Shock £61,000 electricity bill for family


Terry Rust

Terry and Tracy Rust, and their three children, have been left without electricity, after they received a shocking £61,000 electricity bill, and were unable to pay it in full immediately.

So what happened, and could the same thing happen to you?

The enormous bill

There are some idiosyncratic elements to this story, which mean very few people are likely to end up with an unexpected bill of this magnitude.

The Rusts run a poultry farm in North Benfleet in Essex. Npower told the The Southend Standard that Mr Rust called to give npower the serial number on the meter in 2008, but he accidentally only gave the number of the pre-payment meter - which was for a single warehouse which is rented out.

The rest of the home and business (including the farmhouse, stables, commercial units, poultry farm, horse rising centre and caravan park) continued to rack up charges for three years - while the Rusts paid nothing for their electricity.

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According to the Daily Mail, Npower realised the problem in 2010 and sent a bill for £16,000. Still nothing was paid until October 2012. Since then Rust has made some payments, but the bill is currently £61,000. On 6 August, Npower obtained a warrant to cut the electricity off.

The electricity company told the Standard it was not at fault. It had provided bills and copies of bills, and several statements of account. It said the Ombudsman had ruled in its favour.

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The risk we need to be aware of

However, despite the specifics of this case, the Rusts did make one very common mistake, which we can all learn from - they failed to keep abreast of their bills and their meter readings.

If you pay your power bills by direct debit, your company will revisit the amount you have to pay every year. They won't pay any attention to any debt you are building up in the interim - they say this is up to you.

At the same time, they are not duty-bound to visit you to read the meter with particular frequency, they are allowed to estimate and leave it up to you to give a proper meter reading.

It means it's very easy for a bill to get out of hand. Householders who are unlucky enough to have some poor estimates and a direct debit set by the power company with no real thought, can easily find themselves owing over £350 by the time the company revisits the direct debit the following year.

It won't mean you are cut off, it will simply mean your direct debits - which are already rising alarmingly - will be bumped up another £30 a month - which is enough to send many families into the red.

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