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Stupid utilities: National Grid

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My wife just berated me for not paying the electricity bill: Evidence of which was a call from a company asking to talk to me about the electricity bill. So I check the online payment and find they were paid. It turns out that the call about my bill was not about arrears at all, it was a company cold calling to ask me to 'switch' to them as a supplier.

Now there are many reasons why I would not switch to the company in question, not least the fact that I never ever do business with companies that use a robot dialer to cold call me. It may be the same company that has been sending people door to door to ask if they can see people's electricity bills so that they can demonstrate the savings they offer. That might be the reason they are asking or it might be (as my neighbors report) because they want to see the account number needed to authorize a switch.

I am not going to switch to that particular company but I must admit to being tempted to switch because National Grid won't let me pay electronically. Or to be exact, they will let me pay electronically if I give them the ability to deduct arbitrary amounts from my bank account on the day of their choosing. What they refuse to do is to co-operate with the automatic payment scheme offered by my bank, a scheme that gives me control.

Even though the bank I use is small, the Web bill payment system they offer is run by a division of Quicken. It is one of the largest payment processing houses in the business. National Grid refuse to work with them because they want to try to force me to use their system to make electronic payments. All that National Grid need do is to send the electricity bill to the payment center where it will be scanned and entered into the payment system. The gas division of National Grid does this but the electricity division ignores the requests.

Of course there are much better ways of doing electronic payments than sending paper bills to a payment center that mails out checks. But National Grid does not seem interested in supporting those either. This might because their antiquated billing system would be costly to modify to produce anything other than paper mails or it might be because the management of an old style utility have never had to consider customer service in the past.

Now of course they will and it is going to be very interesting to see the results.

Update: Yes, I know I can send a check using the Internet, that is exactly what I want to do. The problem is that National Grid will only mail the invoice to my home address where it gets lost in the junk mail. All my other bills go to Quicken where they are processed automatically.

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