Computer Says Yes Human Says No: The Moon and the Great Struggle for Freedom from NPower.

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Just before Christmas the Moon moved residence and the electricity in the new home was provided by NPower. The previous owner had supplied a meter reading on the day they moved out and soon after a letter arrived from the NPower addressed to "Occ. the Occupier" welcoming us to our new home. In early January an estimated bill arrived for December and the Moon decided to take a meter reading to get an actual bill and register online. The Npower website was rather good and the Moon was able to give the reading, apply to pay by direct debit and change the name of the account. A message came up saying that it had all gone through but that it may take a few days for the name change to take effect......

On the 15th January the Moon then decided that they ought to find out who would be the cheapest supplier. On the USwitch price comparison website First Utility came out top with NPower second so the Moon decided to "make the switch today". A google of First Utility did give the impression that they were a "web first" company that would not be easy to call or to actually deal with a human being but that was the reason they could keep costs down. Anyway the switch process online went well and confirmation would arrive shortly from First Utility, via email obviously.

Then on the 17th Jan an email arrived from First Utility to say that they where unable to do the switch unless a £300 deposit was paid due to a credit check failure. This had happened to the Moon a year earlier when trying to get a new contract with Orange via a third party despite the fact that I had been an Orange customer for five years - see previous post. Therefore it was possible to send what was in the end unnecessary credit check report from a year earlier which gave a score 999 out of 1000. First Utility said that the problem was probably down to not being on the electoral register, except that the Moon was at the old address. Thankfully the council in question was a able to confirm that the Moon was in fact on the current register and was on the previous one. This was a "computer says no" situation, there was obviously some system breakdown between the council and whatever database the credit agencies use. It has to be said that the credit agency business is a bit of a con, why does not being on the electoral register automatically cause a credit check failure when a person has not ever not paid a bill on time?

Anyway First Utility did decide that there was no credit problem and their online system was soon showing that the application was approved and even gave a switchover date.

In the meantime a letter arrived to "Occ. the Occupier" from NPower saying they could not process the direct debit request and to call them.  A call was made to a free number from a landline but one with multiple options and pretty long waiting times which was something that the Moon had hoped to avoid by going online. Because of the long wait a call back was requested and they did call but the Moon accidentally cut them off and they did not call back again. Another call was made when the Moon found the time a few days later and after an email from NPower on the 29th January . The first Customer Service Representative (CSR) was not able to help and so the call was transferred, the second CSR had to be told all the same details as the first. He then told the Moon that it was not possible to just change the name on an account and a brand new one would need to be created. The only information he could see was the meter readings and therefore he had to be given all the information that had already been given to NPower as he kept saying that online NPower was a completely different entity from him.  He said he would set up a completely new account in the name of the Moon and set up the direct debit. All bank details etc were resubmitted. Handing over your phone number is apparently compulsory...

Anyway this experience meant that the Moon was definitely making the switch. An email arrived from Npower to authorise the email address it was sent to but it just brought up an error page.

On the 8th February came an email form First Utility saying that "Your current supplier has raised an objection"

The NPower account online was still in the name of "Occ. the Occupier". A call was made and there was no evidence of the new account or the direct debit but it was said that the reason for the objection was probable because of the outstanding bill which the Moon had hoped would have been paid by direct debit by this time. Anyway the bill was paid and email was sent to First Utility informing them that NPower had said the objection should have been removed.

Days passed without any news and online First Utility were still saying "unable to supply". A call was made to the number on the email but it did not work, another number on the website did however, both were  0845 numbers so unlike NPower the calls are not free but the wait time in not long and there are not endless "options". The CSR could not see the email sent but said that the application would be resubmitted.

On 14 February another email arrived from First Utility:

"We're sorry...Unfortunately your current supplier has upheld their objection, and we are unable to continue transferring your electricity supply to First Utility. We are as disappointed as you are that we will not be able to supply your electricity. We have cancelled your registration and hope you will keep us in mind in the future."

With the same wrong number. Another call was made and they said it was an issue that had to be addressed with NPower and that there was a 3 strikes and your out rule which would mean that another failed application would result is a new application having to be done from scratch.

A call was made to NPower and it turns out that the problem was that the account was still in the name of "the Oc Occupier"! The CSR was unable to help so I was put through to a manager who said he would get back to me as he would need to manually lift the block.

He did get back pretty quickly and the Moon asked him to email the confirmation that the block had been lifted.

This was then forwarded to First Utility with this note:

"Hi see below - so hopefully you won't get the "computer says no" for a third and fatal time.
Please let me escape NPower. I am feeling rather imprisoned against my will..."

Again nothing came back for a week so a call was made and again the CSR was very helpful. The "system" would not let her resubmit the application so she said she would have to do it manually. On the 10th March an email arrived giving me a switchover and saying "Five days before your supply is due to go live we will request an opening meter reading by email. Keep an eye on your inbox."  However the email never arrived but this may have been due to the manual application and so a meter reading was given on the switchover date to both companies. Since then First Utility have issued an estimated bill and it has been paid by direct debit, the final NPower bill finally arrived but it yet to be paid. The account is still in the name "Occ. the Occupier" maybe I should insist on only paying the bill if they could send a bill that is actually address to the Moon....

In the end the switchover took two months with multiple phone calls emails and frustrations. Some of the delay was caused by the electoral register problem and First Utility not responding to emails but the Moon would advise anyone to avoid NPower like the plague, whilst First Utility are not perfect as they did not acknowledge or respond to emails but they were very good on the phone (though at a 0845 rate) and in normal circumstances you should be able to manage everything online.

This experience contrasts remarkably with a recent experience the Moon has had with the NHS. The GP was asked if a hospital appointment could be made in a different health authority near the office of the Moon rather than near home and the GP was happy to do this. A letter arrived with gave the options to call and book or book online. The Moon went online and the only information required was a DoB and the code provided in the letter and then you are presented with dates and times to choose from. A confirmation letter arrived and on the day there the waiting time beyond the appointment time was just 15 minutes. The staff were all great. It obviously can't last so bring on those NHS reforms....

You may have also seen the news reports on NPower miss-selling and the "simple UK accounting rule" the 38 Degrees petition is now over100,000 so please sign up sign up!

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