A SELBY woman locked in a year-long battle with npower to switch gas supplier has finally settled the dispute with the help of an independent watchdog.

Dawn Crossland turned to energywatch North East, the watchdog for gas and electricity consumers, after she spent a year trying to move her gas account to British Gas.

npower repeatedly raised objections to the transfer, despite telling Dawn on a number of occasions that the switch could go ahead.

Dawn said: "We did everything correctly and I got a letter telling me it was going through. "The electricity transferred straight away but the gas didn't. We kept contacting them and they would say I hadn't fulfilled my obligations with them.

"We couldn't understand if because we always paid the bills on time and nothing was outstanding."

At one point, Dawn considered hiring a solicitor, but was advised by British Gas to contact energywatch, who wrote to npower on her behalf.

"It was absolutely ridiculous. I was very poorly at the time and we had family problems so we didn't need the hassle.

"I was also angry that I was missing out on my dual fuel discount."

Within days of receiving the energywatch letter, npower admitted that they had raised objections by mistake due to a "system error" and Dawn's account was transferred to British Gas.

She also received a £30 cheque as compensation for her phone calls.

There have been 7,000 complaints made to energywatch in the last year from consumers in the north-east, the highest number of any region, and the supplier transfer process was the main subject of a top-level energy summit this week.

Carole Pitkeathley, director of energywatch North East, said: "It's obvious that the problems associated with switching have become a major turn-off for consumers, who view them as a strong disincentive to making the change and getting a better deal.

"It's time for the dreaded phrase 'an error in our systems' to be consigned to the rubbish bin. Consumers want action, not continual excuses."

Consumers who experience problems with their energy suppliers can contact energywatch on 08459 060708.

Updated: 11:59 Saturday, June 14, 2003