Thames Water and Me

by Duncan Macdonald

February, 2014


Contents List:

Preamble
General Introduction
A Leak in TWat's Supply Line
Homeserve
Water Bills
"Bank Raid"?
An Interim Arrangement
Purpose

Return to:

World Views
Ardue Site Plan

See also:

In Search of Justice — 1
The Anomalous Powers of Water Companies
Local Empowerment and The Internet


Preamble

Regular readers may be surprised to find this essay about a business dispute on this "educational" site. I offer it because holistic interpretations of the Universe may legitimately be viewed as a kaleidoscope of individual personal experiences and observations. Furthermore, some readers may find the following account of my experience with a water supply company helpful in seeking justice in their own relationships with suppliers of essential goods and services.

General Introduction

I live in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and receive my domestic water supply as a "captive customer" of Thames Water (TWat).

My long-standing practice has been to pay all my "utility" bills by means of a Direct Debit arrangement whereby my bank once a month pays the supplier a fixed sum calculated on the basis of my consumption of electricity, gas, or water as measured by a meter supplied by the relevant utility company. The amount of the monthly direct debit for the each month is calculated on the basis of consumption during the month or period adjusted for any over- or under-payment for the previous month or period.

Should I wish to stop consumption of gas or electricity for any reason (e.g., to effect repairs to an appliance), I can isolate my domestic system from the supply by means of a Master Switch adjacent to the relevant meter.

I can similarly isolate my domestic plumbing arrangements from the water supply by means of a stop-cock in the kitchen.

A Leak in TWat's Supply Line

Until May, 2011, I could maintain records of my domestic water consumption by periodically reading a water meter adjacent to the stop-cock in the kitchen. I could thus keep an eye on my family's water consumption and discourage "waste" by insistence on a few simple family disciplines, mostly ensuring that taps were not left running unnecessarily (e.g. while brushing teeth). This idyll was shattered when TWat operations on a neighbour's supply somehow introduced grit into my supply, rendering the meter inoperative and causing my washing machine to seize up.

Subsequent "re-engineering" by TWat removed the water meter from my kitchen and installed a new one about twenty meters outside the house and buried about two feet deep beneath a hedge. The stop-cock, which is my only means of controlling the volume of water actually consumed in my household, is still in my kitchen but is now something like thirty meters distant from the meter which I am no longer able to read with my octogenarian eyes. I have no means of stopping the water supply before it passes the meter and reaches the stop-cock in the kitchen, so the length of pipe between the meter and the stop-cock is beyond my conrol.

Through reading the "new" meter, Twat discovered that my consumption of water had apparently greatly increased. Investigation revealed a significant hole in the pipe outside my house but between the new meter and the stop-cock. Much to my surprise, I found that the regulations governing water supply make me responsible for maintenance of the supply pipe from the new meter onwards, i.e., for something like thirty meters of TWat supply pipe over which I have no control. I therefore had to bear the costs of repairs not only to my washing machine but also to a 50-year-old TWat pipe which had been installed when the house was built and which had clearly been leaking copiously for years. Thus, by situating water meters near the extreme edges of properties, TWat can in effect transfer a significant proportion of the costs of supply pipe maintenance to unsuspecting householders.

Homeserve

This apparent injustice enabled TWat to create a new revenue stream by offering "protection" against all manner of water-connected "incidents" through the "Complete Water Cover" policy of its Homeserve insurance subsidiary at a premium which may significantly exceed that charged by other reputable insurance companies for complete Buildings and Contents cover. In the case of at least one such company, domestic cover already includes payment of up to Ł2,500 in respect of necessary repairs to underground pipes.

Water Bills

In previous years, I became accustomed to receiving water bills recording the number of cubic metres of water consumed by my household during the previous 6 months under two heads:

  1. A "Fixed Charge" plus a charge per cubic meter for the supply of fresh water consumed during the period.
  2. A "Fixed Charge" plus a charge per cubic meter for disposal of "wastewater" — (i.e. used water) via Thames Water's drainage/sewage system.

The amount of the monthly direct debit for the next period was calculated on the basis of previous consumption adjusted for any over- or under-payment for the previous period.

My "bill" dated 18 October, 2013, merely introduced what it called my "new payment plan for water and wastewater services", and showed that my monthly direct debit was to be increased from Ł9 to Ł16 without giving any relevant quantitative reason.

I strongly objected to this change — not only because of the high-handed approach represented by a "payment plan" imposed upon me by a supplier but particularly because it made no reference to actual water consumption as measured by the water meter buried under my hedge. I was therefore left to doubt whether the meter was being read at all or if TWat had found a way of economising by non-employment of meter-readers.

"Bank Raid"?

The above "plan" contained no reference to my actual consumption or to the relevant charges per cubic meter. Neither did it provide any other justification for such a large increase. Therefore it does not appear to me to fulfil the requirements for a legitimate bill but seems rather to be tantamount to a mere raid on my bank account.

An Interim Arrangement

As a self-protective measure, I discontinued my Direct Debits in favour of TWat and Homeserve, and have agreed with TWat that when my meter is read the reader shall, if I am not at home, post a card recording the date and the meter reading through my letter box.

I shall, however, continue to seek a change in the water regulations to ensure:

  1. that the householder's stop-cock rather than a remote water-meter shall define the point at which the householder begins to accept responsibility for any leaks of water.
  2. that an easily legible water meter shall be sited adjacent to the stop-cock.
  3. that payment of the "Fixed Charge" elements for water supply and disposal shall universally be recognised as fully meeting any obligation on the part of the householder to contribute to maintenance of the company's pipes and sewers.

If and when the above requirements have been met, I shall be happy to resume paying TWat by Direct Debit.

I shall also be glad to participate in the Smart Metering scheme outlined in

Thames Water.

Purpose

My purpose in publishing this sad tale is to stimulate other "captive customers" who have experienced similar cavalier treatment from TWat or any other water supplier into making their views known to the company. The simplest way of doing this is by writing to the Company Chairman. In the case of TWat, the Chairrman at the time of writing is Sir Peter Mason KBE, Thames Water, Clearwater Court, Vastern Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 8DB.

The aid of local media, Councillors, and MPs should also be sought, and the Internet is always available.

Apparently arbitrary raids on bank accounts by public companies must be strongly challenged: docile submission shall only encourage them to persist in fattening their profits at your expense.