TRADERS at Rye’s Ropewalk shopping arcade face going out of business after being hit with a £60,000 electricity bill.
More than 20 people will lose their livelihoods if the centre is forced to close.
Richard Waters, who runs the premises, was shocked to suddenly receive a demand, from energy company EDF, going back four years.
He said: “They have been coming to read the meter and sending bills and we have been paying them regularly.
“We could not believe it when this huge bill arrived. We queried it and were told that the meter reader was supposed to be multiplying the figure by ten but had not been doing that so they had back-dated it four years.
“There is no way in the current financial climate that we can afford to pay a bill like this. Unless we can get it sorted we may have to close.
“We have managed to get it reduced to £45,0000 over three years, but it is still impossible.”
There are 20 small units in the Ropewalk centre ranging from cafes to baby supplies, a hairdresser, sweet shop, nail parlour and an accountant.
David Edwards, who has been running his plant shop at Ropewalk for the past eight years, said: “This is hanging over us and we don’t know what is going to happen. There are people here who are very worried about their future.
“People rely on this place – it is a real community, we help each other.
“It is completely wrong that we should have to suffer because of a big company’s own mistake.”
David Plimley, whose wife runs a business at Ropewalk, said: “The thing is this is their mistake, not ours. They asked for X amount and we paid X amount – if they had asked for Y amount we would have paid that. Why should we have to suffer for their mistake?”
Shopper Mark Broadbent said: “It is a terrible thing for these little units. Ropewalk helps people get into business. Many people who have shops here could not afford to open up on the High Street.
“It is very-well used and popular, it would be disaster if it were forced to close.”
Now Rye MP Amber Rudd has intervened and is trying to persuade EDF to come up with a better solution.
She said: “This was an enormous sum of money going back years. It seems very unfair to suddenly make a newcomer responsible for this. I am delighted to have been of some help. I am hoping we can achieve a reasonable compromise and am encouraging EDF to help arrive at that. “
Richard Waters said: “I do not see why energy companies should have this special dispensation to charge people for mistakes they have made going back years.
“With a home owner they can only charge for a period going back one year but with businesses it is over a six year period.
“We have always been open and available for the meter to be read.
“This sort of thing seems to be going on all the time all over the country.”
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