SIR – My wife and I have a friend who is a widow in her 80s. Recently we found her in a distressed state. She said that her gas bill, normally about £30 per month, had gone up to £170.
She does not bank online and her bank has recently closed its branch in the nearest town four miles away. She tried phoning her supplier, British Gas, only to be told by an automated voice on each attempt that the wait time was "more than an hour".
So distressed has she become that she has had to visit her GP, who suggested that she was suffering from anxiety brought on by the situation with her gas supply. She is now taking anti-anxiety medicine and has managed to get her bill altered. I can only say that this is a disgraceful way to deal with any customer.
David J Hartshorn
SIR – Gillian Courage (Letters, May 5) writes of her energy supplier's grab for more money. The same applies to our long-term supplier, Ovo Energy. On Wednesday we received two emails, one complaining about a lack of meter reading and another telling us that, based on our smart meter reading, we had to increase our direct debit.
We had been concerned about installing a smart meter for fear of this type of surveillance, but in January we agreed to it and used it to reduce our usage by half. We have been cold.
The second email disingenuously added our usage before and after the smart meter installation to forecast an annual deficit, although we are currently within budget. On telephoning we were told it was likely we would be sent an email threatening to increase the direct debit within 10 days, whereupon our remedy would be to lodge a complaint.
I do hope Ofgem is paying attention.
SIR – I live in a relatively modern, well-insulated house. I needed a new boiler, and consulted a heat pump specialist. The cost of installing one and changing all the radiators was nearly £30,000.
I use roughly 21,000 kWh of gas each year at 7p per kWh, which comes to £1,470. Heat pumps are said to be about three times more efficient and therefore would use, say, 7,000 kWh of electricity at 27p per kWh, which comes to £1,890. I fail to see how a heat pump would save me money. I settled for a new gas boiler at £2,400.
SIR – It's a bit rich of the Government to propose penalising those of us with older houses, for which it is notoriously difficult and expensive to reach an energy performance certificate rating of even a C, while at the same time building thousands of new houses with no solar panels, no heat pumps, and probably a gas connection.
SIR – While researching my book, Exocet Falklands, I studied the Exocet saga (Letters, May 5) in as much detail as was possible, including transcripts of telephone conversations between Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand. There is absolutely no doubt that France supported Britain at the highest level, further confirmed when Mr Mitterrand embargoed the transfer of 10 Exocets to Argentina, despite them having been paid for.
The team of engineers already in Argentina fitting the first five missiles to the Super Étendards were brought home, leaving the Argentines to work out for themselves how to marry the missiles to the aircraft. I discussed this aspect with a number of their pilots.
The French also sent fighter aircraft across the Channel to practise air interception with ours. None of this suggests an unwillingness to help, or that there was skulduggery involved.
Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour RM (retd)
The Cambridge intake
SIR – The University of Cambridge does not and would not discriminate against pupils from any type of school ("Don't sideline grammar school students, MPs tell universities", report, May 5) .
Universities like Cambridge have been challenged, quite correctly, by successive governments to reflect wider society by drawing students from all backgrounds. Unlike our great independent and grammar schools, many comprehensives have no tradition of sending pupils to places like Cambridge, meaning many of their pupils never consider applying. It is those pupils that the country's leading universities are now trying to reach.
This does mean that a greater number of applicants from a wider range of backgrounds will be considered for broadly the same number of places. But the highest achieving pupils from the independent and grammar schools will still find a welcome at Cambridge, along with those from the comprehensive sector.
Professor Stephen J Toope
SIR – I am glad to read that Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, is "personally calling vice-chancellors" about the lack of in-person teaching at universities today.
I am now in the second year of my degree at the University of Nottingham and still receiving only one in-person lecture a week – when the lecturers aren't striking. I hope Ms Donelan can ensure that in-person teaching will be resumed as normal next year.
SIR – My brother surreptitiously bought his copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (Letters, May 5) as soon as it became readily available in 1960. Our parents would have been horrified, and my brother duly hid his much-thumbed copy in a locked box in his bedroom, with other precious items.
His guilty secret was exposed one night when a burglar broke in and stole the box. The police found it in the garden with everything missing apart from the book. My brother's humiliation was complete when, in front of our mother, the police asked him to confirm that the book was his.
SIR – Regarding Linda Read's letter (May 5) , I fear that it would now be the Enid Blyton book covered with the Lady Chatterley's Lover dust jacket.
SIR – Further to Malcolm Thomas's letter (May 4) on the so-called world-class Passport Office, and his potential loss of the ability to travel abroad for three months, the passport authority also demands that one submits any other passports while carrying out a UK passport renewal, thereby removing travel rights entirely.
In response to my request to know why this was the case, I was told that it was to confirm my name and identity. What nonsense. Any commercial business run like the Passport Office would go bankrupt in weeks.
SIR – It is depressing to read that morale in the police has reached a new low .
My police service stretched over 40 years, and included an appointment as president of the Police Superintendents' Association. I never regretted my choice of career, and although there have been many changes in the conditions of service, pensions entitlement and methods of policing, I would still advise that it is a worthwhile line of work.
Morale depends on leadership, discipline and personal motivation, without which a rewarding vocation becomes just a day job.
SIR – When I was young, shortly after the war, my father was a butcher in Hereford, and we used to render all the beef fat we could obtain from the beef we were processing to make dripping (Letters, May 3) . This went into 1lb packets and was sold widely.
In a street at the rear of the premises was a fish and chip shop, and we used to make blocks of dripping for the owner to cook his fish and chips in. There were two separate areas for cooking: one for the chips and one for the fish. The owner bought his potatoes locally and had a machine that peeled them, along with one that made them into chips.
There was always a queue. Every so often the owner would replace the dripping with a fresh batch. Needless to say his fish and chips were wonderful, and I have not tasted the like of them since.
Why every household should ditch its iron
SIR – I can suggest a way to lower domestic power consumption significantly: follow our family's decision, made over 40 years ago, to abandon the practice of ironing.
There is little to be lost in the matter of appearance. I can still enjoy the experience of a freshly ironed tablecloth in a restaurant or bed linen in a hotel, but at home it isn't necessary and is a hangover from a bygone age.
Mole checks can be a matter of life and death
SIR – I read with great interest your article about the increase in malignant melanoma cases, and the advice to get moles checked.
My late husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1991. The offending mole was not located until a year later, and he died three years after the initial diagnosis from secondary lung cancer at the age of 41.
After that, detection rates improved, as did treatment. But there has been a reversal, as two letters (May 3) attest. Waiting times for follow-up checks by dermatologists, after referral by GPs or dentists, are appalling. It is dispiriting that the NHS seems incapable of doing these vital check-ups swiftly.
SIR – The NHS needs reform. The first to go should be the thousands of bean counters in the "internal market" system, whereby departments in an institution have to reimburse each other, and the commissioners who "purchase" services on behalf of primary care, a process in which pricing has no relation to costs.
I suspect that no one in the health service knows exactly how much a knee replacement, for example, actually costs.
Genuine reform would require chief executives to have accurate knowledge of, and responsibility for, the bottom line. Taxpayers deserve value for money and efficient healthcare.
David Nunn FRCS
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