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The owners of a café have claimed that they were forced to shut down after getting into a dispute with an energy company. Wesley De Celis and Jane Woodhouse, the former owners of Archie’s Coffee Shop in Derby had to stop only a few months after opening up their business. They said that they received an ultimatum from BES energy, a supplier that specialises in businesses, who reportedly threatened to cut off their energy. Eventually, the soaring bills resulted in their dream of running their own cafe coming to an end. Over the past year, the soaring energy bills have left many businesses crippled, forcing pubs and restaurants to shutdown as the cost of wholesale gas became unaffordable.
While households have had some insulation from the energy bills over the past year, through Ofgem’s price cap and some Government support, until very recently, businesses have received very little help, facing the full brunt of the energy crisis.
Mr De Celis and Ms Woodhouse said that they were devastated and that the experience had left a long-lasting impact on their mental health, describing it as “the biggest mistake” of their lives.
The two set up their cafe in April and told Derbyshire Live that their shop faced its first blow when a representative from BES arrived to collect a debt that they said the previous operators had run up.
They claimed that representatives warned that the energy supply would be cut off unless the duo signed their names to a contract and paid £500 on the spot.
However, the energy company disputed this version of the events, claiming that Mr De Celis did not let them know he had taken over the café until their agent visited the premises, and refuted the claim that there was a £500 “joining fee”.
However, Mr De Celis added that he had not heard of the previous owner’s debt until the agent visited them, adding: “It was a complete shock. If we had known, we wouldn’t have taken on the café.”
The owner added that he felt threatened by agent, as customers were in the shop at the time of the incident. He felt that he had no choice but to agree to the company’s terms, or shut down the cafe right then and there.
The pair also alleged that they were told by the agent that they were not allowed to sign up with any other provider. They said that they had tried to sign up with other companies but were prevented from doing so as BES would not release the property from the previous operator’s contract.
Mr De Celis said: “We were new, we were quite vulnerable, they knew that we were, and they took the Mickey, basically.” They added that this incident sent them into a downward spiral.
Over the next few months, the owners fought to keep the cafe open, doing everything they can to save energy, changing bulbs, turning off the lights and ovens once the customers left.
Eventually, they found themselves overwhelmed by the bills, after receiving one charging them nearly £3,000 for a month’s electricity, which finally forced them to close down in July.
Ms Woodhouse said: “We just couldn’t keep up with it. The £500 depressed us. We couldn’t worry about it, we had to move on. But it was torture”.
Mr De Celis said: “Every time we took a step forward, people were kicking us two steps back. Bills were just going up and up and up. We couldn’t manage what they were asking for.
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“There was just no help. We were pumping money into something that wasn’t going to get resolved. We weren’t making that much anyway, because we were still new.
“We understood that it was going to take one or two years minimum before we made anything anyway. But with the stress of the bills it wasn’t worth it. From the mental health side of things. We were losing a lot more than we were making.”
“We tried as long as we could. It was the energy that cracked it for us. The increase in bills was ridiculous and the way they went about it was a bit underhanded. They didn’t offer to help. They just threatened to disconnect us if we didn’t pay.”
In a statement, BES said: “We were sorry to learn that Mr De Celis has some concerns. He has never raised these directly with us, nor has he responded to our recent attempts to speak with him, so we were unaware of any complaint until now.
“We have only charged Mr De Celis for the energy we have purchased and supplied to his business, and there was no joining fee as has been suggested. We have offered a repayment plan to help clear the unpaid bills over time, but unfortunately, we have not received a response to our numerous attempts to contact him.
“We understand the rising cost of energy is a cause for concern for our business customers, and we are doing all we can to support them at this challenging time. Given Mr De Celis has only paid one bill for £140 since he began using energy in April, we are confident we are not the cause of any financial difficulties.”
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