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Energy / Switchover from SSE to OVO causes chaos across Shetland

‘It’s a shambles’ says Bethany Harrison, who had to vacate her property after being left without power for days

Bethany Harrison was left without electricity for days.

DOZENS of Shetlanders have been unable to top up their prepayment meters after electricity accounts moved from SSE to OVO at the beginning of December.

The energy retailer said customers had been sent replacement keys to reprogramme their meters but that appears not to be the case for all customers.

It comes after OVO Energy completed the migration of SSE customers after the supplier bought the domestic arm of the company.

But local MSP Beatrice Wishart has been inundated with calls and messages from constituents to help get people connected after recent issues.

One of the many islanders affected is Bethany Harrison who runs the Love Beauty salon in Brae.

She returned from a trip to New York City with her family at the start of the month to find she only had £12 on her meter. When she tried to top it up, the meter displayed an error message.

“I started turning everything off because my meter had gone down to £4 while I’d been at work, and then the next day it was down to £1.12,” she recalls.

“So, I had to phone them again and keep the phone on all day at work for about five hours. Whenever I got through to someone, they’d tell me I needed to speak to a different department. I ended up speaking to about nine different people because they kept saying nobody could help me.”

After spending hours on the phone to OVO her only option was to go and stay with friends after the electricity stopped working in her property.

Prepayment metres needed to be reprogrammed after customers were moved from SSE to OVO Energy.

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She said: “Finally they said there were no engineers in Shetland, but they’d sent me a new key and it would take three to five working days to get here.

“So, at this point all my heating was off, my hot water’s off, it’s freezing cold outside, and I have a packed fridge and freezer full of food that’s going to go off. And all they could say was that it will be with me by Friday (15 December) at the latest.”

Calum Clark, also based in Brae, has been an electrician for 17 years and said: “I’ve never seen incompetence like this before at this scale. Somebody hasn’t done their due diligence.”

He spent the weekend taking calls and getting messages from people on social media who were also having issues with their prepayment keys and meters after the accounts had migrated on 30 November.

Clark estimates that up to 200 people in Shetland were affected, including his family.

“We first raised it with OVO on Friday 1 December. It was just by chance my wife went to top up the card and it said it hadn’t been registered,” he said.

“She phoned the only number which was given; it went right to a call centre in South Africa. Within about two minutes of speaking to them I realised this was a far bigger problem than we realised.”

They received their key the following Friday, a week after the initial phone call. Luckily, Clark was able to resolve his issue before then and the family weren’t without power for more than a day.

Highlighting the knock-on effect this loss of power could have, Clark added: “I’m genuinely concerned this could kill someone. It could be affecting vulnerable people who don’t understand the ins and outs of it.

“If someone has a cold or flu that could quickly become life or death if they have no electricity or heating.”

His house was without power for 14 hours, during which time the indoor temperature dropped to 12 degrees. He added: “Our house is insulated, and we have draft excluders. But that won’t be the case for everyone.”

He highlighted the concern for people who don’t have heavily insulated homes, and the long-term property damage that could occur from having no heating during the winter months.

Harrison recalled December last year when hundreds of homes in Shetland went without power due to heavy snowfall, and said: “I appreciate things happen, we lost power last year in the snow but that was unavoidable. This was. It’s a shambles.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart.

A spokesperson from OVO said they were sorry to hear some local residents were having issues with the switch over.

“Replacement keys were sent out at the beginning of November which will work at Post Office locations,” she said.

“Customers can contact us to have their old keys reprogrammed so that it works at any outlet, or we can arrange for a replacement OVO key to be sent out immediately.”

OVO also insisted that Harrison’s case was “completely unrelated” to the other prepayment issues people across Shetland have been having, though OVO did not explain how it was different as Harrison’s problems with her prepayment meter were exactly like those of others. The company is now sending an engineer to look at her meter.

Harrison also contacted local MSP Wishart who has been working with constituents to try to get people connected again.

The MSP said: “OVO Energy’s service to customers in Shetland is less than impressive at the best of times, and they have once again failed Shetland customers in terms of ensuring continuity of supply via top up keys.

“OVO told me last week that they had contacted customers in November and issued new keys. I find that hard to accept given the number of people who have been in touch with me. They have told me that they heard nothing from OVO and then suddenly had a problem with topping up their keys.

“OVO has caused considerable and unnecessary distress and anxiety to their customers over this matter, and during cold winter weather, and I will be pursuing this further.”

In the meantime, anyone who is still having difficulties with programming their prepayment meter is asked to contact her at beatrice.wishart.msp@parliament.scot so that she can take their case directly with OVO.

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