Difficult customer circumstances complicate efforts to address a high water bill caused by a leak (July 2017)

Trouble paying a bill, High bills
Case Number 2017/9675
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

Via Centrepay, Ms M had been making fortnightly $15 payments to cover her water bills. Ms M contacted her water company after receiving an unusually high bill of more than $600.

She then contacted EWOV, dissatisfied with how her company had handled the matter. She said that the water company had sent a plumber to her property – something that she saw as an invasion of her privacy. Ms M wanted the high bill reduced in line with her usual consumption.

After EWOV raised an Assisted Referral, Ms M recontacted us to say that she had not received a response, so an Investigation was opened. Ms M also disclosed that she had mental health conditions, including agoraphobia – an anxiety disorder that causes people to perceive their environment as unsafe.  

The Investigation

We contacted the water company, which confirmed that after a high reading on 9 February, it had issued a bill of $635.05 and sent a letter to Ms M alerting her to the high usage. The company had advised Ms M to have a leak test performed, and – after a leak in the toilet was discovered – to ask her real estate agent to have this fixed.

When Ms M again contacted the water company with wider concerns about high usage in the apartment block, it visited the property to take meter readings. When this reading confirmed that a leak was still present in Ms M’s apartment, the company had also arranged a water audit, which found that the toilet was still leaking heavily.

After receiving the Assisted Referral, the water company tried repeatedly to contact Ms M’s real estate agent and landlord about repairs. Ms M was upset that on top of conducting the audit, the water company had contacted her landlord without her permission, seeing this as another invasion of her privacy.

Once the landlord had fixed the toilet, the customer contacted EWOV. The Conciliator explained that a High Usage Leak Allowance would not normally apply, but that EWOV would discuss this possibility with the water company.

The water company said that it would consider applying the allowance, but that it would first need confirmation that the leak had been repaired – and it hadn’t heard from the landlord since issuing them a defect notice some six weeks earlier. The company asked if it could visit the property to confirm the repair, which would require them to speak to Ms M during the check.

Aware of the Ms M’s privacy concerns, the Conciliator checked whether this was acceptable to her, and offered to be present at the time of the visit. Ms M said that she was happy for the company’s staff to knock on the door and speak to her, as long as they didn’t come inside. 

The Outcome

The company’s checks confirmed that the leak had been fixed. In light of the customer’s circumstances, including financial hardship, the company offered to waive the full $1,854.05 balance of the account. The customer was very happy with this outcome and said that she appreciated the company’s careful handling of its recent visit and the conciliator’s attention to her special needs.

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