The bullying letter from Mercury Energy reduced my vocabulary to a single expletive. Bastards! Every time I caught sight of it, all I could splutter was the B word. After a 36-year relationship, how could they spit me out so casually? "As your account is now in arrears, under clause 11.13 of our Mercury Energy Residential Terms and Conditions, we will exercise our right to move you to our Glo-Bug prepaid service 30 days after the date of this letter ..."

Fair enough, I'd missed paying my July account by a few days. And no doubt over the many years I've been a customer of Mercury and its power board predecessor, the other odd bill has disappeared under the kitchen table midden where such things are stored. On such occasions, I quickly caught up, missed out on the prompt-payment discount and nothing was ever said. I certainly was never treated as a recidivist debtor.

Mercury doesn't even have the couth or the guts to put a name to its threat. No name, just a sign-off in fake handwriting from "Customer Payment Solutions Team".

Their solution seems obvious. The old malingerer's been on our books so long he must be on the pension and is likely to be an on-going burden. Let's make him so unwelcome that he gets the message and walks.


The only consolation was to discover I'm not the only target. Herald stories this week reveal the "Solutions Team" has been pumping these letters out as fast as it can as part of a new sales drive for the Glo-Bug.

The B word came to mind again when reading Mercury Glo-Bug boss Luke Blincoe's claim that he cannot "force customers to accept any specific product; what we can do is exercise judgment over which customers we can responsibly extend credit to ..."

What judgment did he use in my case - did he check I'd even got the bill? I scoured the obvious places after the threatening letter arrived and found Mercury documents going back ages, but not this one. Maybe it was tossed out by mistake, but equally possible, it didn't arrive.

What did surface was a June 8 letter from Mercury's "Customer Services Team", a much more polite bunch than the "Solutions" hit squad. They'd written to apologise for overcharging me the princely sum of $10.21 over the past year, and because of my modest usage, offered to transfer me to their Low User Plan. That's unless I had any objections. I didn't. Perhaps that's why Mr Blincoe's team are after me. Not enough profit in low-user customers.

I'd never heard of a Glo-Bug until now. They're the swipe-card equivalent of the old coin-in-the-slot device I recall from OE days in London. In the modern version, customers have to duck to the corner shop to top up a swipe card every time their Bug, which monitors household power use, glows red. If it's not fed by midday, off goes the electricity.

Mercury is a finalist in the Energy Retailer of the Year awards, partly because of the Bug campaign. Interesting to know if the judges are told how the Bug team rounds up its rapidly expanding customer base. Ezi-Pay, which recruits corner stores for the service, sells it to shopkeepers as a happy hunting ground. "Glo-Bug customers, on average, top up 8 times a month," says the sales pitch, "offering Ezi-Pay retailers huge opportunities in terms of cross-selling and building a loyal customer base."

After the letter tells me Mercury "will exercise our right to move you onto Glo-Bug", it then contradicts itself by offering a reprieve if the account is settled within seven days, which it now is. But the bad taste remains.

After the death of Mrs Folole Muliaga in May 2007 after Mercury cut off her power without checking her circumstances, the state-owned power provider spouted all sorts of purple prose about improving its customer relations. Obviously the message hasn't spread to Mr Blincoe's team.

Still, it's not all gloom. It's been the nudge needed to visit Consumer Magazine's to compare rival power supply prices. Without the missing bill, which was calculated on the Low User Plan, I couldn't do an exact comparison. However, it seems I could reduce my annual power bill by up to $180 by changing providers. The only question is - which one?