Published: 12:00, 30 January 2019
| Updated: 14:52, 30 January 2019
A couple running a bookshop have been hit with water bills adding to almost £8,000, which they say could close them down.
The charges came after a massive underfloor leak with water gushing out at 2,000 litres an hour.
Because it was not known about in time, the bills from two companies ballooned.
Ann Walton says there is "no way" she and her husband can pay the bills
They were sent to Ann and George Walton, who run the Weigh-Inn Christian bookshop and café in Worthington Street, Dover.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has also got involved, demanding explanations from water bosses.
Mrs Walton, 78, said: “We had no idea how it happened. We were just told that we were losing 2,000 litres an hour.
“We have no idea for how long this was as they only do water readings every six months.
“There is no way we can pay. We rang Affinity for Business, who sent the first bill, and they said we should know we had a leak. How should we know?
“We do not make a point of going outside, lifting up the grate and removing a cover to check the meter neither does anyone I’ve asked.
“If they want us to check it, it should be inside and accessible.”
When asked if the business would close if the whole sums were paid Mrs Walton said: “Absolutely.”
The leak, from a two-inch split in lead piping, was discovered beneath the shop floor on November 9 after a routine reading.
The full extent of the damage was revealed during a follow-up visit by workmen five days later and the supply stop tap was immediately turned off.
Mrs Walton commented: “The routine reading raised the alarm that there was a large loss in the area and the two men who came afterwards told us that the meter was spinning.”
Mrs Walton and Mr Walton, 80, were without running water for eight days.
They received a bill on November 16 from Affinity for Business, which supplies the property, for £3,721.98.
With some payment already made a reminder bill, dated January 3, reduced the charge to £3,527.16.
“We have no idea for how long this was as they only do water readings every six months..." - Ann Walton
Meanwhile a demand from water retailers Business Stream was £4,406.74. This bill, dated December 6, would be for waste water removal.
It brings the total cost to date of £7,933.90, which the couple are appealing against.
Mrs Walton said she was told the reason that the Business Stream bill was higher was because it cost more to remove waste water than to supply clean water.
But, she said: “How do they explain the fact that the leaked water all soaked away in the ground?”
The leak had rotted wood and ruined plaster and the shop was this weekend still closed for repairs.
There had been temporary and partial reopening just before Christmas.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke said: “The leak has been a nightmare for the Weigh Inn bookshop, which is a fantastic local business.
“But they are a small independent business and cannot afford this bill incurred through no fault of their own.
“I have raised the matter with the chief executive of their water retailer Business Stream, asking her to look into it urgently.”
A spokesman for Business Stream, which is a Scottish Water Company, said: “Following the receipt of Mrs Walton’s letter, which we received on Monday, we are working closely with her to find a resolution.
“We will ensure that the waste water charges applied to Mrs Walton’s account are accurate and we will help her to submit a leak allowance request to the wholesaler provider.
“We will continue to liaise with Mrs Walton until this issue has been resolved.”
A spokesman for Affinity for Business said: "The majority of our customers are billed based upon meter readings that are taken every 6 months. If we receive a meter reading that indicates usage has increased significantly we will contact the customer to warn them about this.
" If the increase in usage is due to leakage and this is caused by faulty water company equipment e.g. the meter or company pipework, charges will be adjusted so that the customer does not pay for this.
"If however the leak is on private pipework which is the responsibility of the customer then the charges may be due e.g. in the same way a customer would have to pay their gas or electricity charges if their boiler was faulty.
"In these circumstances however we always advise the customer to contact their insurance company as leakage such as this may be covered and they can claim a reimbursement.
" In addition an allowance may be granted on the waste water element of the bill if the water has not been returned to the sewer.
"We will also always look sympathetically where customers might suffer a hardship caused by an unexpected increase in their bill.
"We recommend that commercial customers regularly take readings on their meter so they get an early warning about any problems.
"If they are concerned that they may have a problem they can also contact us and we will ask a Meter Reader to visit and obtain a reading for them. "
Affinity for Business is a company, based in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, that bills business customers.
It is not the same company as Affinity Water, which supplies water to businesses and homes but only bills homes.