A DYSERTH woman struggling to repay debts to her energy provider has thanked representatives of Prestatyn and Meliden Foodbank for putting together an emergency Christmas food parcel for her and her husband.

Shereen Harrison told the Journal on December 24 that she is in almost £2,000 of debt with ScottishPower, who she changed to more than two years ago, and consequently could not celebrate Christmas, new year or her recent wedding anniversary.

Mrs Harrison has made seven complaints to ScottishPower since May, and has been left struggling to make ends meet while caring for husband Stephen, who suffers from numerous medical conditions and receives oxygen therapy.

After reading her story, Councillor Paul Penlington, a representative of Prestatyn North ward at Denbighshire County Council, arranged with Heather Norris, who runs the foodbank, for Mr and Mrs Harrison to receive a Christmas offering.

The food parcel was put together by Mrs Norris on Christmas Eve, before being delivered by Councillor Penlington later that day.

Mrs Harrison said: “He (Cllr Penlington) brought it round, and gave us some advice for places I could try. It was a box of fruit and veg, tins and chocolates, which was very appreciated.

“It was nice knowing there was someone out there who knew some things about what we were dealing with, and how to possibly help us and provide us with a little bit of food so we could make a basic meal.

“Other people commented on Facebook; quite a few people said they’re with ScottishPower and experienced the same king of things, so I know I’m not the only one.

“It helped because it makes me realise I’m not the only one suffering in this position; there are others out there.

“The actual day (Christmas Day) was like any other, really. There was nothing different about Christmas Day or new year. We were in bed by 10pm on New Year’s Eve; we didn’t celebrate because we couldn’t.”

Cllr Penlington praised the work of Mrs Norris and her volunteers at the foodbank, but admitted that the recently growth in use of such facilities is a damning indictment of the level of poverty many residents are living in.

He said: “I have worked with Prestatyn and Meliden Foodbank voluntarily for several years when I can fit it in, but particularly during the pandemic. That was my job, really, during the first lockdown period.

“This year, they had finished Christmas deliveries on December 23, but when I heard Shereen’s story, I contacted Heather Norris, the foodbank co-ordinator.

“Without question, she took time from her family’s Christmas Eve to put an emergency parcel together immediately, which I took round to Shereen and her family that afternoon.

“The huge increase in the need for foodbanks is a sad reflection of the times we live in. Heather and her volunteers really are angels, though, all year round; not just at Christmas.”

Mrs Norris added: “We sent 150 such support parcels that week, plus £5,000 worth of toys this year.

“I had the call from Paul, who offered to deliver (to Mrs Harrison). We normally deliver, but that was a great help as we were all exhausted!”

Mrs Harrison said she has been paying ScottishPower £240 a month for at least a year now, but said her debts still stand at more than £1,600.

She has already enlisted the help of the likes of Ombudsmen, Utility Warehouse, councillors, and her MP, James Davies, in trying to resolve these issues.

Previously, she has been given an ultimatum by Mr Harrison: to keep his oxygen on and the heating off, or vice-versa.

When she explained this to the ScottishPower representative dealing with her complaint, she was disappointed to be asked why she didn’t temporarily turn off her husband’s oxygen machine.

She has asked for a subject access request (SAR) for proof of this telephone conversation, as well as the fact she has been told her electricity meter is providing accurate readings despite little change when she turns off multiple appliances.

Mrs Harrison said: “I’ve asked for the SAR because the man from ScottishPower said the meter is actually reading right, but he’s not willing to change the meter and make sure of this.

“Even though we’ve had a Customer Liaison Officer from Scottish Power come round, who was the first one who said about a check meter going in the cupboard near the meter to make sure it’s working properly, Scottish Power have turned around and said there’s no room in the cupboard for a check meter, but all they’ve seen is a photo.

“We’ve been taking daily readings for the last 17 days, and the days that we’re using more devices, were not using any more electricity. My thinking is there’s something wrong with the meter, but they won’t look at that.

“I mentioned about my husband’s oxygen being on because he gave the ultimatum. And this particular person, dealing with the complaint, said: ‘Why don’t you turn his oxygen machine off for 24 hours?”

Last month, Mrs Harrison told the Journal that her husband is required to be on oxygen at all times, and that the stress of this dispute is causing his health to further deteriorate.

She added that he also suffers from a number of other illnesses, including diabetes, arthritis, gout, and depression, as well as being blind in one eye and having only half a lung on either side.

Mrs Harrison added: “I thought: ‘You must be joking’. He’s been prescribed oxygen for 24 hours. He has to be on oxygen, and they’re suggesting I turn it off. He said it was only a suggestion, and didn’t mean to be funny.

“If the roles were reversed and someone suggested to him to turn his girlfriend or wife’s oxygen off for 24 hours, how would he react?

“This morning (January 6), the debts gone up to £1,648, so if British Gas get involved now, I’ve got no chance of them taking it on. I was told from Scottish Power that the next bill wouldn’t be until March.

“The other thing they’re saying is that I’m supposed to be using about £280 a month of electricity, so even the £240 that I’m paying isn’t covering the bill.

“I can’t afford any more; we’re paying as much as we can and we’re struggling to put food on plates. We thought we saw a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, getting the bill below £1,500 and having to borrow money off friends so we could get it below £1,500 to see if British Gas could help us.

“Then I get the email saying the new bill’s out and it’s £1,648. That little light has gone out again.

“I’ve asked for that SAR which should have the phone conversation from when he said about turning my husband’s oxygen machine off. If it’s not on there, I want to know why.”

In response to Mrs Harrison’s comments, a spokesperson for ScottishPower confirmed that an apology has been made from the representative managing the complaint for any upset caused to her or her family, and said she was offered £175 as a goodwill gesture.

Mrs Harrison told the Journal last week she intended to decline this offer, due to fears that her complaints would soon resurface anyway.

Her decision was confirmed by the ScottishPower spokesperson today (January 10).

The ScottishPower spokesperson also said she has previously been offered the opportunity to have a new smart meter tested to confirming it is working correctly, as well as removing roughly £900 from her outstanding balance through the Hardship Fund.

The ScottishPower spokesperson said: “We’re sorry Mrs Harrison is unhappy with how we are handling her complaint, which is now being dealt with via the Energy Ombudsman, and we’re currently progressing her SAR.

“There was absolutely no intention to cause any upset to her or her family.

“The colleague who was trying to advise Mrs Harrison regarding the family’s energy usage and what may impact on this didn’t fully understand the seriousness of her husband’s health condition and has apologised to her directly for this.

“We have offered Mrs Harrison a goodwill payment of £175 as part of the proposed resolution to her complaint, which also included testing the new smart meter and confirming it is working correctly, as well as removing around £900 from her outstanding balance through our Hardship Fund.

“She has declined this offer and we now await the Ombudsman’s findings.”