A Leeds-based firm of solicitors that has been acting on behalf of a debt company has caused an outcry after sending out letters claiming that the recipients had outstanding debts to the energy supplier E.ON.
Numerous recipients have contacted us, and, since last weekend, the Trustpilot page of BW Legal has been inundated with people reporting they have received requests for unpaid energy bills for properties they say they weren’t living in at the time. Some said they had never had an E.ON account.
Observer Cash understands the mailout featured three separate letters. One, headed E.ON, says that the recipient owes the debt for an unpaid gas and electricity bill.
A second letter says the debt has been bought by Barnsley-based PRAC Financial, and the third that PRAC is represented by BW Legal.
In one, seen by the Observer, the recipient is told by E.ON: “We have not been made aware of any valid reason why the balance has not been paid” and later warned that an account “may be generated” at a credit reference agency and the outstanding balance recorded on it.
The second letter from PRAC adds: “We therefore strongly urge you to take this opportunity to speak with BW Legal about how they can assist you in managing repayment of your outstanding liability.”
Rafael Heeb, a PhD student from Bristol, is one of those sent a letter. It stated that there was a balance due of £198, which would be reduced to £49 if he accepted a “pre-approved 75% discount”.
Having spent hours on the phone to E.ON, he says he was told that the “debt” had been sold by E.ON to PRAC. However, the energy firm told him that it had been registered to the “occupier” of another flat in the same building as his.
“I am not sure how BW Legal and PRAC managed to link my name with this account,” he says. “I have been told they have my personal details from the credit referencing agency TransUnion – yet looking at my TransUnion search history no such search from a company associated with the two companies in question can be found.”
He adds: “I need to prove to them that I am not liable for this bill. But why should I? I happen to be an E.ON customer, my bills are up to date and my account in credit. This has caused me a huge amount of distress .”
Other people sent the letters have reported the same experience, with some claiming the bills referred to addresses they had once lived in, but had left with no debts.
The Trustpilot reviews suggest many are furious to have been contacted.
Observer reader Simon Jones says he had received the same letter regarding a property he used to rent. “The period of the debt is after we moved out, the account number isn’t mine, and I can only assume BW and PRAC have linked me to my current address.”
“The letters refer to credit reports etc,” he adds. “I’ve had no contact from E.ON in the preceding five and a half years since we left the property – we settled the account at the time and my credit report shows the account to be satisfied.”
BW calls itself the UK’s largest independent law firm specialising in debt recovery services, and has built a multi-million-pound business, employing 250 people.
In a statement BW Legal questioned the credibility of the reviews published on Trustpilot.
It said in a statement: “Prior to writing to customers, our client (PRAC) has made enquiries with bureaus to trace (and verify) the occupants that were resident at the supply addresses at the time the energy was supplied.
“If the customers did not reside at the property between the periods specified, they simply need to contact us and we will resolve this with them. The matter would be closed and that customer will no longer be contacted in relation to the debt.”
E.ON says: “Following our own extensive attempts to collect the debt we were owed, we have passed on the debt owed to a third party, in this case BW Legal.
“We have legitimately passed BW Legal the relevant property details and they have undertaken their own checks to identify people who they believe owe the debt.
“However, anyone who believes they have been contacted in error and does not owe the debt should contact BW Legal, so that they can remove their details from the debt.”
Some recipients of the letters have said they plan to report the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office, believing that their data has been misused. Others say they plan to contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
BW Legal says customers are entitled to contact regulatory bodies as they wish. It adds: “We are not disregarding any enquiries from customers, rather, we are proactively working with them to reach amicable solutions.”