water drop

Ryan Bishop, a 29-year-old scaffolding firm owner from Peacehaven in East Sussex, has been handed a gargantuan £33,000 water bill. Apparently 21.5 million litres of water leaked from the pipes around his rented property - enough to fill six swimming pools - and the water company decided to bill him for every litre.

So how could this happen?


Leak

The local paper, the Brighton Argus, said that the water company, South East Water, read the meter in June and realised that the usage was around 50 times higher than it should have been. It contacted Bishop to warn him that he needed to sort the leak out.

The Daily Mail reported that Bishop said he warned his landlord and the property developer about it at the time, but neither took any action. The Argus said that the landlord denied knowing anything about it until this week.

The property developer says they had no record of being contacted about the matter. In the end the water company made the repairs and billed the tenant.

Bishop told the Mail: "It was a bit of a shock, I phoned the water company up and they said it wasn't a mistake. There was a leak outside the property and it's down to me or the landlord to pay."

Your rights

The issue of leaks can be a difficult one. Ofwat says that the location of the leak will usually determine who is responsible for repairing it. If it takes place outside the boundary of your property, it's entirely up to the water company to repair the leak. If it takes place within the boundary - in the garden - then it depends how accessible the pipe is.

If no digging is required, the water company will usually do it for free. If excavation is needed then either the water company will make the repair and charge the homeowner, or the homeowner will be expected to arrange it and pay for it themselves.

If you sort the leak in good time you should be okay. Ofwat says: "Undetected leaks can lead to abnormally high water bills. The water company may agree to reduce the bill to its usual level (a 'leakage allowance'), provided the householder repairs the leak within a reasonable time."

South East Water has gone a bit further than it had to. Its terms and conditions state that: "If the cause of the leakage is fully repaired, you will qualify for a one-off leakage allowance, where we will adjust your charges back to their normal levels." It is offering to do this for Bishop's bill - despite the fact that it had to make the repair itself.

What can you do?

In the end, despite the initial shock, it seems that Bishop should find his water bill drops to something more manageable. However it's a useful reminder of how vital it is to keep on top of our bills: what we are spending, and whether it tallies with what we expect.

If there is a difference it could be a mistake at the utility company, you may be wasting water, gas or electricity in ways you're unaware of. And in the case of water, there may be a leak outside the property.

South East Water say it's worth checking for leaks if you suspect this may be the problem. It suggests you turn off any appliances which may be using water, such as washing machines and dishwashers. Then check your cisterns and water tanks to make sure that they are not filling (you can usually hear this) and turn off your internal stop tap, which is normally under the kitchen sink. At this point you'll need to take a meter reading, leave the water turned off for another hour, and then take a second reading. If it has changed, you may have a leak.



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