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Estimated bills

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PoorbuthappyPoorbuthappy Forumite
2 posts
Part of the Furniture First Post Combo Breaker
MoneySaving Newbie
My husband died suddenly at the beginning of October and within a few weeks I notified the utility companies.  The water company put the account into my sole name ( previously it was just in my husband's name) and using an estimated reading they set up a direct debit.
Two days ago I received a call from someone at the water board from what I think was called CTR, telling me that the water metre hadn't been read since July 2018 and that having read it in March 2020 I now owe nearly £3.000. I tried to read the metre to check the reading but it is covered with muddy water. 

I was in complete shock and initially my son thought it might be a scam, as he couldn't believe that the water board would be so crass as to phone me during this particularly stressful time as I am living alone in isolation, especially as I was recently widowed.  However I phoned customer services who confirmed that this was correct and a very nice young lady told me not to worry as they couldn't believe that this could be accurate.  It apparently covers 19 months and for 6 months of this I was living alone.  Shortly after I put the phone down I was called again by CTR saying that the girl I had spoken to was new and shouldn't have given me that reassurance.  So back to worrying again!

Is it my fault that the metre wasn't read regularly and therefore am I responsible for this?  Customer services told me that they have put a stop on the bill until the metre can be read again but it would be helpful to know what my rights are, if any, before they contact me again. 

Replies

  • CardewCardew Forumite
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    Welcome to the forum.

    When your husband died, and the account was transferred into your name, they used an estimated meter reading to open your account. Thus it follows that the same estimated reading was used as the closing reading for the account that was in your husband’s name. Presumably you/your solicitor settled that account?

    That opens up the probability that this estimated meter reading was far too low and the amount due on your husband’s final bill should have been much higher. You need to find out the actual meter reading in July 2018.

    That said it is highly unlikely that a £3,000 bill, plus whatever was paid for your late husband’s final bill, could have been run up in 20 months unless you have a water leak, or the March 2020 meter reading is incorrect.

    So you need to get the water company to investigate and give you a full explanation. You also need to get someone to read your meter now and check you haven’t got a leak in the pipe leading to your house. You do this by turning off the stopcock in the house and check the meter doesn’t move. If that is OK check for a leak in the house, the normal culprit is a cistern overflowing and a (silent) flow of water back into the toilet basin.

    There is not the same customer protection for water accounts as there is for gas/electric accounts and the customer is liable for all water used even if there is a leak after the meter; although some companies will give a goodwill allowance for a leak; or your house insurance might cover the cost. Also if you receive an estimated bill the T&Cs normally state it is your(your husband’s) responsibility to check the estimated reading and notify the water company if it is incorrect.

    The other problem is, assuming there is a large bill, it will need to be apportioned between your husband’s estate and yourself. The water company could write off his proportion of the bill, or the water company might have a claim against you for your husband’s liability. You might need to take legal advice if the company make such a claim.

    If the water company’s solution is unacceptable, you should contact the Consumer Council for Water for assistance  https://www.ccwater.org.uk/households/






  • edited 14 April at 9:32AM
    PoorbuthappyPoorbuthappy Forumite
    2 posts
    Part of the Furniture First Post Combo Breaker
    MoneySaving Newbie
    edited 14 April at 9:32AM
    Thank you for your prompt response.
    Unfortunately my husband didn't leave an estate so I didn't have to apply for probate.  From the records it looks as though he was paying £38 a month by direct debit.  Based on that the account would have been slightly in credit I imagine.
    I contacted south east water and they sent me a letter in November saying that they had set up a payment plan for me to pay £68 per month, which was calculated using an estimated consumption of 55 cubic metres for 6 months, which was based on previous readings.   I have been paying this by direct debit and actually thought I must be overpaying as I live alone, with just a shower, no bath, and use the washing machine about once a week and the dishwasher every few days. Hence I was so shocked when I received the call.
    The person from CRT said that the metre wasn't moving so there isn't a leak, but kept asking if there had been one in the last 18 months, but to my certain knowledge there hasn't been.  
    A very kind man passing the house had a look and said he could confirm that the metre wasn't moving, but that it was impossible to read the dial as it was so dirty and wet. 
    I just can't see how the water bill can suddenly be so high.  The metre is over 20 years old but CRT said that doesn't make any difference. I must admit that I am surprised that there is no protection for the householder in this situation.
  • CardewCardew Forumite
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    The average consumption of water in UK is 55 cubic metres(m3) per person per year. So when your husband was alive approx. 110m3 pa would have been correct and now should be approx. 55m3 pa.

    The 2019/20 water/sewerage charges for SE water are shown here: https://www.southernwater.co.uk/media/2371/water-sewerage-charges-guide-19-20.pdf

    You will see that the charges are made up of £85* in standing charges and a combined charge of £3.83 per m3 for combined water and sewerage.

    *Could be £25.90 less if no surface water charge

    Thus the charge for 110m3 would be £506 pa and for 55m3 would be £295 pa.

    If your husband was paying12 x £38 = £456 (some water companies use a 10 payment year for their DD scheme) and you did use 110m3 pa you would be underpaying by £50 pa. With your payment of £68 you will be paying £816pa and based on annual consumption of 55m3 an overpayment of over £500 pa.

    So it would appear that the account had a debit balance at the time of your husband’s death(but not £3,000) and you are paying off his debt.






  • CompetsophCompetsoph Forumite
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    I can’t offer you any help but just wanted to say I’m so sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. We had similar issues with a water company when my grandma passed, they still insist on speaking to her after 7 months. I hope you find a resolution and wish you the best. xx
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