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‘£117,000 electricity bill ruined our lives’ say Norfolk mother and son

PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 September 2012 | UPDATED: 17:18 21 September 2012

Audrey and Christopher Buxton, have just settled out of court with Npower over a a unpaid electricity bill. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Audrey and Christopher Buxton, have just settled out of court with Npower over a a unpaid electricity bill. Picture; Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2012

A mother and son have spoken of their three-year nightmare over being landed with an electricity bill for almost £120,000 which came about due to a mistake from the electricity suppliers.

npower was to take Christopher Buxton, 34, his mother Audrey Buxton, 65, and their landlord to court over the bill from the time they were running Lakeside Country Club in Lyng, near Dereham.

But a last-minute settlement was agreed outside the doors of Norwich County Court last Wednesday.

npower attempted to get a confidentiality agreement which would prevent the Buxtons from talking to the media about the case, but this was only mentioned after the deal had been signed and the Buxtons refused.

This week they have spoken exclusively to the EDP of their anger and how their lives have been turned upside down.

The Buxtons are seeking legal advice and considering their own claim for compensation from npower who they say has destroyed their lives.

The enormous bill came after the company discovered the meter readings had been wrong and, for almost four years, the company had only charged one tenth of what it should have.

The readings should have effectively had an additional zero to the total figure.

Mr Buxton and his mother, who live in Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, leased the country club from August 2005 until October 2009 and they walked away because of the situation with npower. The Buxtons were claimed to owe £83,000 of the £117,939 bill.

The out-of-court settlement reached was for the Buxtons to pay npower £5,000 plus £5,000 costs. On top of this the Buxtons paid £18,500 on their own legal fees.

A separate, undisclosed, settlement was reached between npower and the landlord.

Mr Buxton said: “For the last three years I don’t think there has been a single day where I have not had a conversation about this electricity bill. It has taken over our lives and caused a huge amount of stress.

“It is completely unfair that electricity companies are allowed to back bill for huge amounts of money and put us through this nightmare because of their own negligence. You could understand the odd bill being wrong, but they got it wrong for four years and expected us to pay for their mistakes.

“npower makes many millions of pound profit every year. It was their error so they should have written it off.”

Mrs Buxton said she has been taking medication for her nerves as a result of the stress caused by npower. She has sold property in Great Yarmouth and personal possessions to pay off npower and their own legal fees and support herself and her son who have not worked since they walked away from the country club three years ago.

She said: “npower has ruined our lives and for what? The amount we paid them would have amounted to what we would have paid them in electricity at the rate we had been paying them in the first place.”

A spokesman for npower said: “The customers had been paying around £200 to £400 per month for their energy which was very low indeed for what they were actually supplying - leisure facilities, accommodation, a heated swimming pool - and they never queried this.

“We have now settled this with a full and final offer of £10,000 which the Buxtons will pay, with a £5,000 down payment by September 30 and the other £5,000 split across 18 months.”

The spokesman added: “In terms of back billing, from April this year npower began operating under voluntary industry standards for the back billing of micro businesses. As well as providing customers with the reassurance that their circumstances will be taken into account, where we are at fault, we will limit any back billing period to a maximum of three years. Whilst this case pre-dates the back billing standards, it is pleasing to note that a substantial discount has been agreed for the Buxtons.”

Mr Buxton said he did not believe there was any reason to question why the electricity bills were low. This was the first time the Buxtons had run a country club but Mr Buxton had experience of running pubs.

Mr Buxton and his mother took over the lease of Lakeside Country Club in August 2005. It was in 2007 that they first became aware there was a problem.

In September 2009 npower took the Buxtons to court in an attempt to cut the electricity off over the outstanding bill. They failed because the landlord, not the Buxtons, was the named account holder.

But it was at this point that the Buxtons first realised the size of the bill and that they were fully implicated in the dispute.

The Buxtons terminated their lease at the country club in October 2009.

Mr Buxton said: “I had to walk away from what had been a profitable business and what I had planned to run for many years. If I’d known the size of the electricity bills I never would have taken the place on.

“I have only ever worked for myself. I have no qualifications and no spare money to set up a new business, so have not worked for the last three years.”

Mr Buxton and his mother are now trying to rebuild their lives. They are using Mrs Buxton’s life savings to try to set up a fish and chip shop and a bed and breakfast in Great Ryburgh.

Lakeside Country Club is open today under different management.

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