nPower Discrimination

Discrimination is alive and well in even the largest of organisations. They just dress it up a little more politely.

In conversation yesterday with nPower, i asked if they would mind changing the name shown on my bill. Why not, i thought. Other organisations have done so – and whilst english law contains that thing called a deed poll, i am not aware of any legal requirement for me to produce one.

So long as they know who i am, can identify me for billing purposes, and get their money, that should be good enough. Several organisations have already seen the logic and changed my name on a call.

Well, they’ve done identity checks first, which is fair enough: but if the checks are good enough to discuss my personal details on, they should be good enough to change those details on also.

The local Council were happy with this. My library is happy. The Water Company is happy. But not nPower.

Yesterday they asked for “official documentation”. Surely not, i said. Oh yes!

Today i spoke to a somewhat dull member of their complaints team. It was definitely a legal requirement. A moral one too, apparently. He would talk to the legal team (which he claimed he later did). It was all about Data Protection although (bad choice here, since i write about that topic regularly), he couldn’t quite quote the section or principle that applied.

But he was clear that he had a duty to demand documentation where people decided to change their name “on a whim”. A whim?

Oh dear. I’ve disrupted friends, family and work. I am taking major league hormones and lining up for even more major surgery…and it is all a whim.

But maybe…maybe he really does have a point. After all, he explained: he must protect people who might find that a bill had suddenly been taken out in their name. Indeed. Good, public-spirited thought.

Except. Ten minutes after our call, andrea phoned nPower. She had noticed that on the bill, her married name still showed: she had never changed back to her maiden one.

Could she? Why, certainly! It took about five minutes – and most of that because the call centre operator misunderstood and thought andrea wished to take on full responsibility for the bill – but by the end of the call, she had changed name.

No mention of data protection, moral responsibilities or “whims”.

I am speaking to the Equalities Commission.

I am SO angry.



24 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Stace said,

    Well yes I can see and understand that… The council accepts the change but some private company refuses too? And then lies about the reason.

    Good luck with the commission.


  2. 2

    Wonderer said,

    When I changed my surname on marrying, I enquired of our solictor, who said we’re all entitled to call ourselves whatever we like, and change as often as we like, but it can prove awkward with certain organisations. Deed poll is expensive and only necessary for a handful of roles – MP, High Court Judge etc. He drew up for me a very simple (and cheap) Change of Name Deed which he said was adequate for most purposes including banks, passports etc. I got a couple of people to witness my signature and sign to say they had done so, and it has proved adequate for all purposes encountered in 19 years. It did seem a tad unfair that my wife could change her surname on marriage without paperwork, whereas mine needed a deed.

    Don’t know whether this is helpful info.

    Sorry you’re so annoyed by this; quite understandable when they describe your journey and transformation and reinvention as a “whim”.

  3. 3

    Sarah said,

    How would you feel if somebody called them pretending to be you and asked them to change your name to Mr Annoying Twat because that’s what they felt like calling themselves that day and then two weeks later a letter came to your house adressed to Mr Annoying Twat?

    Seems to me they were being carefull about your data, I bet your bank would not just change it so why would you not have a crusade against them on here aswell, grow up.

    • 4

      janefae said,

      Two very obvious probs with that train of thought, Sarah…or maybe three.

      First, if you read the post, my issue, discrimination-wise, has to do with the organisation in question being prepared to change my partner’s name on the basis of a call – but not my own. That feels like discrimination pure and simple: that they will do one thing for her but not the same thing for me.

      Second, i am well aware that organisations must protect the security of data: i have been writing and advising about the Data Protection Act for donkey’s years, and know this. The second issue, however, is that these organisations do business on the phone, take information, etc. on the basis of security checks that they carry out using personal info.

      If the personal info is not sufficiently secure to allow a name change – it is probably not secure enough to allow any other sort of business to be transacted.

      Last but by no means least…er…”Annoying Twat”? Really? I think that most organisations employ staff intelligent enough to spot when something so obvious is pushed through. The point is that this is not a bank account, where someone changing the name might then be able to access MY money and thereby do me out of a lot of my personal wealth.

      This is a BILL. All that someone could achieve by changing my name – but not address – is for bills for power at my hosue to arrive addressed to another named person. It does not change the contract. It does not change my legal obligation.

      It achieves nothing – which means that an organisation’s refusal to be helpful in this respect is pure jobsworth stuff.

  4. 5

    Sarah said,

    You really are being naive and have obviously never had to run a business.

    With what your saying you are condoning this type of running up debt senario b….

    Person calls npower and asks to change there name on there bill from Mr I Mann to Mrs I Knottman npower do this Mrs I Knottman does a moonlight owing £5000, npower trace Mrs I Knottman and issue court summons Mrs I Knottman who then becomes Mr I Mann again Mr I Mann says who the fuck is Mrs I Knottman?

    There are hundreds of failed buisness people in this country due to scum not paying there debts to honest hard working law abiding people, example my friend lost her home due to a 10k job not being paid for due to simular jiggery pokery.

    You make me sick, your full of narcasistic bile and have no grasp on anything other than your journalistic omnipotent view and cannot see that these things are put in place to help protect economic revenue, I hope my accounts across many businesses I trade with are never ran in such an unprofessional naive way as your half arsed whinings would have us all buy into.

    Get out into the fucking real world.

    • 6

      janefae said,

      A very personal comment, but let’s try to respond in civil fashion.

      You still fail to deal with the discrimination aspect. If nPower had applied the same rules to myself and my partner, there would be no discrimination issue whatsoever. They did not.

      It does seem that various people at nPower, including customer facing staff, do not share your view of the world.

      You also fail to deal with the security aspect. I am talking about the law and its application here. Either nPower are DPA compliant in their current approach to telephone dealing, or they are not. If they are not compliant enough for a name change, they are not compliant enough for anything else.

      I sense a complaint to the Office of the Information Commissioner coming on…which might have the unfortunate side-effect of shutting down nPower’s call operations entirely. You make a lot of very odd assumptions about my experience.

      I do have experience of the DPA – extensive experience – and i also have experience of shutting down non-compliant operations. The last one i shut down was in respect of a utility company – but not in the power business.

      On the other hand, if it keeps rude people of the sort i had to deal with this morning off the phone lines, maybe that would not be such a bad thing.


    • 7

      janefae said,

      Just to add, also: the scenario you put forward in respect of Mann and Knottman is nonsensical. The term you are hunting around for here is “alias” – and courts are perfectly capable of dealing with such things…have done for years.

      Not sure why your friend would lose their home on basis of such a thing. Either they were very badly advised legally, or they don’t know how to use the law.

      On a daily basis, i come across a lot of anecdote about how individuals get messed around by the law. Usually, on digging a bit deeper, they turn out to have been author of their own difficulties.

  5. 8

    Sarah said,

    You were probably speaking to a young person in a callcentre who’s interpretaion of there company policy is based on there experience.

    As an educated person such as yourself that has nothing better to do with ther time than argue with callcentre staff over trivial matters that are only important to someone like your selfish self can you not see they will have seen every scam in the book where you know only the legal side, I myself have seen in my job rapists who were quite obviously guilty get away with crimes due to inacuracies in the law.

    You seem to have wanted to be treat differently to every person whom is happy to prove for the good of security that they are who they say they are.

    If you want equallity then act like you are equal and don’t play the discrimanation card everytime you are asked to prove who you are.

    You are a parasite.

  6. 9

    Julian said,

    Sarah, wanting equal treatment =/= playing the “discrimination card.” Nor is it selfish. If cisgendered women like Andrea and myself can get our names changed on a bill without any hassle, but transgendered women can’t, then that’s a problem that has nothing to do with data protection. And it’s certainly not “trivial” – that sort of dismissiveness can only come from someone who doesn’t experience frequent discrimination. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of cis privilege, but you’ve got more of it than’s healthy.

  7. 10

    Sarah said,

    Fuck off Julian, it’s asking for trouble wanting special treatment.

    • 11

      janefae said,

      Sarah – and everyone else now piling in on this thread. I can see that strong emotions are being aroused: there are also some important issues being raised.

      It doesn’t help anyone if the language descends to name-calling level or worse.

      Please – all of you! – play nice.


  8. 12

    Sarah B said,

    Wanting to be treated the same way as everyone else is not “special treatment”, it’s simply wanting a level playing field.

  9. 13

    Natacha said,

    I think Sarah is obviously someone with serious issues.

    Jane, I’m afraid you will often find that people with serious mental and social problems like Sarah tend to get very wound up about transgender people. There are a number of psychological/social psychological explanations for this and probably the most likely one in this case would appear to be envy. This envy could be motivated by all sorts of potential sources.

    I think Milton Diamond’s famous observation “Nature loves diversity, society hates it.” is probably one of the things to remember in this situation. Some people just haven’t got the intelligence to deal with issues outside their comfort zone. Her last comment in particular, shows a considerable lack of intelligence, understanding of the issues, and reveals an inability to conceptualise outside of her own, clearly very limited, way of thinking.

    Fortunately there are not that many people like Sarah around. Most people have the intelligence to understand issues like this. Unfortunately, on occasion trans people tend to attract doses of unintelligent, uninformed and comment by people who consider that their own personal biases, neuroses, personality problems and hatred, constitute worthwhile knowledge. It does not, and rather than telling us anything about the subject matter all it does is tell us a lot about a particularly sad and ignorant individual.

    She is an example of that type of people who can only ever get attention by being stupid and obnoxious, that is because she cannot get any attention in the way you do, by intelligent reporting, careful researching of the facts and being someone who people will listen to because you have something valuable to say.

    In fact nPower is breaking the law by not permitting you to change your name on your bill, and that is quite clearly part of both common law and law as it relates to gender recognition. You could actually have them prosecuted or sue them for not doing this. You are allowed to have as many names as you like provided you are not using them fraudulently, and it is not for nPower to decide whether you are or are not guilty of being potentially fraudulent unless they have evidence that you may do, in which case they should have contacted the police immediately.

    I know about this because I use different names all the time. I have never had to use a deed poll nor produce a GRC or anything like that.

    So not only is Sarah wrong legally, morally, socially and personally, but her words say more about her profound and multiple personal and psychological problems than they do about the subject in hand and as such should be ignored.

  10. 14

    Julian said,

    Wanting EQUAL treatment does not mean wanting SPECIAL treatment. I hate how this happens around LGBTQ issues so much: what do you mean you want to be treated just like me? Waaah! You’re asking too much, go hide in a corner. It says something about society when equality is regarded as a special favour.

    As for “asking for trouble” wanting “special treatment,” – what’s that, a threat? The rather vague “trouble” is going to be justified if it’s aimed at a member of the Awkward Squad, is that it? How deeply unpleasant. o.O

    Jane, I would love to know how you get on with nPower and the Equalities Commission. When I moved in with my partner one utility company initially refused to put me on the bill as the householder’s partner (although they would have done had I been her lodger). That was apparently “one inexperienced member of staff” and I got an apology.

  11. 15

    Paris said,

    Natacha – such grandiloquence! I couldn’t have put it better myself, and if you knew how inflated my self-image was, you’d know that’s very high praise indeed.

    Sarah I can only assume you’re not trans. And why are you bringing up all this stuff about your friend getting sacked and rapists running free? Is that Jane’s fault? Don’t you think your response here has been wholly disproportionate? Why are you SO angry?

    Seriously let’s all just smoke a spliff, and CHILL-OUT…

  12. 16

    spirifer said,

    As a number of people have pointed out, the issue here is not special treatment or even financial security/scams.

    If one person can call nPower and change his or her billing details on the basis of the telephone conversation, but another person cannot, then nPower obviously has issues with applying its own operating procedures.

    In the absence of any other obvious explanation for the difference in treatment of jane and andrea by the same company on the same day, there does appear to be a degree of discrimination at work here.

  13. 17

    Sarah said,

    Trannys change there name all the time there a total and utter joke, why should any business piss about letting daft blokes in dresses do what they want, trannys are second class citizens just the same as blacks and should be gratefull they are even aloud some electric.

    • 18

      spirifer said,

      I really do hope that at some point in your life, you stop being so judgemental, and develop some empathy and compassion for other human beings.

  14. 19

    Paris said,

    I think we can all safely say that persons comments can be completely ignored now. I do believe she has a real problem.

    Please keep us updated on how this goes Jane – nPower should not get away with this. Transphobia manifests itself in so many different ways and we should all of us challenge it at every turn.

  15. 20

    kerri morgan ( Australia) said,

    Sarah, hows your business going, with your attitude towards trans people and in janes clear case, obvious discrimination, one would assume you would not get many customers…..
    DONT, come to Australia because ergon energy over here wouldn’t employ such a delinquent with such poor communication skills , it was quiet clear what jane was was trying to get across and frankly she has every right to feel annoyed, her partner can change her name in a phone call, but jane gets discriminated and whats worse the idiot she speaks to demoralizes her self worth, as a human being…. clearly have anger problems and set a bad example for the good people who work with this organisation,,,,and one more obvious advice ,,, not a good idea to challenge an expert in the field of data protection, jane is recognised in Australia……..

  16. 21

    poeticlicense said,

    Hi Jane,

    NPower should change your title and name data. One way to do it is not to ring customer services, as this will as you found get you through to general enquiries and they don’t always know how to handle this issue. It might be best to write a letter to the manager of customer services outlining your reasons for your request, along with a photocopy of your deed of name change, if you wish you can also include a self addressed envelope and request the return of the document as all they need for this purpose is to see is the document, they do not need to retain it on their records.

    • 22

      janefae said,


      thanks for that. i am pretty sure they would do so if i sent documents. However, as i may not have said here: i have a huge bugbear about unnecessary documentation. Have had for ages even before i started transitioning.

      i know my data protection law, have lectured on it, and even worked occasionally alongside the Office of the Information Commissioner. He/they, too, get exasperated by organisations that quote the DPA, haven’t a clue what it is about (the call centre operative in this case said something along the lines of “its the data protection law” – but when challenged to cite either principle or section, couldn’t. Basically, just parrotting something he had heard but did not understand).

      i want ALL organisations to stop putting unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles in the way of ordinary people: but in this case, the added twist is/was a bout of discrimination that nPower now claim was due to lack of training. In fact, my partner should also have been challenged to provide documentation.

      Anyway, will keep people posted on this and other developments.

      Thanks for the input.


      • 23

        david said,

        I was going to say the person who changed the name over the phone got it wrong (at least as far as npowers rules and procedures are concerned).

        To claim discrmination based on this imo is unreaaonable. Have you never made a mistake?

        I would be VERY interested if npowers interpretation of data protection is contrary to the law. Would really help a friend of mine.

      • 24

        janefae said,

        there was more to it than in this blog piece and if you follow thru you’ll see why.

        I have written fairly extensively on the discrimination as well as data protection issues and am more than happy to assist you and your friend. My e-mail is pretty findable on the net, but in case you haven’t found it yet, its jane at ozimek dot co dot uk.

        As for what you post….the response was discriminatory, both in the facts of it and in the way it was handled (particularly the reference to “on a whim”). I’ve also taken a lot of legal advice since this happened and the basic answer seems to be that it is almost certainly indirect discrimination for organisations to demand documentation in this way unless they can show it to be NECESSARY and REASONABLE and since there are other ways of doing this, then its clearly neither.

        I take care, here, to say “discriminatory”, since nPower was one of the few organisations that i eventually started legal proceedings against (but settled amicably out of court). Many call centres make noises that are discriminatory…but i don’t then rush off to the courts. I talk. I escalate. And nine times out of ten, the matter is resolved amicably and without any resort to formal proceedings.

        In other words, i certainly do accept that mistakes happen at the first point of call…and i don’t get narked that much until i have exhausted what feel like reasonable discussions.

        As for nPower on data protection…i am not entirely sure this was THEIR interpretation as opposed to the interpretation of the individual involved. But most organisations get data protection wrong.

        They are under a requirement to process data accurately (one of the 8 principles) and also to do so in a way that does not cause distress to the data subject.

        Since there is no such thing as a “legal name” – only the name an individual is using, a refusal to amend name on request is quite likely a breach of principle 8. It may well be that it also causes distress: in writing about this issue, i have documented cases of organisations using names that were changed due to a history of abuse by, say, a step-parent.

        I honestly don’t think the phone guy knew what he was talking about: my suspicion is that he had some idea that there IS a legal name and that therefore documentation is needed in order to change it.

        Do get in touch.


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