Moving to a new place brings along with it some complications and frustrations. No one enjoys the act of moving. Packing up and then unpacking is never fun. Once unpacked, you inevitably have to deal with utilities – calling up cable, gas, electric and water companies. At least the process is not usually complicated. Make a quick phone call to the provider, give them your name and information and you’re done. Thirty days later a bill arrives.As you likely expect from the title of this post, the process did not go so smoothly here in the UK.

The UK is not known for customer service, and Brits will be the first people to tell you that. The most obvious example of how customer service falls short here is the toll free phone number. In the US, every company has a toll free 1-800 number to call. No charge, even if you are one of the twelve homes left with a landline. Here, it’s the opposite. Many companies (including all utilities) charge YOU to call customer service. Even on a mobile phone. I have a pay-as-you-go plan, costing £15 per month with 300 minutes. If I try to call any customer service line, an automated message chimes in, saying I need to add money to my account to complete the call.  If you had a standard contract-based cell phone plan, a charge would be added to your monthly bill.

Unfortunately, it does not get any easier once you get through to the company. Ridiculous queues and uninformed staff prevail. When we talked to someone who lives here about this, she said that if she calls customer service and gets an answer she does not like, she simply hangs up and calls back, and most likely we get a different answer the second time. Crazy.

We had issues with basically all of our utilities thanks to the inefficiencies that seem to be baked into the system. The king of issues though was with British Gas. I called to set up our account as instructed, waiting in the phone queue for 45 minutes. Eventually I got through and provided my information. The woman from British Gas then asked for my gas and electric meter reading (British Gas does both). Having never read a meter, I asked where they are located. “Sometimes in the basement, or maybe near the kitchen. They could also be outside as well.” Thanks for narrowing that down for me. I found the electric meter near our front door and gave the reading. I then searched outside for the gas meter and eventually found it by the door to the basement apartment in our building. There were two boxes, both with latches requiring a screwdriver to open. As we had just moved and our boxes had yet to arrive, I had to make due with my fingernail. I was only able to open one of the boxes. I read the serial number to the woman, who said that that box belonged to the other apartment, so the box I could not open was ours. She inputted an estimated meter reading and informed me to call back with the current meter reading once the box was opened.

In the following week I was able to provide the meter reading, opening the other meter box outside of our flat, but received an email a week later, saying that my reading was lower than the last meter reading from the previous tenant. They asked for a new gas meter reading, and then instructed me to wait seven days, following with another submission so they could estimate the bill. I did just that, giving them the two gas meter readings. Two weeks later I received another email, again asking for a meter reading. I provided yet another meter reading. One week later, another email arrives, saying my meter readings were too low.

I decided to call the company to speak to someone, again waiting 45 minutes in the queue. I explained my situation to the woman, who told me that she only saw the initial estimated reading on the account. I asked where the THREE meter readings went, to which she replied, “I do not know.” I gave the woman another meter reading while on the phone. After another week, sitting in my inbox was an email asking for a new meter reading and that my meter reading was too low. If you’re keeping track, we had now provided four separate readings with no resolution.

I swallowed my anger and frustration and decided to email the company instead of waste another hour on the phone. I used their “email inquiry” portion of the website. I detailed my problems and hit send. I received an automated reply, thanking me for my inquiry and that I would receive a response in 5-10 business days! WTF?! Who has an issue with utilities that can wait two weeks? It should be noted that during this saga, I had not received a bill for gas or electricity. I was calling the company, practically bagging to pay a bill. How often does that happen? This process started on September 24th and at that point in mid-November, no bill yet.

After quite a few angry emails, one person from the company asked what the serial number was on the box. I went outside and emailed him the number. He emailed back (about a week later) that the number I provided did not match my flat number. I suddenly realised the source of the issue. I went outside and opened the other box, the one I was told by customer service was for the other flat. I emailed the serial number of that box and finally, a resolution. The box I had taken six readings from was for the other flat, which is why the numbers did not match. The woman from my first phone call had the wrong serial number. Sweet baby Jesus.

Eventually, around December 10th, we received our first bill, which of course was for three months of utilities. Even though my electric readings were never an issue, they waited to resolve the gas meter issue before issuing both the gas and electric bills. Thanks British Gas.

I will not even begin to dip my toe in the issue pool that was our cable installation. Or our water company. Tales for a different day. Just remember the next time you are cursing Time Warner Cable or your local power company for being incompetent, just think, at least they’re not British.

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