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'Distressed' pensioner, 85, handed £23,000 bill by British Gas

Charlie Walton, 85, who lives on his own in Pegswood, Northumberland, was sent a quarterly bill demanding he pay £22,897.48.

Pensioner Charlie Walton received a bill for nearly £23.000 from British Gas. (Reach)
Pensioner Charlie Walton received an electricity bill for nearly £23.000 from British Gas. (Reach)

An elderly widower says he was left in “shock” after British Gas sent him an energy bill for just under £23,000.

Charlie Walton, 85, lives on his own in a small house in Pegswood, Northumberland, and spends half of the year in Spain. But the dad-of-two was sent an electricity bill that demanded he pay a total of £22,897.48 for his latest quarterly bill.

He received the bill, which was dated between 27 June 2020 and 12 January 2024, on Saturday, 20 January was told by British Gas that he had less than a week to pay it. Walton had paid all of his quarterly bills and the last one, issued on 13 November last year, said he was £45.52 in credit.

The electricity bill was dated from 27 June 2020 to 22 November 2023 and had to be paid less than a week after being received. (Reach)
The electricity bill was dated from 27 June 2020 to 22 November 2023 and had to be paid less than a week after being received. (Reach)

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The retired firefighter said: "I couldn't believe it. It was a massive shock. I'm on my own now, my wife died, and it's just a small house. It's just incredible that I've got a bill of that size… Unfortunately it came on Saturday and I couldn't get in touch with anybody. All I could do was speak to these machines and they couldn't answer anything. I had to wait until Monday.”

Charlie Walton lives alone in a small property in Pegswood, Northumberland. (Reach)
Charlie Walton lives alone in a small property in Pegswood, Northumberland. (Reach)

Walton admits that he is “absolutely hopeless” on the phone and online and had to get son-in-law Chris Berriman, 65, to help contact British Gas to sort out the issue. However, the pair say they had not heard anything back and are concerned, following the Post Office scandal, that this could be happening to other British Gas customers.

More North East stories - click above
More North East stories - click above

Berriman, who lives in Felton, Northumberland, said: "Charlie has a home in Spain so he spends six months of the year abroad and he turns everything off when he leaves. He was very upset and he was worried about his credit rating as the bill had to be paid in a week. When he got the bill through it was from 2020 to the present day. But he's been paying direct debits since 2020."

‘Glitch in the system’

The retired company director said British Gas told them on the phone that his father-in-law had been switched to a new banking department. He added: "The lady tried to explain that there must be a glitch in the system. She said that they had suspended that bill while they looked into it. Nobody has been in touch yet.”

A spokesperson for British Gas said the bill had been sent to the wrong address. They added: "We’re sorry for any upset that this has caused. The bill does not relate to Mr Walton’s energy supply and we’re following up with the housing developer to identify the correct address. We’ll be reaching out to Mr Walton to apologise for not resolving this sooner and reassure him that he will no longer receive these bills."

Charlie Walton was told by British Gas that he had less than a week to pay the bill. (Reach)
Charlie Walton was told by British Gas that he had less than a week to pay the bill. (Reach)

What to do if your gas/electric bill is too high

Receiving an energy bill during the cost of living crisis can be worrying but if it is higher than you think it should be, it can be particularly concerning. If you feel your gas or electric bill is higher than it should be, there are several steps you can take to deal with the issue.

A higher bill may simply be because you have either used more energy, have faulty equipment or the price of electricity or gas has gone up. But in other cases it may simply be an error on the part of the energy provider and they have overcharged you.

If you think you have been charged too much, you should first check to see if your bill has been estimated – if the bill says this then take a meter reading and send it to your energy provider as soon as possible to get an accurate bill, based on the energy you have actually used since the last payment. Your supplier should then send you an updated, accurate bill.

File photo dated 08/02/07 of a gas hob with a bill from British Gas. British Gas services are to be integrated into Samsung's SmartThings app as part of a new scheme between the two companies to boost consumer energy saving. Issue date: Wednesday January 24, 2024.
You should check your meters to make sure energy companies have precise readings. (PA)

If you have a smart meter and your bill says it is estimated, it is likely that it is not sending automatic readings to the supplier. If the meter is not working in ‘smart mode’, then send your supplier the actual meter readings.

You should also check the dates on the bill to make sure it is only for the period since the last payment. If a bill is for energy used more than 12 months ago, they cannot usually charge you for the energy used before that.

You should also check whether your prices have gone up by comparing recent bills. If you are not sure, contact them and ask.

The bill may also be for the wrong or faulty meter. Contact a professional to check the meters if you are unsure how to check if they are faulty yourself.

If all these reasons have been checked and you still think your bill is too high, you should contact your supplier and tell them why you think you’ve been overcharged, giving them as much information as possible, including photos of meter readings. Make sure to keep copies of their replies and if the issue is not rectified, then contact the Energy Ombudsman to make a complaint.