The chair of the Office of Fair Trading today told Tynwald he would be prepared to take tougher action against Isle of Man Energy over a problem with issuing bills.
Isle of Man Energy (formerly Manx Gas) has been issuing incorrect bills and has received a number of complaints from customers.
The OFT has been working with the company and the Communications Regulatory Authority (CURA) to resolve these issues.
‘Isle of Man Energy explained that while the billing issues had essentially been resolved, there is a backlog of complaints that needs to be cleared,’ he said.
‘Isle of Man Energy affirmed that the problem would be resolved in a timely manner.
‘The OFT has made it clear to Isle of Man Energy that enforcement action will follow if this is not the case.’
Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse asked how quickly action could be taken and suggested that there could be an issue with trust following on from months of incorrect bills.
‘You can certainly trust the OFT. There’s no doubt you can,’ the chair said.
‘I will be relentless when it comes to this issue. We will get this done.
‘I know that people are in pain today, I know their bills are wrong, but unfortunately the process of getting that put right is a process.
‘It’s not a quick fix but it will be fixed.’
When asked how sanctions would work, he replied: ‘It’s done through part one of the 1996 Fair Trade Act which this court passed back in 1996, so I admit it’s well out of date but the sanctions are in line with the act.
‘If the problem is still persisting we take it further and issue a court order and maybe a fine.’
The comments made by the chair about legislation and sanctions being ‘out of date’ was queried by a members, to which Mr Wannenburgh replied that this was being looked at.
A number of Tynwald members stated they had been receiving complaints due to the problem, with Douglas North MHK David Ashford saying that the current situation is ‘completely unacceptable’.
He added: ‘It’s caused a great amount of anxiety, distress and financial difficulties.’
Mr Wannenburgh said: ‘I agree that the situation is completely unacceptable.
‘Despite being afforded the opportunity to rectify the matter, Isle of Man Energy has apparently not done so and that is why we are escalating.
‘My perspective on this company is very well known and I think the current situation is intolerable. I, too, have been contacted by my constituents.
‘The OFT will ensure this is prioritised and we will enforce as far as we can.
‘We will ensure that this matter is resolved and if that’s going to be painful for the company then that’s what it’s going to be.’
Michelle Haywood (Rushen) said it was suggested on social media that there had been over 5,000 billing problems awaiting resolution, which the chair couldn’t confirm.
She asked if the OFT has enough resources to cope with ‘the level of service failure for what is a monopoly supplier causing an unacceptable level of distress’.
Mr Wannenburgh said: ‘The OFT certainly does have. It is questionable as to whether the company has the resources.’
Mr Moorhouse also wanted to know how many meetings the OFT had arranged with the company before its meeting on Monday this week.
Mr Wannenburgh said there had been none with himself included but officers had been in regular contact as the problem is well known by all gas consumers.
The issue was raised on the front page of the Isle of Man Examiner on November 1.