Energy giant probe into ‘aggressive’ debt collection tactics

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aggressive debt collection

An inside whistleblower who contracts to energy giant Scottish Power has claimed Call Agents are being told to threaten customers with Debt Collection enforcement.

The man is purported to be an employee from a company that Scottish Power outsources call handling to on the west coast of Scotland. It is said the call centre deals with queries regarding outstanding balances.

Scottish Power has ordered an internal investigation following concerns being raised by the BBC. The employee who wanted to stay anonymous states it is clear to see when errors have been made on accounts.

The whistleblower said “It may be a wrong meter reading, they’ve not been billed correctly, they might not be responsible for it, or they’re not a Scottish Power customer. However, until that’s dealt with then it’s going to stand, we’re going pursue them for that debt.

“We tell them if they cannot pay that balance in full today, or make a part payment, then I need to advise them that that can involve litigation, third party involvement, extra charges being applied, impact on credit reference or worst case scenario, we can enforce a prepayment meter in your property. Even if it’s not your debt.”

Mental health strain

The Scottish call centre whistle-blower said the debt collection tactics he has been asked to implement have taken a negative toll on his mental health.

He said: “We’ve all raised concerns about it. I’ve had people screaming, crying, threatening to kill themselves on the phone.

“It does have a toll on you, yeah, definitely. Just as a normal human being because you’ve got morals, you’ve got principles.”

A Scottish Power spokeswoman said: “Like many businesses, we outsource the services provided by collection agencies to follow-up on outstanding customer accounts as required, and the agents are not employed by Scottish Power directly.

“We require all third-party business partner interactions to be conducted in line with industry requirements and best practice – and the claims made in no way reflect the service we expect to be delivered.

“We take these allegations seriously and will follow-up with the partner company concerned.”

In 2016, the firm was fined £18m by the regulator Ofgem over poorly-handled customer complaints.

On Friday it also emerged that Edinburgh woman Lizzy Wilson, who had never been a customer of Scottish Power, had been pursued for a debt of more than £1,000.

Scottish Power said it had now stopped any further bills and debt collection action to Ms Wilson while it investigates the issue and apologised for any inconvenience caused.

Citizens Advice Scotland said threats of debt collection happened quite often, but were an ‘outdated’ practice within the energy sector.

Spokesman from Citizen Advice Jemiel Benison said “These are tactics that are, or should be, way in the past. That’s not the way that industry tends to work. They are heavily regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

“This is an anomaly and it is extremely heavy-handed.”

He said that anyone with a problem with these debt collections strategies like this should get in touch with their nearest Citizens Advice branch for support.

 

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