Pensioner's fuel bill anguish

AN elderly woman is at her wits' end after her power company wrongly removed £2,800 from her bank account - twice.

AN elderly woman is at her wits' end after her power company wrongly removed £2,800 from her bank account - twice.

Joan Last, 82, from Copleston Road, Ipswich, was told by British Gas she would not be debited after she reported the error on her bill, but the money was withdrawn at the start of October.

She was told to get it back through a bank indemnity - but as soon as she was refunded, she got a letter saying the money would be due next month, and exactly the same happened again.

On Tuesday, the bank retrieved her money for a second time, but now Mrs Last, who suffers from heart problems, is afraid it will vanish once more.

Mrs Last was on the verge of tears as she said: “I am fed up with it - it has been going on since September. I just do not need it, I can't sleep and I get panic attacks.

“I have never owed anybody any money in my life. Every time I phone they all say 'yes, we have put the figures round the wrong way.' But £2,800 - that's no joke.

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“I do not use the oven, I use my washing machine once a week for about an hour, I have got a gas fire and water heater. But it is electricity that's the problem.

“They said they would not take the money out. Both times they said they would not do it until it's all been sorted out. But they took it out again on November 7.”

Mrs Last said she has had problems with the company before, when she was given estimate bills despite having had recent meter readings, leading to her paying more than she should have.

Just months ago, she was told she was £700 in credit, so her monthly bill would be cut from £36 to £18. But on September 29, the notice of her £2,859.35 bill arrived.

After she reported the mistake, Mrs Last was told the money would not be removed from her account until the issue was sorted out, but just a week later the sum was removed by direct debit.

When she called British Gas to tell them, they simply said she should go to her bank and ask them to fill out an indemnity form to get her money back.

A few weeks later, she received a letter from British Gas to apologise for the mistake- and to tell her that the money was in fact due by the start of November, not October.

Again she phoned to point out the mistake, and again she was reassured the money would not leave her account, but it was paid on November 7.

A spokesperson from British Gas said: “We are looking into this, clearly something has gone wrong on this account.

“We are extremely sorry and we are examining the case. Mrs Last should not worry about being cut off, or not using her electrical appliances. We will sort it out for her.”

- This follows a similar incident in June when Rod Dennis from Felixstowe was charged £688 by British Gas after not receiving a bill for months, despite his frequent requests for one.

When he complained, he was given a fresh bill for £1,293.57. In September, the company apologised for their error and offered him a reduced charge as a sign of goodwill.

- Have you had problems with a utility bill? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail