Community centre makes demand for cash refund

A COMMUNITY facility in North Tyneside says its future is in jeopardy amidst claims it was overcharged for electricity by an energy provider.

The Linskill Centre in North Shields says its electricity bills increased fourfold five-years ago, leading to it paying between £60,000 and £80,000 to npower a year.

Simeon Ripley, chief executive of North Tyneside Community Development Trust, which runs the centre, says the bills have crippled its budget.

An energy analyst drafted in from businessgas.com to examine its energy consumption estimated the centre could have overpaid as much as £200,000, he said.

The centre, which caters for around 8,000 people a month, including the elderly and disabled, said it may have to suspend some services if the money is not refunded.

It claims a faulty meter could be the problem and even believes it might have been billed for a site 200 miles away in the Midlands.

npower, however, says that although the centre’s energy consumption dropped after a new meter was installed, the readings from both were correct.

It said the meter was swapped because the back-up battery was faulty, but this would not have influenced readings.

But the centre says its bills dropped by around three-quarters and have stayed at that level ever since the new meter was installed in February this year.

npower then agreed to backdate readings to reflect the reduced consumption to April 18, 2010, as a goodwill gesture, refunding the centre £44,000.

With regards to Linskill’s claims that it was billed for the wrong property, npower admits it made a mistake by sending the consumption data with the wrong meter number to the centre in June this year, but says the centre was never billed based on this.

An npower spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear about the problems that the Linskill Centre is having but we’re confident that both meter and consumption details for the premises are accurate.

“However, we acknowledge we could have been better when it comes to the service the centre has received and we feel the goodwill gesture offered reflects this.”

Mr Ripley, pictured, said: “We were expecting a big, six-figure refund from npower to help secure our future.

“We believe we were due back around £200,000 but we have only received a £44,000 goodwill payment which does not take into account the start date of the problem, which we believe is 2006.

“And the refund from npower could be the difference between the community centre surviving or having to close down services.”

The trust said it is now considering legal action to recover the money it claims it is owed.