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The boss of British Gas has been urged to get personally involved to help resolve a long-running issue that has seen St Mary’s Church in Arisaig constantly being confused with another property in the village when it comes to utility bills.
At the start of last year, the Lochaber Times reported on how parish priest, Father Stan Pamula was at his wits’ end trying to get Scottish Water to alter its records as there had been confusion over water supply point registration numbers that had led to the church being billed for the water being used by a local restaurant.
Now it seems history is repeating itself, except this time it involves an electricity supply from energy utility British Gas Lite – a division of British Gas dealing with small businesses.
Father Stan has complained to British Gas Lite about what he claims was ‘harassing calls’ over the smart meter mix up with the nearby Old Library Lodge and Restaurant which he says was supposed to have been resolved by British Gas Lite in 2019 following a decision by the Ombudsman.
‘I am still receiving calls in regard to the property I have nothing to do with, I am still being harassed and stressed out by this situation, which I raised over the period of four years,’ Father Stan told British Gas Lite earlier this month.
‘I hereby ask you to reopen the case, reinvestigate. Provide a written apology, provide compensation of minimum £150 – last decision from the Ombudsman applied this penalty and considering that we are finding ourselves two years later with a proof that British Gas has not followed through, I find it appropriate for the compensation to be even greater,’ he added.
On Friday of last week, British Gas Lite smart meter support specialist Nausad Narma told Father Stan the matter was being investigated further and there would need to be a site visit to the church.
However, Father Stan was less than impressed, replying: ‘Please forgive me, but after four years of problems, harassments, where I have been called an obstructionist, incomer, been threatened with legal actions, being reported for denying entry, etc. I simply find it hard to believe you.
‘I am a Catholic priest, and foremost I am doing my best to listen to others and above everything else, believe that they are truthful and honest. I think that this is where the problem lies with your company Rather than believing the living being, be it your customer or anyone else, you choose to stick to the computer screen that tells you otherwise, even when it is incorrect.
‘We would have never found ourselves in this position if you simply followed through on the information I provided to your company.’
And Father Stan told the Lochaber Times: ‘It is ridiculous, what am I meant to do now? Take a restraining order out against British Gas to stop them harassing me over this?’
Caol and Mallaig local councillor Allan Henderson revealed to the Lochaber Times he has now written to British Gas managing director Matthew Bateman in an effort to get the matter cleared up as soon as possible.
And he told British Gas Lite: ‘How is it that large companies find it difficult to apologise for mistakes, but instead compounds them over a period of time.
‘I have no idea what is behind this mistake but clearly a large company such as British Gas should be able to solve this by visiting the property that the smart meter belongs to, and that is not the church.
‘Clearly a church and the Old Library – I presume restaurant – are two separate buildings at least half-a-mile apart with only one thing in common – they are both in Arisaig village.
‘When a village priest feels harassed and stressed then you have a serious problem and need to act immediately, not just with a straightforward apology, but the agreed recompense for the distress caused.
‘Think about the consequences if this was a vulnerable person that you were harassing. The apology, response and action to be taken should be today and not left to rumble on.’
British Gas was asked for an update on the situation but had not been able to issue a statement by the time the Lochaber Times went to press this week.