Water Bills for the Rich


The tough job of getting the right bill to pay

tap.pngWhen I received and opened my first water bill, I rubbed my eyes and thought ‘This is impossible!’

Last year I bought a small flat in the district of Redbridge into which my children moved at the end of October. A few days after my initial move I managed to get some spare time from unpacking cardboard boxes and notified everyone who needed to know of my change of address.

As soon as I moved in to the flat I notified EDF energy of the reading on my electricity meter and also established a new account with Essex and Suffolk Water who instructed me on where to find my water meter because I had been unable find it. A nice lady explained to me that the meter was outside the building, near the footpath and looked like the round black cover of a CD. Unfortunately my second attempt at finding the water meter also failed.

A few days later however, I was given an estimated forecast of water consumption for one year and based on this it became clear that I would be paying a minimum of £19 per month. I learned that the water company treats this estimated payment as a kind of advance and receives full payment based on later actual meter readings. I got in touch with my bank and instructed them to pay my water bill by using the so-called ‘Direct Debit’ system, not then knowing I would get a bill in three months that would give me a serious case of vertigo!

One day I came home and found waiting for me a water bill. When I opened I simply couldn’t believe what I saw. According to the latest meter reading me and my two kids aged 9 and 11 had consumed more than 860 cubic meters of water from the 3rd of November 2008 to the 16th of January, amounting to a payment of £1336!!!

In my former flat where I lived with my brother we paid £280 a year for water consumption, with the only difference that our water supplier was Thames Water.

I immediately called the water company for an explanation of why my bill was so high even though no one is at home most of the day – my kids are at school between 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon while I am at work from 8 in the morning to 7 at night. In addition we had been very careful with our water consumption in order to avoid paying lots of money for water. I even attempted to ask them ironically whether they put gold into their water, but it became immediately obvious that no one at the water company would be capable of understanding my joke as all the people who work there seem to be like little wind-up robots, who have memorised certain answers to certain questions.

As I expected, I did not hear one word of compassion or understanding, not even to the effect that such a high consumption of water in such a short space of time was extremely unlikely. One female robot told me over the phone that there must be a leak somewhere. I thought to myself that the only explanation of such large water consumption would be if I were running a public swimming pool. I got nowhere on the phone so I sent the company an e-mail in which I described the entire situation together with a calculation.

According to this quick calculation I made, the amount of water that Essex and Suffolk Water claimed that I used covers a period of 7 years with the amount of £1336 being at least enough for 4 years of water usage. Of course, I also added that I am a journalist.

Out of curiosity, I asked a colleague of mine who also happens to be with Essex and Suffolk Water how much his family of four pay for water every month – it turned out that they paid around £30 to £40.

When I showed him my water bill he literally put his hands on his head in shock and said that either previous tenants of the flat hadn’t paid their water bills or that the meter was broken or maybe the meter reading was wrong. James called Essex and Suffolk Water to ask for someone to come and look at the meter but there was no intention of sending anyone over. The robot on the other end of the phone suggested that we not only check the meter reading but conduct a leak test ourselves!

My good friend turned up at my house but he couldn’t find my meter either despite getting dirty searching in the mud for black CD shaped meters. During this search we found the meters of my neighbours but mine still remains hidden somewhere.

I became so irritated by all this that I sent the water company an e-mail stating that I had already started to write an article about all that had so far happened and that I was determined to see this article in print no matter what. Can you imagine then, my dear readers, that this actually got a result!

Literally 15 minutes after sending the e-mail my mobile rang and Essex and Suffolk Water was on the phone, suddenly extremely eager to send a technician over to my flat and I was even asked to choose a day and time. This is a testimony to the power of the media. My problem was finally solved and the bill amended – of course the previous reading was wrong.

By Alicja Borkowska

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