’s targets.
Ofgem says it is also carrying out a parallel investigation into Npower’s customer service failings, the first case to be opened under Ofgem’s new Standards of Conduct (SoC) and could lead to a financial penalty or redress payment if they are found to have broken rules.
A segment on Npower also featured on the Thursday night’s episode of BBC’s Watchdog, where one customer reported being billed £151,000.
Npower’s statement to the programme said: “We did see issues with our billing system, which affected how we looked after our customers. We’re now resolving these issues and so our customers will now begin to see real improvements in the service we offer them. Already, we have reduced the number of complaints we receive by nearly a third since earlier this year.”