Water Bill Advice - not been charged for 6 years - what are our rights?

First time post her on the forum. We are really in need of some sound advice and hopefully this is a good place to get some help. 

We've been in our current property in Cambridgeshire for nearly 6 years. It's a new build and our first home together. Previously we had been living in a privately rented home in the city centre for several years. 

Over the Christmas period, we've discovered that we have not been paying our water and sewage bills for the new house. The majority of our monthly bills are paid jointly, but we do have a few exceptions where one party pays the bill from their own account. Water billing was one of these items and this has meant that we've not flagged the lack of monthly charging. 

When we moved from our rented house, the letting agency required us to settle all ultiliy bills and provide a forwarding address. So, Cambridge Water must have been informed of the change in address but its clearly never been actioned. We can't find an email or letter to verify this though. We have a water meter at the property and have seen this be checked by the company. But we have never received a single bill or letter in that whole period. 

We obviously need to raise this with Cambridge Water and advise of the issue, but we are very worried about receiving a very large bill and probably some additional penalty charges on top. We are not in a position to pay the cost off in a lump sum. Expecting a bill of several £1000's. 

Obviously there has been an error on our part. But we've not deliberately avoided payment. We always pay our bills on time every monthly without exception. There is clearly an admin error on the company's side too. Will they take that into account? Are they still able to recover the full amount, even though they have not contacted us over the entire period? 

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I want to contact Cambridge Water this week to start to resolve the problem. But we want to be prepared before we do so. 

Many thanks to anyone who can help. 
James

Comments

  • Keep_pedalling
    Keep_pedalling Posts: 16,162
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    Don’t forget that with  rights comes responsibilities.
  • Exodi
    Exodi Posts: 2,763
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    edited 29 January at 10:37AM
    We've been in our current property in Cambridgeshire for nearly 6 years. 
    ...
    Over the Christmas period, we've discovered that we have not been paying our water and sewage bills
    If I'm being completely honest, most of your post appears to be blame-shifting. Letting agents ask about service accounts at the end of a tenancy to help prevent ex-tenants being lumbered with the new tenants bills (e.g. if they forget to notify service providers that they live there) and vice versa. They're not responsible for signing you up with all the new utility providers?

    I'd stop looking for excuses and get it dealt with. Sorry if that's harsh but I had the water board approach me with a high 4 figure water bill when I bought my current house, as it turned out the previous owners also didn't realise that they hadn't ever paid for water.

    This wasn't your first property, presumably you paid water at your previous property. Did they reach out to you? Have they stated the debt? 
    Obviously there has been an error on our part. But we've not deliberately avoided payment. We always pay our bills on time every monthly without exception. There is clearly an admin error on the company's side too. Will they take that into account?
    Forgive me, what was the water boards clear admin error?
    Know what you don't
  • DE_612183
    DE_612183 Posts: 1,589
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    From Ofwat ( The Regulator ):

    If your water company hasn’t billed you

    All customers have to pay for the water and sewerage services that they receive, and most people are billed at least twice a year. Sometimes water companies find it difficult to find out who is responsible for a bill, and it can be some time before they send out a bill, particularly if you have moved house.

    Bad debts in the water sector cost everyone money and companies will make every effort to ensure that bills are paid. This means that even if you have not had a water bill for some time you will still owe the water company money for the services you have received. Companies may charge you up to six years of unpaid water and sewerage charges. However, this will depend on the circumstances of your case. Your company should also offer you a reasonable repayment plan to allow you to spread repayments.

  • We paid all our bills at the previous property and provided a forwarding address/termination when we moved. We've noticed the issue and are going to take steps to address it.

    The water company have never sent us a single bill or letter over the entire period. They've been reading the meter (hopefully) but no other action. 
  • MattMattMattUK
    MattMattMattUK Posts: 8,207
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    First time post her on the forum. We are really in need of some sound advice and hopefully this is a good place to get some help. 

    We've been in our current property in Cambridgeshire for nearly 6 years. It's a new build and our first home together. Previously we had been living in a privately rented home in the city centre for several years. 

    Over the Christmas period, we've discovered that we have not been paying our water and sewage bills for the new house. The majority of our monthly bills are paid jointly, but we do have a few exceptions where one party pays the bill from their own account. Water billing was one of these items and this has meant that we've not flagged the lack of monthly charging. 

    When we moved from our rented house, the letting agency required us to settle all ultiliy bills and provide a forwarding address. So, Cambridge Water must have been informed of the change in address but its clearly never been actioned. We can't find an email or letter to verify this though. We have a water meter at the property and have seen this be checked by the company. But we have never received a single bill or letter in that whole period. 
    You moving property is irrelevant, when you move into a new property you are required to register with all the utility providers and submit an opening meter read. That being said it is odd you have not received bills addressed to "The Occupier", so there is a chance the property was never properly registered with Cambridge Water when it was built, so without the trigger of a resident signing up, that error has not been corrected. Do you have a water meter, or just a fixed supply?
    We obviously need to raise this with Cambridge Water and advise of the issue, but we are very worried about receiving a very large bill and probably some additional penalty charges on top. We are not in a position to pay the cost off in a lump sum. Expecting a bill of several £1000's. 

    Obviously there has been an error on our part. But we've not deliberately avoided payment. We always pay our bills on time every monthly without exception. There is clearly an admin error on the company's side too. Will they take that into account? Are they still able to recover the full amount, even though they have not contacted us over the entire period? 

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I want to contact Cambridge Water this week to start to resolve the problem. But we want to be prepared before we do so. 

    Many thanks to anyone who can help. 
    James
    If you are on a water meter then they will be able to bill based on exact usage, they should base this on the prices over six years, accounting for changes in unit rates. If you are on "water rates" then it will be a very simple calculation. Depending on your usage, for two people one would expect the total bill on a water meter to be between £1,000 and £2,000 over that period unless you are very heavy water users. 

    They should offer you a payment plan in these circumstances if that is something you need, but be aware that this will likely take some time to resolve. 
  • MattMattMattUK
    MattMattMattUK Posts: 8,207
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    The water company have never sent us a single bill or letter over the entire period. They've been reading the meter (hopefully) but no other action. 
    If they had been reading the meter then they would have been generating bills to "The Occupier" as you had not registered with them. What has likely happened is that the developer never registered the meter with them when they built the property and you not registering with Cambridge Water allowed that error to continue. 
  • Rodders53
    Rodders53 Posts: 2,083
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    Why do you think this is an admin error on part of CW (and Anglian for Sewerage)?

    You have to tell the Utility companies that you have occupied a property and supply 'start' meter reads, as well as that you have vacated another property with the end meter reads.

    Nothing to do with letting agencies and their processes.

    If you have your moving in water meter read and go read the meter again now.  Then you can do a fairly accurate calculation of your charges.  No meter read you'll have to trust their meter readers' figures.  A new meter may well have been close to zero (the builders will have used some) and you could assume that to do some calculations from a meter read today.

    Cambridge Water may well offer a repayment plan to you;  but will expect to charge for the last 6 years of use.
    Anglian Water estimate their average user charge for water and sewerage is £1.35 a day following the 23-24 10% price increase... so you may owe as much as £3k?  Hopefully a fair bit less if sensible water users in a new build with water saving features built in.
  • Cardew
    Cardew Posts: 29,034
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    Your situation with a new build has been reported many times on this forum.

    Leaving a forwarding address for paying your existing bill, doesn't mean you will become liable for paying bills at that address.

    The posts above have correctly stated what you should have done on moving in. However the developer/builder should have registered the property and paid for water used and standing charges until you became legally the owner; and if the meter is being read it would appear that the property is registered. It has happened that bills have been sent to the developer who has binned them or even paid them!

    That said on new developments there is often a mix up on addresses e.g. your house might have been, say,
    Plot #20 which gets translated into No 20 Arcadia Avenue; thus bills could have been sent to a non-existent address. - possibly threats of legal action. 

    Just write to Company and explain the position. You will certainly get time to pay and they might even be lenient! 
  • freesha
    freesha Posts: 337
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    "Rights" for what exactly? Wriggling off the hook? Precisely none.
  • wolvoman
    wolvoman Posts: 1,173
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    I have the same for gas. Have tried on at least 20 occasions to get a supplier to take us on but to no avail - our meter isn’t registered despite me continually trying to get it so.
    I’m at 14 years of unpaid gas now - probably circa £20k
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