Saturday, 25 April 2009

Natural Gas inflates our bills!

Within days of moving into our flat here in Vigo we heard a knock on the door. There stood a female gas-meter reader, in her Gas Natural uniform and proferring ID. Equal opps in action! Be that as it may, we were glad to see her because in this way we discovered the whereabouts of the gas meter: in a tiny, narrow cupboard in a corner of the kitchen, so squashed in that a mirror is needed to read the meter, oh yes, and the ability to understand back-to-front numbers. We explained that we had just moved in and were a little miffed a couple of weeks later to find that a sum of money had been taken from our bank account to pay that bill but all was well as our landlady refunded it within a couple of days.

A couple of months later, a notice appeared in the foyer of our block of flats requesting those who had Gas Natural to put their meter reading on the attached list so that, in the event of their not being in when the meter-maid came, their gas consumption could be correctly charged. We duly squeezed our mirror into the kitchen cupboard, squinted at the numbers, did the mirror-reading trick and filled in the information. The bill or, rather, the notification of money taken from our bank account arrived a couple of weeks later as on the first occasion. No problem!

Two months further down the line, the same notice appeared in the foyer .... and disappeared without trace before the date indicated and before we had had a chance to write any numbers at all. Then, either the metermaid failed to knock on our door or we were out at the time because when the
factura arrived it was an estimated reading and a good deal more expensive than we expected. This was especially true as we had had three weeks away from the flat spending Christmas and New Year with friends and family in the UK. I made a note of the actual reading, intending to voice my concerns to the Gas Natural company. Somehow, however, life got busy, I kept putting it off and suddenly too much time had gone past. I decided to wait and see; it should all be sorted out in the next reading, although I really would have preferred the money to stay in our bank account.

And so, we come to the present. Two weeks ago, the notice was there once again in the foyer. We quickly filled it in before it could disappear. The last time I saw it, ours was the only reading on it and then it was whisked away. When the bill arrived at the start of this week, I was astounded, annoyed, exasperated to find that once again we had an estimated reading. Once again the amount was ludicrously high. We use gas to heat water in the famous newly installed boiler and to operate the hobtop. How many showers do you need to have and how many pans of food do you need to boil for inordinately long periods of time to create such a bill? A phone call to Gas Natural was needed!

First of all, I read the meter once more: up-to-date information would be provided! Then I dialled the customer service number on their
factura. Before I could get anywhere I had to provide the ID number of the contract holder, not us but the old gentleman next door, grandfather of our absentee, Madrid dwelling landlady. (We only come into the equation when it comes to extracting money from our bank account!) Fortunately the necessary information was also on the factura. So I supplied the required data and was addressed in faster than light Spanish by a harsh-voiced female employee who was clearly repeating a script learnt by heart. Ouch! Having survived that ordeal, I explained the problem and was put on hold while she transferred me to the relevant department. I am pleased to say that this was a free phone call as I really object to paying to listen to piped muzak.

Eventually I was connected to the correct department, gave them the reading, listened to some more free music for a while and was finally informed that, yes, indeed, our meter reading was lower than the estimated reading for the previous bill, let alone the one we had just received. Well, what a surprise! I could have told him that. And so ....? Answer: just over 80 euros will be refunded to our bank account within the week. I shall check this and only then will I jump up and shout, Result!!!

Incidentally, when you call the customer service number for Gas Natural, before you are connected a mechanical voice asks you to press a number on your phone according to where you live: number 1 for Madrid, number 2 for Catalonia and number 3 for .... anywhere else in Spain. It says something about the uptake of
gas de la calle, as the old lady next door described it to me when we viewed the flat. Does everyone else really prefer to struggle upstairs or in and out of lifts with bombonas, the weighty gas canisters which are the alternative? Or is most of Spain waiting for obras to dig up the road and install the pipework?

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