Saving Grace: Ovo owes my elderly brother £8,500 but won’t pay up

A reader has been trying to help his brother claim back much needed funds for his care 

My brother, who is in his early eighties, was supplied with electricity from Ovo Energy.

He has mental health problems and for many years did not submit readings. The companies involved therefore relied on estimated ones.

When he eventually showed me the bills in June this year, I submitted accurate meter readings.

It then transpired, after I started reading his backlog of post, that he was in credit to the tune of £8,436.44. I requested, under power of attorney, to transfer £7,000 back to his bank account.

But what I thought was going to be a relatively simple request has turned into a battle. Ovo has been obstructive all the way along, asking for photos of the meters, which I supplied, on four occasions. I suggested they could come and read the meter in person, but they refused.

My brother is now in a psychiatric hospital and the money will soon be needed for his care but I have been treated with a cavalier attitude. Could do anything to help? Mr E, Wales, via email

Grace replies: I was very sorry to hear about the situation you found yourself in with your brother.

Unfortunately, he has suffered from mental health issues for many years and has recently been sectioned.

You say you were unaware of the extent of his health issues and when trying to visit him many times previously, you were turned away.

However, he finally let you in this June, where you discovered your brother was living in a bad state. He is a hoarder and had boxes and newspapers stacked around the home and was also sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

You told me: “It was a pitiful situation and I didn’t realise how bad it had got.”

Many bills were left unopened and unanswered, including his energy bills. As a result, Ovo had been using estimated readings to charge him for years, but these were widely overinflated as your brother used very little electricity.

After investigation, and taking meter readings yourself, you found out from Ovo that your brother was in credit with the company by £8,436.44. This is an astonishing amount of money.

You were soon granted power of attorney and requested £7,000 to be transferred back, leaving £1,000 as a buffer for future bills. You also informed the firm of his mental health difficulties.

You emailed every week and also spoke to customer services on the phone twice but were constantly asked to provide more and more information, which you did.

It asked for proof that you had power of attorney. You provided this but the situation has still not been resolved and your brother has not had the money transferred back into his account with the company still requesting permission from your brother, although he does not have capacity.

It also kept asking for further images of the meters, saying it could not see the serial number clearly.

You told them that the meters are in a very difficult position to get to and read and you have done the best you can. You add Ovo wouldn’t come to read the meters after you asked it to.

It has been a very challenging time for you, dealing with your brother’s declining health and this has been an added burden hanging over you.

You said: “I would like the full amount returned to my brother’s account so I can pay for his care. It’s been months of this back and forth. I understand he has been a difficult customer but I would like this sorted.”

I was saddened to hear the treatment of both you and your brother in what are already incredibly challenging circumstances for two elderly men.

I contacted Ovo to find out why it had not yet returned the money into your brother’s account and when you could expect to have it returned.

It said it had initially not registered the refund as none of the pictures of the meters had the serial number captured which was needed as proof.

Fortunately, after I explained the situation in full, Ovo saw sense and agreed to refund the full £8,437.51 to your brother’s bank account and the money has now been returned.

An Ovo spokesperson said: “After receiving up to date meter photographs we’ve issued the credit refund which will be processed over the next few days. We will also write to Mr E this week to advise adding him to the priority services register to provide further support.”

The supplier added that your brother is currently not on the register, which is a free support service for members in vulnerable situations, and people can only be added if they agree to it.

However, you say you weren’t told about this service so didn’t know you would have to join. Even if your brother was sent a letter about it, he didn’t open his mail so would remain unaware.

While I can understand Ovo’s position that your brother did not submit readings so it had to estimate, it seemed it should have noticed the high credit limit and do more to sort the situation out – especially over the last few months when you have been in touch.

I was happy to hear from Ovo that it has introduced a new process where it will proactively refund credit back to a customer in the summer months if it holds a credit which will not be used towards future consumption.

I’m glad that Ovo has returned the money to your brother’s account which is much needed for his care. But I am sorry that it took so long to sort and that your brother is suffering from continued health issues. I wish you both well for the future.

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