A school has been hit with an energy bill of more than £20,000 after a meter 'under-recorded' monthly usage.

Staff at Bury and Whitefield Jewish Primary have been left reeling after being told about the huge invoice by Npower.

The school says it was told a meter had been recording monthly usage incorrectly.

The meter was 'inherited' when Npower took over the school's energy supply in 2003, according to the company. The school was visited by meter reader staff for years without any problems.

In 2018, the meter was replaced with a new advanced automated meter reading (AMR) meter as part of a government rollout, the company said.

At that point, Npower says 'a significant increase in energy consumption was recorded'.

School staff say they weren't aware of an issue until they received a bill that seemed usually high.

Claire Simon

Bury council asked Npower to carry out a review of bills in December 2019. The town hall is responsible for the contract, but the school pays its own bills from its allocated budget.

In April this year, Npower's findings were submitted to the council. The company said the old, 'traditional' meter had been under-recording the school's energy consumption.

Npower says it had been 'receiving regular meter reads' that 'appeared to be an accurate representation of the energy used' and that 'there was no reason to doubt the data'.

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The school has been fighting the bill ever since. Head Claire Simon says she simply doesn't have £20,402 in the pot.

"We got a reading that we thought was quite high," she said.

"We queried it and that triggered Npower to look at past bills.

"Npower say they gave us readings that were under what we should have had. In May, they notified us that we owed all this money and we have been fighting it ever since.

"Npower should have done their due diligence, the meter is not our concern. They took the readings from it and no one ever alerted me that our bills were very low, our meter was wrong. It was just out of the blue that we got this."

The school has been to the local ombudsman, which said there could potentially be a case, but it could not be taken up by the body as the school does not qualify for help as a 'micro-business'.

In documents seen by the Manchester Evening News , Npower is now asking, through Bury council, that the school set up a plan to start paying the money.

Mrs Simon added: "It's just daft. Now they're saying we owe all this money.

"We can't afford it. We have been so careful because we haven't got any money - we're a tiny, tiny school. I have 121 pupils and 20 staff. I am being really diligent about pruning my budget and this has been thrown at us.

"Do they think we have £20,000 just to throw away?

"We have tried everything and I don't know where to go from here. What do they want me to do, make a teacher redundant?

"I'm not paying it - and my governors say we're not paying it."

Bury council said in a statement: "This is an extremely upsetting scenario for the school which, through no fault of its own, has been landed with a huge bill for energy costs.

Bury Town Hall

"We have spent many months trying to help resolve the dispute, and we are still in discussion with Npower, which we hope will bring about a satisfactory solution.”

Npower said: "Npower registered Whitefield Jewish Primary school in 2003 and inherited the traditional meter at the site which was installed prior to our supply period. Our meter readers regularly visited the site, taking meter readings to calculate the energy bills which appeared to be an accurate representation of the energy used.

"In February 2018, a new Advanced AMR meter (automated meter reading) was installed as part of the government’s meter rollout programme and a significant increase in energy consumption was recorded.

"From February 2018 to December 2019, there was no dispute raised regarding the increase in consumption by the council or school and they continued to pay their bills. At the end of last year, the council approached us and a full review of the usage and billing was undertaken. We validated the consumption with the council who confirmed that no significant changes had taken place at the school, and we also confirmed with our appointed data collector that the new meter was operating as expected.

"The outcome of the review determined that the school’s full usage had not been captured by the inherited traditional meter.

"While we share the frustrations with the customer, we would like to take this opportunity to continue our open and transparent conversations with the council. We have not demanded any payment and made many requests to discuss this matter to reach an amicable solution with the school. 

"We have offered a meeting and are awaiting the council’s response."

On Friday, Mrs Simon said council officials were due to meet with Npower on Monday (September 28).