Barbican residents overcharged for electricity

Barbican residents overcharged for electricity
Credit Unsplash

Barbican residents have been charged hundreds of pounds more for electricity over the past two years because a provider did not check their emails about meter readings, a report has revealed.

The City of London, which manages the 2,000 flat complex, said its new meter operator Stark missed an email from the previous operator warning telecoms lines were about to shut down.

This then led Stark to send estimated bills to the Barbican’s electricity provider, Total Energies, for months.

The City expects residents to be hit with an extra £1.15m in charges once an audit into the botched meter readings ends.

City documents show Stark had been warned the lines, which send usage data from the meter to the electricity supplier, would shut in September 2021 but “missed” the vital email.

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It then took Stark two months to tell the City the lines had been cut off and another three months to say the lines, which are owned by BT, could not be re-established. Weeks earlier, the City said it would not recommend Stark due to its “inefficient processes” in a feedback email.

When the City complained to the former operator, EDF, and the company provided proof of the email being sent in September.

The City then emailed Stark to test if EDF’s email worked. According to the City’s timeline of events, it was sent on March 3 last year.

The log read: “As they [Stark] responded, this was the proof that Stark were liable and did not respond to the email from EDF.”

The City also lodged a complaint against Total Energies for charging resident excess capacity, failing to initially pass on the Government’s cost-of-living energy discount, and for missing invoices.

The local authority also said Total charged residents for excess use but did not reflect that in its bills.

One resident, who does not want to be named, said he is expecting this year’s electricity bill to set him back £1000.

He said this is on top of the extra £400 he has paid for maintenance at Gilbert House.

He explained residents pay a quarterly service charge to the City to cover electricity and maintenance costs, among others. Because this is an estimated amount, residents have to pay for their true usage when the bill is finalised in September.

He claimed this is usually between £100 and £200.

The resident said: “The whole metering business is a fiasco. If you outsource it and don’t manage it, it goes bad.”

It comes as the City of London hired auditors to look at how electricity at the central London estate is billed after two years of inconsistent billing.

Reports issued by the City showed that during 2021 and 2022 residents in Lauderdale Tower were overcharged by as much as £72k while some in other buildings were undercharged.

Residents in Speed House were overcharged £40k while it seems Brandon Mews and Bryer Court were the only ones to be charged correctly.

The report also found the City “incorrectly” credited electricity distributors £400k in 2022 and were hit with a £200k bill the following year. It has asked for those costs to be spread over 24 months.

A recent report said there are still “some areas of concerns” despite changes being made by all parties. This included duplicating bills and worries over estimates in some blocks, namely Speed House.

The report read: “Many issues have been resolved but as there are still some outstanding queries and concerns regarding the billing for the last two years. To provide assurance an external audit of the billing is being commissioned.

“This will examine the underlying data behind the invoices including the excess capacity and estimated charges.”

The issues began when residents noticed they were being charged for underground heating during the summer months when it is usually turned off.

A City of London spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing a high-class public service to all our tenants and we are working with residents to resolve the issue. This includes commissioning an independent audit of energy charges – and residents are closely involved in the review.

“We understand the impact that energy costs are having on residents. That is why we are supporting them in a range of ways, including by providing cheaper renewable electricity sourced from a solar farm in a recent pioneering deal.

“This has saved Barbican residents over a million pounds in energy costs so far this year. Residents at the estate are also benefiting from the Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme discount.

“We are also working with Groundwork’s Green Doctors Service to give residents free and impartial energy advice to help them save money and improve energy efficiency. Furthermore, we offer residents the opportunity to pay bills via a payment plan if they request to do so.”

Stark and Total Energies were approached for comment.

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