It’s a gas . . .

I woke up in an all right mood. Bit tired, forced out of bed by Chaplin but, otherwise, happy to see lovely weather and a fridge full of food. Then the post arrived.

Anyone in debt knows the misery the post brings. Indeed, any adult soon realises that birthdays, Valentines and Christmases are the same as any other day when final reminders and bank statements are due.

Today, however, I had not expected the letter I received from NPower. It reads:

“Don’t start this winter with a debt on your gas meter. We’ve been checking your account and we can see that you haven’t been topping up regularly or paying enough to cover your charges.

Money-eating machine

“Remember your meter collects a daily standing charge even if you aren’t using any gas. A debt will have built up on your meter – you can see how much this is by pressing the red button.”

It almost sounds like an exciting game doesn’t it? Press the red button! See what the figure reads. Ant and Dec could create a series out of it. But – just to make it clear – your meter collects a daily standing charge even if you aren’t using any gas.

I never knew. I thought by not buying any gas, by going without heating, by boiling the kettle to have a wash, by not bathing nearly as often as I would like, by letting the dirty dishes pile up in the sink, by not putting the heating on when it gets chilly – I thought I was SAVING money. I thought I was doing the right thing. I never knew I was gaining another debt.

The letter goes on: “What this means: you aren’t paying your daily standing charge, so this is building up as a debt.

“Your meter will now take 70% of each payment you make to pay off this debt until it is cleared.”

I stepped outside. I pressed the red button. I waited for the numbers to come up on the screen: would I win a luxury yacht, a holiday somewhere with white sands and turquoise seas … or a Dusty Bin?

I have a debt of £46.92. I don’t have the money to pay this debt.

My meter has been using emergency credit for many weeks. That is I’ve used the £6 on the meter that’s available should the gas run out when it’s inconvenient to nip to the shop. However, the letter does not say this fine would not be charged were I in credit, it simply refers to a “daily standing charge” which is for the cost of reading and maintaining energy supply meters.

I’ve never noticed this debt building up before because I’ve been in work and so always had enough money to top up the gas meter on a fortnightly or monthly basis. Now I’m out of work – and trying to save money – I am effectively fined for not having enough money to pay for gas.

Let me just hammer this home one more time: I am fined for being too poor to put money on my gas meter.

This is ridiculous: it has winded me. I guffawed loudly in the street when the fine appeared in the grey screen – and I could do without looking odd in my street because I’m fairly sure my neighbours already think I’m a weird loner with an equally weird cat.

I am, of course, going to write to my MP. It’s time we took a stand against these energy companies making massive profits for their shareholders while we’re left out in the cold.

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