COMMUNITY centre workers were shocked to be hit with an electricity bill for nearly £18,000.
Sunderland North Family Zone fears it could face closure after being threatened with disconnection and a visit from bailiffs.
Centre co-ordinator Linda Procopis, who is disputing the charges, said problems started after gas central heating was installed at the Hylton Castle centre and the charity changed suppliers.
She agrees the money is owed to former supplier npower, but says most of the bills are based on estimates.
The mum-of-two said: “This has gone on since we moved here in 2006.
“The whole building was heated by electric, which was supplied by npower.
“We had no problems for the first 18 months, but then the bills were too high in the winter so we got a grant for gas central heating.
“In 2007, the old underfloor heating was taken out and we transferred over to a new energy supplier.
“After a few months the electricity bill was coming in from them and we were in credit.
“I got on to our new supplier and checked with them.
“After about 18 months they sent three engineers out and they all said the meter was fine and we didn’t owe anything. However, the fourth lad that came out found the new electricity meter was not connected properly and the old one was still running.”
Mrs Procopis said during those two years they received no bills from npower, although she put the credits from her new supplier aside.
“I phoned them (npower) up and said I think you are still supplying us.
“We had nothing for months. Then we got a telephone directory of invoices saying we owed them £18,000.
“When we had everything electric, including underfloor heating, the bills were about £350 a month.
“We have never said we don’t owe them anything, but two years at £350 or £400 a month is not £18,000.
“The estimated bills range from £16 one month to £1,300 the next.”
Now staff at the centre in Cranleigh Road are anxiously waiting to see what happens.
The future would be bleak if they have to pay the full £18,000 and their electricity supply was cut off.
“Absolutely, we would have to close,” said Linda.
“We helped 100 people into work last year through the Future Jobs Fund and the community would lose a nursery, as well as all the activities and courses we run here.”
A spokesman for npower said: “We don’t want to see the Zone struggle, so we’re looking at recalculating the debt using lower rates, which should substantially reduce the amount.”