‘British Gas broke into my home – and I'm not even a customer’

Energy firms are getting more aggressive collecting arrears, experts warn

British Gas debt collectors broke into a couple’s home – despite the fact they were not customers and had not used gas for years.

The traumatic event is part of a surge in utility firms turning to debt collectors after energy bills more than doubled in the past year.

Dox Doherty, 38, said he and his wife Emma, 44, did not have an account with British Gas. However, three men – two third party debt collectors and one British Gas representative – picked the lock of the home and tried to change the meter.

The trio had in fact been dispatched to the neighbouring flat. A spokesman said they had broken into Mr Doherty’s property by mistake.

British Gas said it had sent frequent reminders to settle a bill to a neighbouring flat. On May 30, the provider obtained a warrant to enter the flat to change the meter, erroneously registered to the couple’s address.

Mr Doherty said the incident has left them feeling anxious – and they have been placed on anti-anxiety medication to help them sleep. “We’re still not sleeping well,” he added. “British Gas isn’t helping much with the situation. You’d expect a company as big that big to be better. It didn’t do any welfare checks beforehand to see if we were elderly or vulnerable,” he said.

“We just want security now. We want new doors and it should pay for that – it's the one that put us in this position.”

Energy firms have increased the number of debt collectors sent out to harass struggling families as rising bills push an increasing number into arrears.

Citizens Advice, a charity, has previously warned the number of people being contacted by debt collectors on behalf of energy suppliers had increased by a third since last year.

More than 26,000 people contacted the charity this year. Complaints included harassment by debt collectors, court claim and enforcement issues and prepayment meters fitted to pay off arrears.

Martyn James, of complaints forum Resolver, said his firm had also received several complaints of mistaken identity break-ins this year. He said it wasn’t reasonable or necessary to secure warrants and enter homes.

He added: “How does this really help people in financial difficulty? They break into their homes and take away their heating. British Gas should take people to court if they feel that strongly about it.”

A British Gas spokesman said it had apologised for the error and offered compensation. However, Mr Doherty said the couple were offered £100 which “isn’t even one month’s worth of energy”.

Mr James called the compensation “outrageous”. He said: “It should reflect the damage to the property and the psychological damage to the victims. The police pay reparations if they raid the wrong house. It’s totally unacceptable.

A British Gas spokesman said: “We’ve spoken to Mrs Doherty to tell her we are very sorry for what has happened. There was an address mix-up of the flats and this led to a visit that was meant for another household. We’ve amended our records to ensure this doesn’t happen again and will be offering them compensation for the distress this has caused.”