A PENSIONER paid the wrong water bill for more than a decade after her meter was linked to the flat below instead of her own.
Valerie Monks spent months worrying about leaking pipes and an estimated £4,000-plus repair bill after noticing her monthly direct debit payments to South East Water had more than doubled.
The firm told her the skyrocketing bill could only be the result of a leak or the pensioner using more water than before.
Experts came and went, all unable to detect a leak anywhere in or near her Tollgate Gardens home and it was not until months after the pensioner’s payments went up that a visiting plumber checked the meter itself, rather than the pipes.
He discovered the 83-year-old had actually been paying for the water used by the flat below, and they had been paying hers – meaning a simple mistake had caused weeks of frantic worrying and stress.
Her son Brad said, “My aunt lived downstairs and her and mum would have used roughly the same amount of water – so it was not until my aunt died and a young couple moved in that the amount of water being used went up.”
And he said he was appalled at the way his mum had been treated by South East Water.
“She has literally been sick with worry and there were plenty of times when she was in floods of tears.
“Mum is not a well woman anyway and the fear she would have to pay out so much money to find a leak made things worse. It is the last thing she needs.
“All of the time she had that [the potential bill] hanging over her she was going without and struggling to put a bit of her pension away so she would be able to afford it.”
Since the overpayment came to light, South East Water agreed to credit Mrs Monks’ account to the tune of around £170 – the amount they estimate she was wrongly charged.
However, her son is angry that a promised £1,000 goodwill payment to the pensioner by way of compensation for the stress and worry has been altered to include the cash she had already been incorrectly charged.
“Essentially, South East Water has included money my mum was wrongly charged for in their apparent goodwill gesture,” Mr Monks said
“A solicitor friend of mine told me we could have taken legal action and got around £6,500. But we are not like that. I had to take four or five days off work to wait in for people to come and look for the leak.
“I just think it is not too much to ask for my expenses to be paid together with a small sum for the stress it has caused mum. If someone said to me I could pay them £1,000 for mum to have never gone through all this I would pay it four times over.
“South East Water made almost £40 million last tax year and I think it is disgusting they are trying to do this to an OAP over something which was not her mistake in the first place.”
Steve George, customer services director at South East Water, said, “We are very sorry for the inconvenience and distress this unusual problem has caused.
“We initially believed Mrs Monk may have had a leak on her supply pipe and advised her of this.
“After much investigation and frustration for Mrs Monk, our technicians traced the problem to a crossed supply pipe, which meant that Mrs Monk’s meter was wrongly recording her neighbour’s supply.
“We have now corrected Mrs Monk’s account and have also made a goodwill payment, which I agreed with Mrs Monk’s son and confirmed in writing after I called him to apologise for our error.”