Southern Electric meter change

'Too dangerous' for Southern Electric or EDF to fix their own equipment in my house

This is the astonishing story of how, thanks to the disconnected way our utilities have been privatised, a woman expecting a baby in 7 days time has been left in a house with no electricity for two nights. At first neither EDF or Southern Electricity could agree on whose responsibility it was to look at the problem, and then, when one of them did finally take the job on, they decided it was 'too dangerous' to send an engineer to fix it.

Late on Wednesday night the power in our new house failed, and I assumed that I had blown a fuse, as it died when I plugged my laptop into a wall socket. Thursday morning we tried to replace the fuse, but to no avail. I then tried to establish whether in fact the problem was that our supply had been cut.

The meter had an EDF logo on it, and so I called their emergency line. They said that Southern were the suppliers, so I phoned their emergency line. After taking my details, I explained the situation, and they assured me that the supply to the house was still on, and we sorted out my account details with them.

Now we knew the problem was more serious than a fuse, my wife then got an electrician in, who was horrified to discover that the meter had been tampered with by the previous owners, and that there were exposed connections to the incoming mains supply in the cupboard under our stairs. He thought it was a miracle that in our attempts to change the fuse and rectify the problem so far neither of us had been electrocuted.

He phoned to get permission to break the seal on the meter to render it safe but he was not given permission to do so. Southern's emergency hotline operators insisted that the problem was EDF's responsibility, but when my wife phoned EDF's emergency hotline, they insisted that Southern needed to attend to it. Eventually, someone at Southern told her that they had contacted EDF, and arranged that EDF would be sending out an engineer. Well, that is what they told her.

No engineer appeared.

Further calls from her to EDF were met with the 'it is nothing to do with us' line, whilst a call to Southern again got the response 'yes, we've arranged this with EDF and they are sending an engineer'.

Still nobody came.

When I got home at 7pm I phoned Southern to get a status update, and the operator said it was nothing to do with them, we couldn't possibly have been using their emergency number to deal with this problem, and that we had to contact EDF. I explained the whole situation, and that Southern Electric had been dealing with the issue all day, but she still insisted it was nothing to do with them. After 15 minutes on the phone, she finally agreed to speak to her supervisor and call me back.

Whilst I was waiting for that to happen, I tried phoning EDF's emergency line again. They said they had no record of any engineering job at our address, and the phone operator insisted that because the meter had been tampered with, it was the revenue protection team at Southern who needed to visit first. He said he'd call them personally, and then phone me back. He was good on his word, and said that Southern would now call me to progress things.

When they did call, they started by trying to talk to me as if I was a customer who had been cut off because I was in debt. I explained that this wasn't the issue, and began telling the whole saga again. This operator informed me that there was no record on their system of us having any conversations with Southern at all that day about the problem.

Sitting in the twilight gloom as I was, you can see how my patience with this infinite loop might begin to wear thin...

There was finally a breakthrough of sorts, because at least in this call Southern finally accepted that they needed to send someone - and didn't just tell me to call EDF again. However, after being put on hold for five minutes, I was told that no engineer was willing to come because it was 'too dangerous' and the department she needed to talk to about it was closed for the night.

The best I was able to wrangle out of her was that they would personally 'take ownership of the issue' and would call the relevant department which she 'believed' opened at 9am. I asked for a direct number for that department but was told there wasn't one. I asked for the operator's full name so I could speak to her again in the morning, but I was only given a first name and told 'I don't have to give out my name'.

There is no point taking personal issue with the people I spoke to, but as I said to the final person I spoke to on the phone, let us be clear here about the situation. What you are saying as a company is that my wife, who is expecting a baby in seven days, has to spend a second night in a house that you supply the electricity for, with no electricity, because there is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation with your electricity meter equipment, and you are not prepared to send an engineer out because it is 'too dangerous' and 'out of hours'.

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