British Gas U-turn leaves an East Devon wellbeing charity £29,000 out of pocket after the energy giant fails to honour a payment agreement

British Gas has left an East Devon charity out of pocket by £29,000 and is refusing to refund the cash after backtracking on a payment agreement.

Seachange, in Budleigh Salterton, which tackles loneliness in the community and promotes mental health wellbeing through activities, has been forced to set up an online fundraiser appeal to recoup the cash, after British Gas’s actions left the charity to survive with just ‘a few thousand’ in the bank.

British Gas had agreed Seachange could pay off the £29,000 in monthly installments – a backdated sum owed  after the charity was recently handed control of its own utility bills – but instead took the entire amount after giving notice of just a few days.

The gas company’s actions have forced the charity to cancel mental health-boosting community activities because it cannot afford to pay for equipment to host the sessions.

British Gas has refused to rectify its mistake and return the money to the charity.

The company said it had returned £1,763 as a ‘goodwill gesture’ and offset the charity’s VAT against the next bill, which has been left as a credit.

A British Gas spokesperson said: “We spoke to Seachange to confirm that their recent bill related to unpaid energy usage from April 2022.

“We know things are difficult and agreed to add a goodwill credit to the account.

“We have also since received a completed VAT form from SeaChange which has helped us reduce the bill further.”

Seachange was left with the mammoth levy after it was given control of its energy bills in April 2022, instead of paying the costs to the NHS through its rent.

British Gas said it was not told of the change until January 2023, and the electricity bills for the premises had not been paid since April 2022.

The charity was left with £29,000 to pay after learning British Gas had charged the charity higher ‘deemed rates’ for more than nine months because a cheaper fixed tariff had not been arranged.

The gas company said a meter reading in March 2023 showed Seachange owed £23,408, from the period of April 2022 to December 2022.

Marc Jobson, head of Seachange, said British Gas had agreed the charity could clear the £23,408 in monthly instalments, on top of a further £5,000, bill which arrived for an interim period.

The charity had taken control of its electricity bill in a bid to save costs, as previously it was paying for a percentage of the building’s energy use to its landlord.

Mr Jobson said British Gas told him it was not aware of the handover, and the backlog of £23,000 must be paid.

Mr Jobson said: “They said we could set up a payment plan and pay off £4,000 a month.

“I spoke to them on March 27 and the weekend after that they took the whole lot.

“We literally had a few thousand in the bank account. I called them and when I told them what they’d done, they agreed with us; we were right.

They said ‘we said we wouldn’t do it and we have’. I said ‘you can put it back in the bank account and I will have it back by the end of the day’. They told me ‘no, we don’t do that’.

“They said we can make a complaint but they would close it because there’s nothing they can do.”

He said the charity would have paid the monthly charges if British Gas had sent bills. The firm had Seachange’s address to make contact , he said.

“It’s a short-term cashflow issue,” said Mr Jobson. “We have stopped doing a number of things. We had a number of projects we need to purchase items for; we needed gardening tools.

“And there were suppliers that have been understanding. It’s been slightly embarrassing.

“We are over the hump now.  We had to pay it. We had budgeted for it. But we hadn’t budgeted for it to go out in one month, and that rate, so it was about three times what we budgeted for.”

East Devon MP Simon Jupp urged British Gas to make a ‘sizeable’ donation’ to Seachange’s online fundraiser in return for its mistake.

After meeting Mr Jobson and hearing of Seachange’s plight, he said British Gas’s error ‘posed a real challenge’ to the delivery of the charity’s services.

Mr Jupp, who wrote a letter to British Gas, calling on them to reconsider its actions, and rectify its mistake, said: “I am deeply disappointed that British Gas is refusing to return this money to Seachange.

“£29,000 is a drop in the ocean for energy companies but is vital for local charities like Seachange who provide essential support to those most in need.

“This is an opportunity for British Gas to do the right thing, so I urge them to take it.”

East Devon

MP Simon Jupp’s letter to British Gas.

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