A customer is billed for high water usage due to an undetected leak (September 2017)

High bills, Meters, poles, wires and pipes
Case Number 2017/17114
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Mr L was issued a water bill for $3,165.00 on 28 July 2017. On 2 August 2017, Mr L received a call from his water company to inform him of high levels of water usage at the residential property he owns in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs. His neighbor also informed him that there was a lot of water in his garden. Mr L had settled on the property in December 2016, and did not know about the leak until his neighbor told him about the excess water.

Mr L arranged for a plumber to come to the property. The plumber told Mr L there was a bend in the water connection, which was rectified on 3 August 2017. Mr L spoke with the water company again and was advised that he should have been monitoring his water usage. Mr L said the water meter was buried underground, and only uncovered when the plumber attended the property. The water company offered to reduce Mr L’s debt by $1,348 on the current bill, and $700 on the subsequent bill.

The customer contacted EWOV unhappy with the company’s offer. He wanted the company to resolve the complaint by reducing the high bill to reflect his previous usage history. We raised an Assisted Referral, which was upgraded to an investigation due to the complexity of the case.

The Investigation

The water company explained to EWOV that it had taken a quarterly meter reading for Mr L’s property on 17 July 2017, showing 577 kL of water usage. On 20 July 2017, the company verified the reading, which showed an extra 25 kL of water use in the three days that had passed (or 8,333 litres per day). A bill was generated that day, although it was not issued until 28 July 2017.

The water company said in the past it was unable to access the meter because of a locked gate. The previous home owner provided their own reading using a self-read card each quarter, and the water company left a self-read card for Mr L. However, the water company had not received meter readings from Mr L in January 2017 and April 2017, so it sent him an SMS asking for a reading. Mr L received the SMS but did not send the reading. Mr L maintained he was unable to find the meter, and that he called the company, but the company had no record of the call. The company told EWOV Mr L took no further action to resolve the issue at the time.

Regarding the discount offered, the water company noted it was more than a 50% reduction towards Mr L’s water usage charges, and well above the Water Industry Regulations guidelines, which state that fee waivers for undetected leaks should be capped at $1,000. The company said it issued Mr L’s bill as swiftly as possible upon receiving the reading, and that the bill accurately reflected the volume of water supply to the property, regardless of Mr L’s actual use. The company said it was under no obligation to contact customers to inform them of high meter readings, and that it did so as a courtesy. The company also noted that bills shouldn’t be a means for identifying possible faults on property. To avoid future estimated readings, the company offered to replace Mr L’s current water meter with a remote meter at no cost to Mr L.

The customer was dissatisfied with the water company’s response. Mr L said he had moved into the property in early 2017 and didn’t know where the meter was, and didn’t notice his bills were estimated. He said that after receiving an SMS asking for meter readings from the water company, he requested a representative come to the property to locate the meter, but the water company never followed through. Mr L also said that there was a delay in billing, as the water company issued the bill eight days after verifying the meter reading.

EWOV requested further information from the water company, and the company advised that it was the customer’s responsibility to locate the meter upon moving into the property. The company also said that Mr L’s bills were clearly marked “estimated”, and it had no record of him following up with the company after the April SMS. 

The Outcome

The water company apologised for the delay in billing and any inconvenience caused by the matter, and offered a further credit of $301.57 towards Mr L’s account. Along with the initial offer of of $1,817.40 towards Mr L’s current invoice, and a further $700.42 on his next bill, Mr L’s debt was reduced to $746.88, due 30 November 2017. Mr L was satisfied with the outcome and the case was closed.

Related content

Hot topic

Hot Topic − Fair and reasonable (August 2018)

Getting connected and changing energy company, Energy disconnection and water restriction, Trouble paying a bill, Debt collection and credit default listings, Outages, brownouts and power surges, High bills, Billing mistakes, Delayed and catch-up bills, Meters, poles, wires and pipes
Hot topic

Take 15 minutes to check for a water leak (June 2016)

High bills, Meters, poles, wires and pipes
Checking and repairing water leaks not only saves water but can also save you money on your water bill.