Man vs contract: English energy gangsterism

We are “power peasants” and the regulatory system keeps us in legal servitude

Andrew Stephenson

I joined a conference call yesterday which was the very first time I have ever attended a civil court hearing, in this case being done virtually. Justice was not served, and the result is quite sad and shocking. A good friend of mine, Andrew Stephenson (pictured above) is now sat at home in Hartlepool with no mains electricity, unable to leave for more than a few hours as he constantly has to feed expensive diesel fuel into his small generator, and with a £12,000 costs bill for a failed attempt to get an emergency injunction to force Northern Power Grid to reconnect him.

His crime? To move from one of the crooked large billing suppliers to a friendly green energy micro supplier, all in accordance with the law. No rule has been broken, no fraud has been committed, and no loss has been inflicted on anyone else. Just think for a moment: what kind of robbery, assault, or deceit would result in de facto permanent house arrest through having to constantly trek to a shed at all hours to keep your freezer on and phone charging, plus a financial penalty of what is the equivalent of more than half year’s wages for someone on minimum wage?

So… how can you end up in 2023 becoming effectively exiled from mainstream society and potentially unable to even light a lamp? What kind of insane or impoverished society delivers this kind of outcome to ordinary people as a matter of course? To understand we need to see this through the underlying lens of morality, and how the world of contracts and commerce has (for now) triumphed over normal human relationships and everyday empathy for the plight of others. By painfully losing this battle, it may give cause for others to help win the war to restore conscience and care to our beleaguered country.

A regulated and disaggregated industry

In the 1980s and 1990s most of the British public utilities were privatised, with each industry being split into supply, distribution, and demand elements. So the rail network has train operators, track providers, and ticketing aggregators, for example. Telecoms in the UK has Openreach doing the physical infrastructure, various competitive broadband service providers offering Internet access, and brand partners funnelling in customers via endless comparison sites and acquisition reward schemes. A maze of contracts were drawn up with the help of an army of consultants to link these all together. Powerful regulators oversee each industry to keep abuse in check.

Energy is no different, and electricity service is now divided into generators, transmission distributors, and suppliers, with the last being simply billing agents who turn meter readings into money. There is a legal requirement to have an appropriate meter at the property, and the nature of the meter might change with the type of energy supplier. It is quite normal for the meter to be changed when you move to a new supplier, and the supplier may (or may not) own the meter itself. There is provision in the regulations for getting a direct contract supply from an unregistered “micro supplier”. The grid acts as a the connecting “cable”, and is meant to offer impartial equal access.

There are a lot of details in this case that are of interest, especially around metering of electricity, but are not the figural matter. The facts are that Andrew had a supplier agreement with Octopus that he terminated, and they acknowledged it being over. He moved to a micro supplier under the official regulations, which does not need to register on the national supplier database, nor requires a license. Octopus demanded to know the details of his new supplier, so they could update the national database. Andrew refused, as is his right — this is private supply agreement, and commercially confidential information.

A contract dispute becomes a human rights problem

As a consequence, Octopus claimed they still have a supply contract, albeit implied and not explicit. Octopus believe they are owed money for ongoing supply, Andrew says there is no contract as it was terminated. Their inability to update a national database isn’t his problem. Neither party can shift position. The result was a formal deadlock, requiring intervention of the ombudsman to resolve, as acknowledged by both sides. This is where things started to go wrong. Octopus sent someone to Andrew’s house to install a prepaid meter, to force Andrew to pay for power when he had no reason to do so, and they were turned away.

They then used an unlawful bulk hearing with magistrates (designed for unpaid bill collection) to get a warrant to do a “safety check” on his meter, failing to disclose the true situation. This resulted in Octopus hiring an agent, Haste Ltd, to act on their behalf. To cut a long story short, the police ended up being called, and Haste lied to them about Andrew also having a gas supply, which he does not have. The police on that occasion were happy to consider it a civil matter and left, closing the incident. Then finally Octopus applied again for a warrant on a false pretext (accusing him of illegal extraction of electricity).

They misled the court by claiming to have an undisputed contract with unpaid bills, in order to get Andrew completely disconnected. Remember, Andrew legitimately has a supply contract with someone else, and is under no obligation to disclose the details to Octopus. He has a safe and lawful meter installed. He will pay Octopus their final bill as soon as it is properly issued; there is no unpaid debt. This third time, Northern Power Grid came to disconnect Andrew with police vans, as another false accusation had been made that Andrew was armed and aggressive. They not only removed his meter, cutting off his supply, but also chopped the cable to his home, so he can’t get another meter installed and supply reconnected.

Even worse, Northern Power Grid said they would install an emergency meter to maintain their duty to supply, and had one in hand, then suddenly recanted. They seemed to want to bounce Andrew back into the tentacles of Octopus, who were deemed the only party with power to reconnect him at the meter, even though he has no business relationship with them any longer. A corrupt supplier works with a corrupt court to get a corrupt enforcer to have a corrupt distributor disconnect an honest customer while being watched over by corrupt police.

It’s like a vendetta, which is more easily understood when you realise that in his professional capacity working on planning applications Andrew has helped many people shave tens of thousands of pounds off bills from Northern Power Grid. It also helps to realise that Andrew has surfaced a loophole where disgruntled customers could claim to have a micro supply agreement, when they do not, in order to terminate contracts and escape charges, bankrupting suppliers. Andrew hasn’t done this, but there are a lot of people with a grudge against the energy supply businesses right now (like Octopus) for price gouging and sharp practises with prepaid meters.

A court hearing for a specific performance injunction

The case yesterday revolved around two matters:

  • Was Northern Power Grid the correct entity to be sued for an injunction to reconnect Andrew?
  • If so, was there a lawful basis to compel them to do so?

The defence case was based on Northern Power Grid “just obeying orders”, as is customary, so was only an agent, and not the principal. They knew that the warrant process was likely to be defective, due to a lack of standing and false disclosures. They knew that Andrew had a legitimate contract with another supplier. They knew that Octopus had previously used deception to gain entry. They knew the purported contract was in dispute. They knew there was an animal welfare issue. They knew that the job only required removing the meter to terminate the supply. They knew there was no notice period or ability to find remedy. They knew the allegation of criminal theft of electricity supply was untrue.

They knew what they were doing was morally wrong. They did it anyway. Then defended it.

Andrew is now in a Catch-22 type situation. If he sues Octopus then it will be weaponised to imply there is a contract and/or they have the power to turn his electricity on or off when they do not. If he sues Haste, they will argue they were only obeying orders from Octopus, and it was Northern Power Grid who overreached their authority. He can still sue Northern Power Grid for criminal damage given the ownership of the cable to his house is disputed, as Andrew’s father paid for it in the 1950s, but the paperwork is long gone. Is it really right that he faces financial ruin in order to resolve all the interfaces and handoffs between these, just to get the energy supply he should have had anyway?

Andrew decided on principle to protect the identity of his new supplier. I know why he has done this, and it is for legitimate reasons. There is a real prospect of similar gangsterism against his micro supplier, and all Andrew is doing is honourably preventing additional abuses of power. The world of contracts treats us all as legal fictions, the law of the dead, and has no humanity to it, and it’s a “dog eat dog” world. Meanwhile, Andrew breathes, eats, sleeps… as a living man, not a dog, which ironically might have more rights and protection. How did we get to the point where electrical power supply comes with summary justice meted out by greedy and heartless corporations?

A “world of pain on costs” shames the industry

Watching the cogs of justice yesterday was painful. The judge had not received Andrew’s most recent evidence bundle. Andrew was only allowed to see the warrant after the hearing had begun, giving him no time to review it; it had never been produced before. The judge seemed biased towards Northern Power Grid from the outset, picking which arguments he wished to hear. He ignored any human rights issues, deeper questions of law, or the gross asymmetry of power, with Andrew representing himself. Andrew was seen as untrustworthy, whereas all corporates were trustworthy by default. Andrew was quickly interrupted, while the Northern Power Grid lawyer was not.

The barrister for Northern Power Grid was smooth and professional, and knew exactly how to muddy the waters and say what was needed to keep up the pretence of justice. He tried to smear Andrew by insinuating there was not a real micro supply contract, drawing the authenticity into doubt. He dragged in irrelevant arguments over meter types and high voltages and safety and explosions. He was cold, calculated, and cruel in my view. If he sleeps well at night, it is because he is a clinical psychopath. Andrew has lost his electricity supply, but he has not lost his soul.

To be fair to the court, it is indeed arguable that the defendants should be Haste and Octopus, but that’s beside the point. Northern Power Grid have taken it upon themselves to go beyond what was required, to maliciously cut off not only the supply at the meter, but even the connection to the grid. They chose to dangle a meter in front of Andrew, only to withdraw, and hint that all would be well if he quickly got in touch with Octopus and submitted to them. They chose to act on a warrant they knew was unlikely to be lawful, to the detriment of an innocent man. It is dirty and disgusting to watch.

Observing the costs be reviewed at the end, and having the bill chopped down from £16,880 to £12,000, was agony. It was akin to having to see an innocent friend being raped; I was mortified by the absolute absence of conscience, which shows how naive I am about the justice system. For me it highlighted how the law has been warped completely from doing what is right by God, to doing what is right by the rules, however perverse. In English constitutional law a man should suffer no fine or forfeit without a jury of his peers. Andrew had been accused of an illegal act (theft of electricity service) but was offered no chance to defend himself before administrative justice under corporate law.

If the judge and barrister had faced twelve ordinary men and women, then Northern Power Grid would be busy repairing and welding right now. If they had to put themselves into Andrew’s shoes, what they did would have been unacceptable. There is no law of man that allows you to do under others what you would not have done to yourself. The pharisees are alive and well, and unfortunately Andrew chose to live by their rules, and act in their court, so he has to face the consequences. This kind of abuse would never happen if our churches were fully functional; leaders of corporations would fear the personal opprobrium and loss of business.

My sense is that the next step is an escalation to the regulator. Andrew has done literally nothing wrong, whereas every other party has failed to be honest and honourable in some way. I have written to the regulator, Ofgem, and will share that email separately. What we see here is something more like an air crash site, which is the result of the failure of safety systems via multiple unexpected interactions in an unplanned context. But the underlying issue is the abandonment of holiness and God’s law (love one another) for administrative law that denies our innate rights. It excuses wicked deeds, instead rewarding them by stealing from the poor and weak to feed the rich and strong.

The judge ignored that Northern Power Grid has good reason to believe that the warrant was unlawfully issued and had been put on notice. He ignored that Andrew has been accused of a crime and given no opportunity to defend himself. He ignored that the purported warrant was dated 20th January, and was omitted in Northern Power Grid evidence, but all warrants of entry for prepayment meters were suspended by Lord Edis on 6th February 2023. He ignored that the ownership of the cable was contested. He ignored the video evidence of malice of intent by Haste and Northern Power Grid.

A system that puts the safety of an electricity meter ahead of the safety of a human is a system that has broken down. I believe that as a humanitarian and justice issue, Andrew must be protected from ending up in the dark or having to be “fuel tagged” to his home via a diesel generator. If I had a magic wand or a large charity budget then I would be procuring a fuel cell or other reliable source of persistent power for Andrew. If there is breakthrough “wireless electricity” coming via Tesla resonance technology, then I hope and pray that Andrew is put to the front of the queue!

The real answer here is not to get reconnected to the “grid of amoral contracts”, but to become independent of it. As such, this may be a blessing in disguise, as well as a case for the history books. Everyone involved is being aggressively targeted and tempted by an unholy culture to abandon their conscience in return for money, approval, or status. While it is easy to paint Andrew as the victim and others as perpetrators, in reality there are lots of victims. The barrister who has a loveless existence, the judge who metes out industrialised injustice, the power grid CEO who is covered in shame.

Hearings without “heartings” result in injustice. There is no solution within a pure legalistic framing. Until we all morally “look up”, we collectively keep digging down and cutting ourselves off the the supply of Source.