Loophole’ hits landlord as huge bills mount up

A PUB landlord is facing the prospect of paying thousands of pounds extra for his gas bills – because of a 10 minute phone conversation. The Samuel Pepys pub, in Huntingdon High Street, had its gas supplies disconnected last Wednesday following a row wh

A PUB landlord is facing the prospect of paying "thousands of pounds extra" for his gas bills - because of a 10 minute phone conversation.

The Samuel Pepys pub, in Huntingdon High Street, had its gas supplies disconnected last Wednesday following a row which has forced staff at the pub to use barbecues to prepare food.

Pub owner Trevor Fowler, 51, said: "We have been involved in a dispute over bills since last year but we had no idea we were about to be cut off."

The dispute dates back to August 2006 when a staff member answered a phone call from gas company Business Energy Solutions Commercial Gas. The pub employee was offered a "discounted gas supply" and verbally entered into an agreement with the firm.


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The problems began when the first bill arrived two weeks later. The company demanded £800 for a month's gas and offered the chance to set up a direct debit to pay. Mr Fowler said his usual monthly gas bill, with previous suppliers Powergen, was £60-70.

Mr Fowler, who has recently returned from his honeymoon, wrote to BES to try to cancel the contract but was told there was no "cooling off" period for commercial properties.

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"How can someone enter into a binding verbal contract over the phone with no way out? It's a ridiculous loophole," he said.

BES insists that it is the rightful gas supplier to the Samuel Pepys - a view backed up by Powergen and power watchdog Energywatch. Mr Fowler has now had to pay more than £4,000 to BES to turn on the gas supply.

When The Hunts Post tried to reach BES, which does not have a website, the phone was answered by an automated 'out of office' message. On further attempts, an answer was received but the company said no managers were available to speak. The paper was asked to send a letter to an address in Blackpool, marked attention of 'The Manager'.

Paul Savage, business services manager for Energywatch, said: "Unfortunately we are aware of a number of cases involving contracts entered into over the phone, particularly involving small business.

"Unlike domestic properties, commercial businesses can enter into binding contracts with no cooling off period over the telephone.

"We advise anyone who receives a phone call of this nature to ask for the offer to be made in writing, and not to sign up to any agreement until that offer is made.

"We are lobbying Parliament to change the laws but in the meantime we want to make as many people aware of the small but significant number of unscrupulous businesses that are operating without regulation."

Gas supplies were expected to be returned to the Samuel Pepys this week.

INFORMATION: A Make the Connection campaign, jointly run by Energywatch and the Federation of Small Businesses, highlights the rights of small businesses. Visit www.smallbusiness energy. org.uk

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