We hear a lot about "Human Rights" these days. I am not referring to our rights as human beings but to a particular consequence of The Human Rights Act of 1998. Until that became a part of the English legal system utility companies after due process including the obtaining of an entry warrant at a magistrates` court could cut off the supply of electricity at an address where there appeared to be no possibility of obtaining payment of money owed by the consumer of electric power. Depending on the diligence of individual benches the power companies` representatives, occasionally employees with some local knowledge of the situation, but usually bailiffs, could seek a warrant of entry from a bench offering only the scantiest information regarding the individual concerned and forcibly enter the premises and cut off the power supply. Since the above act became law power companies have had to comply with strict guidelines prior to going to court; eg making personal visits and attempting to talk to the account holder, ascertaining whether or not vulnerable people [elderly or young children] live in the property etc and above all sending out letters warning of the intention to seek a warrant and advising the householder of his/her human rights under the legislation. Upon making an application at Magistrates` Court a diligent bench can ask many questions to ensure that entry is warranted.....eg have there been previous attempts to obtain a warrant at the same address, has there been a broken payment agreement, how much is actually owed in unpaid bills, has there been a dispute over the amount claimed, is the person responsible for the debt still in occupation at the address or is somebody new living there, and many other other questions depending on the individual case. Only after a bench being satisfied the request is in order will or should a warrant be granted. And even so rarely in domestic cases will the power be disconnected. A pre-payment meter will be installed.

Seems quite straightforward. The householder can`t or won`t pay the bill and the supply company can`t cut off the supply unless there is a health risk. But you`d be quite wrong. Many organisations rely on their superior knowledge and menace the individual citizen into compliance when these empty threats have no basis in law and are just the tactics of a bully. It happened last week to an aquaintance of mine. He had had his place refurbished before renting it to a friend. After receiving estimated bills for part of the period he informed Southern Electric by phone and letter of the dates for which he was responsible and informed them again when his friend moved in. Meter readings were sent at the changeover date. A couple of days ago he received another bill of the same estimated unit usage and across the bill was written, "NOTICE OF ELECTRICITY DISCONNECTION"...."unless we receive full payment immediately we will have no alternative than to disconnect the supply of electricity to...."

Advised by me my friend knew it was an empty threat. But consider a harrassed single mother or father without the ability to ascertain her remedies in such a situation. Stress and worry piled on increasing hardship and other tensions. Or an elderly person on her/his own in poor health and with lonliness an only companion or somebody new both to this country and the terror tactics used by some businesses to intimidate customers. Hang your head in shame SOUTHERN ELECTRIC.