ENERGY giant npower – which has its headquarters in Swindon – has lost a legal battle after a customer took them to court and won damages.

Christopher Poncelet waged a lone battle against npower for more than three years after a succession of incorrect electricity bills led the energy firm to demand payment for money he did not owe and enlisted a succession of companies to recover a debt which did not exist.

Now Mr Poncelet, from Northampton, has secured what could prove a landmark ruling against npower after enduring years of incorrect billing and harassment by debt collection agencies.

Northampton County Court ruled in his favour, criticising npower for failing to resolve the issue and awarding Mr Poncelet £3,000 in damages for persistent harassment.

Judge Bray described npower’s conduct as: “The oppressive and unacceptable conduct of a large company over a small individual,” and repeated the words of Lord Justice Jacob in the case of Ferguson v British Gas, saying: “It is one of the glories of this country that every now and again one of its citizens is prepared to take a stand against the big battalions of government or industry.”

Sarah Canning of Franklins Solicitors, the firm representing Mr Poncelet, said it was one of the worst cases of company insensitivity and poor customer care she had dealt with.

She said: “Mr Poncelet received no fewer than 15 inaccurate bills from NPower, faced demands for money which was not owed on 11 occasions, and had to endure 14 attempts by debt collectors to recover money. It is rare, if not unique, that a consumer manages to secure not just damages against a major utility provider, but a judgment of harassment.”

Mr Poncelet, a British software developer with a US company, works American hours, meaning considerable overnight working.

His problems started when he noticed that npower had switched low-rate overnight electricity costs for higher daytime tariffs.

Although he successfully persuaded them to correct early bills, the practice continued and led to incorrect demands for outstanding payment and interest charges.

Faced with visits from debt collection agencies, warnings that a pre-payment meter would be fitted and threats to cut off his power supply, Mr Poncelet attempted to switch to an alternative supplier.

He said: “I was left with no choice but to take the matter to court to try and end this situation.

“I had exhausted my patience and energies trying to combat npower’s billing system and couldn’t take any more.”

A spokesman for npower, which employs 1,500 people in Swindon, said: “We are sorry to hear that Mr Poncelet received a poor level of service. This resulted in a miscalculation of his bills on a number of occasions.

“We apologised to Mr Poncelet in court for the mistakes made. We have identified the problem and are rectifying the issue with this specific case.

“We recognise that from time to time we can get it wrong, however npower are continually investing in improving our customer service.”