A FAMILY firm is facing ruin after being hit with a £60,000 electricity bill – because of a mistake by its energy provider.

Bosses at Rippleheads Ice Creams, Blackburn, said they had never missed a payment but had been left with the whopping bill because electricity giant EON fitted the wrong meter.

One Blackburn community leader said he had been left ‘gobsmacked’ at the demand and said the firm should show more responsibility when dealing with small businesses.

Rippleheads has been run from its site in Appleby Street for 10 years and even though EON officials have taken regular quarterly readings, the energy company said it had been under-charged by £60,000.

EON apologised and admitted responsibility, but said that as Rippleheads had used more electricity than it had paid for the new bill would be pursued.

Catherine Elliot, Rippleheads owner, said she was given the bombshell news of the bill in a phone call from EON.

After protest EON agreed to drop the bill to £37,000, then £30,000, but said it must be paid either in full or installments.

EON said it now realised an incorrect meter was fixed when the premises was built in 2000 - and that readings were a tenth of what they should have been.

Mrs Elliot said: “Clearly this sort of bill could send us out of business. How on earth can they expect us to pay?

"We have always paid what we have been asked to and always paid on time.

"This is not something that we have caused and we are devastated that we could be faced with such a bill. It is ridiculous and we will fight it."

She said that over the years she has never had concerns over the bills.

Mrs Elliot said: "EON have been reading our meter for the past 10 years every three or four months and we always get a normal quarterly bill of around £400.

"We have another unit next door so we never thought there was anything wrong because the bills were similar at the two premises."

In the unit there is a small office, several lights and two walk-in chillers.

A spokesman for EON said: "We are sorry for the poor service received and we understand that it is a large bill and is unacceptable, however the electricity has been used."

In a letter to Mrs Elliot, EON said: "We originally believed our meter had five dials and since investigating your account we have established that the meter has six dials.

"To acknowledge the errors we have made we are willing to offer you a reduction in the balance for payment in full or an extended payment arrangement."

Mrs Elliot said: "We cannot pay and will not pay. We will be taking this to Ofcom.

"They have admitted their mistake and we should not be made to pay.

"These charges date back over 10 years. They cannot do this."

Audley councillor Salim Sidat said: "I am absolutely appalled at this demand from EON.

"It is disgusting the way the firm is being treated. If this is the fault of the electric company there is no way that Rippleheads, which is only a small company, should be expected to pay. This could destroy them."

Rippleheads was established in Hutton Street, Blackburn, in 1975 by Mrs Elliot's father Fred and operates a fleet of ice cream vans as well as supplying many shops across the area.