LYNSEY DE PAUL: Energy drained by Thames Water dispute

Last September, Thames Water sent me a six-monthly bill for �358.82p, double the usual amount. As a matter of principle, I decided to look into this before paying. I telephoned Thames Water and waited an interminable amount of time until someone answered.

Last September, Thames Water sent me a six-monthly bill for �358.82p, double the usual amount. As a matter of principle, I decided to look into this before paying.

I telephoned Thames Water and waited an interminable amount of time until someone answered. I explained the problem and asked them to send someone to read the meter. They told me I should read the meter and said that it was situated on the right-hand side of the house by the pillar.

I found two metal flaps in the pavement to the right by the pillar. With the help of a nearby builder, we levered both open with a screwdriver to find they were jam-packed with sand, mud and worms, but with no sign of a water meter.

I called Thames Water again and waited another 15 minutes while my patience 'trickled' away. Eventually, someone answered and I informed them there was no meter where they said it should be, I did not see why I should have to do Thames Water's work for them and would they please send someone round for a reading - assuming anyone could find it. They promised to do so in the next 30 days and assured me there would be no further demands as this was now an ongoing enquiry.


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On November 9, before a representative had called round, I received a bright red final demand. I telephoned Thames Water and waited while another 15 minutes of my life 'ebbed' away. They said they would make a note against my account to not send any reminders. A few days later, a new bill arrived showing a revised payment due of �433.38p. I hung up after five minutes because no-one answered.

At the end of November, I was sent a 'Statement Of Intent' informing me that Thames Water was now going to put the outstanding bill in the hands of a debt collector, which could include a visit to my home.

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Back on the phone... more waiting. This time, I offered, in good faith, to pay half the bill as that was the usual amount, which they accepted by credit card. The following week, I received a Thames Water official letter saying that someone had read the meter and found nothing wrong with it.

Another phone call, another wait, another explanation. On December 22, a very nice man called Martin came to check the meter, which was situated to the left of the house by the pillar. He determined there may be a leak as the meter kept revolving, albeit slowly, despite all the water having been turned off inside and outside the house.

He said he would send someone to investigate. No-one came. Instead, in mid-January I received a big bold red letter from a debt-collection agency stating: "Your immediate response is required. A debt collector is being scheduled to visit your property; you are at high risk of court action."

I immediately called the Swindon telephone number on their letter heading only to be put through to India. To add insult to injury, the computers in India were working slowly and so we were forced to wait until my details came up on screen.

Once they appeared, a very helpful man told me that there was no note to the effect that this was an ongoing enquiry and that the matter had been closed. We spoke for a further 10 minutes while I 'poured out' the chain of events to which he was most sympathetic, but after which his sole advice was to call Thames Water. I told him I had made a 'torrent' of calls, and that he was my seventh attempt.

At that point, I decided enough was enough. I had had too much of my life 'drained away' by Thames Water for a matter of principle and �179.

Furthermore, I did not want my good credit rating sullied over such nonsense. I told him I would pay the bill, including the extra that had accrued since the enquiry began, but would contact the newspapers and to please make a note of that.

I felt I had been strong-armed into paying a possibly inaccurate bill, had a suspected leak at my meter, had spent well over two hours of my time trying to get Thames Water to remedy a problem and ended up in exactly the same position as I was in when I started out.

No matter if the amount was in question: when it came to having money demanded with ensuing threats of court action, there seemed to be no recourse but to pay up. My only option was to name and shame, which, at least, might help others who have been put through the 'water-mill' as I was.

Hampstead resident Lynsey de Paul is a singer songwriter best known for her 1970s hit singles which included the Ivor Novello award-winning Won't Somebody Dance With Me.

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