Published: 06:00, 10 September 2021
| Updated: 14:57, 10 September 2021
A couple were left perplexed after receiving eye-watering yearly charges for their water useage only to discover they were being billed for their neighbour's use as well.
Russell Attree moved into Charles Street, Greenhithe around five years ago with wife Diane where their rented terraced property is hooked up to a water meter.
But it wasn't until last year when the couple received a particularly hefty request for payment of more than £2,000 from Thames Water that he suspected something amiss.
Russell, 52, also began noticing their monthly fixed standing charge would shoot up sporadically from a £30 tariff to £50 and back down again.
He said: "We didn't realise anything was wrong until last September when they sent us a bill for £2,400.
"The money charge was going up and down. We paid it thinking we must have owed it and never really questioned it."
Bills are typically charged in one of two ways. The first is unmetered and is calculated as a set rate on the basis of the home's rateable value.
Alternatively, you can have a meter installed and pay by the drop.
So when the pair received another letter informing them their monthly direct debit plan for the meter was being increased to £70 a month, despite no change in their useage habits, they decided to take action.
The couple complained to the water company and requested an engineer come and inspect the gauge on June 24.
In the meantime, Russell conducted his own investigation and discovered that at least one of the neighbouring properties located either side was feeding off their meter.
When the engineer from Thames Water arrived they confirmed this and told the couple someone would be in touch.
Russell, who works as a teaching assistant, was expecting a sizeable rebate and an apology but says they have received neither.
To add to their frustrations, the couple then received a letter from the company dated July 15 stating that the water meter was working fine and the engineer had found no problem.
Russell flagged this with call operators who informed him this was a standard letter and the matter was being resolved.
However, the dad-of-two says each time he has got in touch they have been "fobbed off".
"We have had to scrimp and scrape to pay it and now we just want our money back," he said.
"I have got no confidence in them. I have requested four call backs and at least two times they have put the phone down on me."
On several occasions Russell claims the pair have merely mentioned their name and account number and the line has gone dead.
"We have had to scrimp and scrape to pay it and now we just want our money back..."
The tenant, who suffers from Crohn's disease, says the extra aggravation has worsened his symptoms and has evoked little sympathy from call operators.
He said: "When you speak to them about it they say 'oh well' yeah.
"I have been lied to, pushed from pillar to post filled with promises of phone calls to which none have been fulfilled.
"They are fobbing people off, they don't care. How many others have got the same problem?"
Thames Water has since apologised for its error and says it will be backdating bills from the date the meter was installed.
"We’ll also apply a one-off payment as a gesture of good will to apologise for our error...."
James Presland, media relations officer for the water firm, said: "We understand the worry that unexpected bills can lead to and we’re really sorry to Mrs Attree for any distress we’ve caused her.
"We’ve now established that the meter at her property was erroneously installed on a shared water supply and was therefore recording the usage of two properties rather than just one.
“We will be changing Mrs Attree’s bills from metered usage to our assessed household charge and backdating her bills from the date the meter was installed. "
He added: "We’ll also apply a one-off payment as a gesture of good will to apologise for our error.
“Our customer team will contact Mrs Attree directly to inform her of this.”