I'm not a particularly organised girl. My mum and dad used to go crazy about the cost of all my lost keys when I was growing up. I forget to have the toll ready when I drive over the Cleddau Bridge to work. I leave my phone at home at least once a week and get home to text messages that I'm too late to answer in any useful way. But somehow, miraculously, I have managed over five years without losing my stupid little plastic electric meter key. So I didn't know what to do when I reached for my keys as the credit ran out and the lights went off at my house after work tonight, only to find the damn thing had fallen off somewhere. I hunted through my handbag and the car and didn't find it. Boo. I felt thankful for the luck I had in at least having a functioning fully-charged phone and laptop, and set about finding a number for Swalec to ask them for a replacement key before the end of office hours. Because I've never lost a key before, I didn't know what happens next.
Apparently what happens next is you get shafted by the company who own your meter.
I was given the choice between waiting for a replacement key to arrive in the post, or having one of their engineers come and deliver me one the same day. Evidently, with a six-year-old in the house and a freezer full of food, getting an electricity supply back on would be best not left for three days, so as I said to the lady on the phone, I was faced with no choice really. She chirpily clued me in that there would be a £66 charge for a replacement to be delivered. As if £66 was not very much money for a three inch piece of plastic. Of course, in the greater scheme of things, like for example when weighed against a balance sheet like that of a company their size, £66 really isn't very much money. But for a single mum on a low wage, it's well.. I have £2.50 in my bank account right now. When I told her I wouldn't be able to pay the charge, she maintained her breezy oh-that's-cool tone of voice as she told me that they would generously allow me to spread the cost by applying a charge of £3 per week to my meter (for what would be about five months, I pointed out to her, listening to her count on her fingers so see if I was correct). Er, I already pay over the odds for the electric I need every week, I really can't afford for that cost to go up. "I'm sure you won't really notice the cost;" she blithely continued, "it is added daily not weekly in fact, so you only pay by pennies at a time". Well fuck me, I hadn't thought of it like that. You're only taking about 43p a day from me for the privilege of owning a piece of plastic that entitles me to buy something from you when I need to. That's fair. I get it. That's just like someone taking some of my lunch money for the privilege of not being beaten up.
She attempted to justify the cost. "If you could wait for a replacement key to arrive in the post, that would of course be free. We can get one of our area engineers to come out to you, but they would charge us for booking that appointment". I'm sorry, run that by me again? The Swalec guy, being paid by the hour to drive the Swalec van full of tools and bits to fix your shit, including a box full of meter keys, yes? HE will charge YOU. The Swalec lady on the telephone. OK then. So you both work for the same company, but the charge isn't one from your company to me, but me covering the cost to your department of hiring your company's own engineer. I see. With perfect clarity.
She then offered me the secret difficult-caller third bonus option -- for me to drive to pick up a new key instead. From their centre in Cardiff, a mere 90 miles from where I live.
I give up. An extra £3 a week expense for nothing it is then. "Sod the expense, feed the cat another goldfish" as my mum would say. It's not like I can't afford it, right?
Edited 14/07/10 21.52 to add:
After posting this account of my problem, and contacting Swalec on Twitter, I received a phone call this afternoon during which the following points were raised in reply to the above:
- Although the engineers who deliver replacement meter keys drive Swalec vans, I'm told they work for Western Power Distribution, who charge Swalec £66 for each callout and this was the cost passed on to me.
- Charges for changing from a key to a credit meter are a thing of the past as Swalec reviewed some of their procedures a couple of years ago.
- While they were growing a small amount of social responsibility, they also reviewed tariffs and set the prepayment tariff at somewhere around the median of the rates paid by credit meter customers, with no standing charge.
- In view of the fact I had never lost or damaged my key in five years, £66 seems unnecessarily punitive, so they are going to waive half of the replacement fee.
All in all I'd say if you want to talk to Swalec and get any sense out of them, best thing you can do is skip the callcentre and contact @YourSWALEC on Twitter. Thanks guys.