It was 5.30pm on a hot July afternoon and the doorbell rang. Through the intercom a voice announced that he was from Group 4 Security (G4S) calling to carry out an essential gas meter safety check on behalf of Scotia Gas Networks (SGN).
Scotia Gas Networks
I had never heard of SGN and was only familiar with G4S in the context of escaping prisoners and the failure to provide security for the Olympic Games. Neither name matched that of my gas supplier and, as I had not received any letter notifying me of the need for a safety check, I refused entry on the assumption this was a scam or potential burglary attempt.
A quick search of the internet revealed that SGN did in fact own pipework in my post code, so I contacted them to ask if they had commissioned G4S to carry out this check. Their reply denied any knowledge of it, so I alerted Sussex Police to my suspicions about this call and they logged it.
A Threatening Letter
I thought nothing more of it until the following November, when I unexpectedly received a letter from G4S claiming they had made multiple attempts to access my property (there is no evidence that this is true) and demanding access sometime between 08:00 and 20:00 later that week. [Quite how they could have checked a gas regulator in the dark is unclear.] Failure to grant access would result in them applying to a magistrates’ court for a warrant to force entry.
Personally, I object to threatening letters, particularly if it is the first letter I receive from a company. So, I emailed the CEOs of G4S Utilities and SGN asking for confirmation that this was a genuine request, otherwise I would report it to the police (again) as suspicious. G4S remained silent but I very promptly heard from SGN apologising for any confusion and confirming that they had in fact asked G4S to carry out an important safety check.
To be fair to SGN, whilst I disagree with their decision not to send out a letter in advance to advise of the required work (which would have avoided the whole problem), they bent over backward to be helpful: they sent one of their own engineers out at a time convenient to me with a spare gas regulator, so that I would not be without heating during November.
I did eventually hear back from G4S too – but only after contacting their CEO three times, so it became clear that I was not going away – and did then get a apology from them.
It Did Not End There
You would think that would be the end of the story but the following March I got a further letter from G4S demanding access. I contacted SGN who confirmed that the job should have been closed off and they would ask G4S to do so. The same thing happened in August and then the following January. At this point I’d had enough, so I contacted G4S (copying SGN) complaining about their behaviour and indicating that if I had any further threatening letters from them I would report them to the police for harassment.
I did in fact contact Sussex police to raise my concerns about the tone and persistence of the letters from G4S and even met with a very helpful policeman to discuss the situation.
In response to my email, SGN intervened to make sure that the job was finally closed off and they even kindly volunteered a goodwill gesture for the inconvenience. But they did better than that: they reviewed their contract with G4S and put procedures in place to stop this happening to other people. These measures included reinforcing with G4S that cards must be left at properties if they call and find nobody home and, more importantly, that G4S now have to check whether SGN has had contact with the homeowner before they can start escalation procedures, e.g. letters threatening court action.
I am delighted with this outcome and must commend SGN for their positive action. I hate the thought of anyone – let alone vulnerable and elderly residents – coming home to a threatening letter like the one I received or, worse, to find that G4S had forced entry without first taking proper steps contact them.