Jane and Peter Crompton of the Bloomsbury, Twickenham, believe a faulty smart meter is to blame for the large bill that they are faced with from British Gas.
Licensee Mr Crompton said: “I honestly believe the meter is not reading properly and needs changing but no one is doing anything about it.”
Second massive bill
It is the second time that the Cromptons have had a massive bill. Ten years ago they had a demand for £78,000 that was eventually whittled down to £13,000 after Twickenham MP Sir Vince Cable, the former Business Secretary, wrote to the utility company’s chief executive about their plight.
They managed to pay off that debt through monthly payments after making cost savings including the laying off of staff.
They say they paid a further £7,000 in electricity bill costs in the summer following demands from British Gas.
Now the face the threat of the same situation with their latest £22,000 bill just months later.
They claim that they thought they had reached an agreement to pay off the bill at £500 a month but then British Gas demanded a downpayment of £10,000 before considering allowing them to pay off the remainder with smaller monthly payments.
Mr Crompton added that British Gas is now demanding to see three years' worth of business accounts for the pub.
So the bills received have been based on estimates of usage.
Change the meter
British Gas sent out a meter reader to the Star Pubs & Bars-owned pub two weeks ago who told Mr Crompton that he could not get a signal from the electricity meter, located in the cellar.
He has recommended a change of meter but so far the Cromptons have heard nothing.
They are anxious to reach a settlement with British Gas. Mrs Crompton admitted: “I am a worrier. I have obligations to my customers with Christmas functions and I don’t want to be closed down before.”
The couple want to change to another supplier but have been blocked from doing so.
A British Gas spokesperson said that if a smart meter needed to be replaced it could be done quickly and that customers can contact them using their website.
The Cromptons had smart meters fitted some years ago. Smart meters have replaced old gas and electricity meters and send usage information directly to the energy supplier via a wireless network.
According to research some smart meters give readings up to six times higher than the energy consumed by households when connected to green energy-saving devices,
So called ‘green’ devices such as energy-saving light bulbs, heaters, LED bulbs and dimmers change the shape of electric currents that can result in a distorted reading, a study by the University of Twente Enschede in the Netherlands found and reported by The Telegraph earlier this year.
However, none of the smart meters tested in the study are part of the UK's official smart meter rollout, an update to the report said.
Controversy over meter accuracy
The Cromptons' electricity meter was manufactured in Singapore and their gas meter in Germany. It has not been confirmed whether these are part of the official rollout although they are likely to be.
There has been a lot of controversy about the accuracy of meters in the UK.
The consumer group Which? said the rollout is being led by energy companies with no checks in place to make sure that costs don't spiral up.
It has been campaigning for cost control and more scrutiny.
British Gas response
Responding to the claims from the Cromptons, British Gas sent the Morning Advertiser this statement: "We’ve looked into this matter and can confirm we’ve billed the Crompton’s accurately. It’s clear that the balance on the account has been accrued as a result of consistent underpayment over a period of three years. We understand that the Crompton’s own energy consultant has also independently advised that the bill is due to be paid.
"Furthermore, the bill relates to a debt on three different meters, one of which is not a smart meter. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support that any of the three meters are not reading correctly. We can confirm that we haven’t asked for three years worth of account information. We also did not at any point agree to accept instalments of £500 a month and have been clear from the outset that an initial payment needs to be made before we can discuss a payment plan.
"We appreciate that the Crompton’s financial circumstances may be difficult but we have worked very hard to help where we can. This action is very much a last resort.’"