A family of four were told they owed nearly £1m to EDF for a year’s electricity and had £80,000 taken by direct debit, despite telling the company it was clearly incorrect.
The payment, which put Richard Baron and his family more than £75,000 over their overdraft limit, was refunded by their bank’s fraud team before any serious damage was done. However, after cancelling their direct debit, they were put on a higher tariff with the energy provider.
“It was quite amusing to begin with, until it actually happened,” said Baron, who lives in Deal, Kent, with his wife and two young children.
He had received an email stating his direct debit payments were going up to £80,124 a month, totalling £961,488 for the year.
“I assumed it was just an error because obviously it’s nothing, by any means, to do with our usage,” he said.
The family’s electric bill usually came to about £150 a month and they were already in credit by £1,000 because EDF had been taking bigger payments than the family’s usage, despite them having a smart meter.
Baron called EDF and was passed to three different departments before a staff member identified what had gone wrong.
“She said it looked to just be a problem with their system and they would rectify it,” he said.
However, a few days later Baron’s EDF app still showed there was an £80,000 payment due so he called again and was assured it would be fixed. It wasn’t.
“My wife got a text message about seven o’clock in the morning saying we had insufficient funds in our household account, but it didn’t say how much it was. I just assumed we’d strayed by about a hundred quid into an overdraft because it was towards the end of the month, when all the direct debits and the mortgage go out.
“But when I looked it was minus £76,000.”
Baron contacted the fraud department of his bank, Lloyds, which was able to refund the money within hours of the payment being taken, meaning none of the family’s other direct debits bounced.
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“But the thing that annoyed me was that I checked my bank account at the beginning of this month just to make sure everything was all lined up, and I saw EDF was proposing to take another £80,000 out of my account on Christmas Day,” said Baron.
He cancelled his direct debit, which was against the terms of the contract, causing the family to lose their fixed-term deal. They were charged £100 a month more than they were previously and did not receive an apology from the company.
When contacted by the Guardian, EDF apologised to the Barons and said the family’s direct debit had been reinstated at the previous level and that a full review would be conducted to ensure the payment error would not happen again.
“We’ve been in touch with Mr Baron to apologise and agreed for EDF to apply a gesture of goodwill to his account and have reinstated the direct debit at his requested level.”