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'Thames Water charged me three times too much - and refuses to reimburse me'

Jessica Gorst-Williams
Jan Citroen’s water bill was originally based on the rateable value of her home  - Jeff Gilbert

When I moved here in 1993, as the sole occupant, I asked for a water meter. I was refused on the grounds that I shared the water pipes with my neighbours. 

I received a letter this year from Thames Water replying to a recent request for a meter which set out a charges table. I was horrified to see that, as the sole occupant of a three-bedroom cottage, I had been for many years paying three times the amount. My annual bill was then adjusted to £219 rather than £623.

Jan Citroen, Surrey

Yet Thames Water refused to reimburse you for the bills overpaid in the past, which it says you had not challenged at the time. As you say, you had had nothing to go by.

Thames Water said that when you initially unsuccessfully requested a water meter in 1993 and then in 1998, it did not have an alternative tariff for customers such as yourself. Therefore your account continued to be charged on the rateable value of your home.

In 2001 the Government introduced the Average Household Charge, based on the number of bedrooms and the size of the property, for customers who had newly applied for a water meter but were unable to have one. 

Thames Water says there was no requirement to retrospectively apply the tariff to bills of customers who had previously been unsuccessful with their meter applications.

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In 2008 an Assessed Household Charge, based on the average metered bill for a household, came in. Again Thames Water says there was no requirement to backdate this.  

In 2009 a single occupier tariff was introduced for people in this category. Thames Water said: “Our customers in this scenario needed to reapply for a meter after the appropriate tariff became available.”  

Although there was no obligation to retrospectively apply the tariff, Thames Water could have done so but chose not to.

The Consumer Council for Water, the independent watchdog, at my suggestion took on the complaint. Its telephone number is 0300 034 2222 in England or 0300 034 3333 if you are in Wales. The website is ccwater.org.uk

It told Thames Water that you had demonstrated clear concern that your existing charges were too expensive and had asked it to backdate them to the more favourable tariff and suggested it explain “if it can be identified that previous applications were not responded to correctly, and if any other part of the metering process failed”.

Echoing what I had said to Thames Water, the council pointed out that you would not continually reapply for a meter if you had previously been told you could not have one.  

I wondered if any attempts had been made to contact customers to advise of the new charging structure. Thames Water said it did not have resources to tell people about this. 

The outcome of the investigation was negative and this was disappointing.  Any other customers in a similar position will need to consider the situation and probably take action.