Raise a stink over water companies

by , Chief Executive Energy & Home 21 June 2013
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If I buy food from a shop and it makes me sick, I can sue the shop. If raw sewage seeps into my home and makes my family sick, do I have the same right to sue the owner of the leaking pipes? I don’t.

Flood in a house

And anyway, why are thousands of homes a year in 21st century Britain flooded with sewage?

One of our members contacted us after a catalogue of pathetic responses from Thames Water when her basement was full of its sewage. Repeated calls to Thames weren’t returned. Tankers to pump out the sewage were promised and failed to arrive. Her three children became ill, neighbours complained of the smell and the electricity continually cut out, setting off the burglar alarm at all hours.

After we intervened, Thames did a survey and found the problem was a collapsed drain caused by a blockage of fat. We asked Thames about compensation in such cases – it said it’s responsible for damages only if flooding is a result of its negligence. It eventually refunded our member’s annual sewerage bill, under the regulator’s ‘Guaranteed Standards Saving Scheme’. It did say its communication ‘was perhaps not as good as it could have been’. This is among the greatest understatements I’ve seen.

Stop wasting my time

There are two issues. First, I was under the impression that we paid water companies to take away waste. To me, if waste returns, the company hasn’t kept its side of the bargain. Second, they enjoy unusually generous leeway when it comes to compensating customers.

When the industry was privatised in England and Wales, more than 20 years ago, their liability was limited so they didn’t have to worry too much about such things. One reason seems to be that the old pipe networks could play up, but the industry also argues that it can’t control the weather or what you put down your drain.

This is understandable to an extent – but to be fair to customers, firms need to respond quickly when your home is full of sewage.

Water isn’t the only industry to get special protection after privatisation. We believe rail firms have unfair small print in their national conditions of carriage. Leeway for privatised industries isn’t an excuse to treat customers unfairly. We’re watching to ensure they do right by you.

74 comments

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Malcolm R

When water companies were privatised they were aware of the state of the water supply and sewerage systems they were taking over. They have a responsibility to provide clean water and remove waste water, and in the time they have been operating the system they should have been putting right unsuitable plant and pipes – yet we still have masses of fresh water leaking away apparently, and sub-standard sewers. They have extracted profits without putting in the full investment necessary – this seems to me where the main problem lies.
We cannot expect the drains to cope with unusual circumstances – exceptional heavy rain for example – but we should expect there to be provision for dealing rapidly with the aftermath; apart from the devastation to the property it is a public health issue.
If you fine these companies for failure, it will simply come out of your future bills and the consumers don’t benefit. You can’t change supplier, and I wouldn’t want them back as public utilities (the Government has an abysmal record in managing enterprises).
Like all large organisations that fail us we seem powerless to take any action. Perhaps one method is to make substantial automatic penalty payments to all consumers in an area deprived of supply or subjected to flooding – when a properly-functioning or maintained system would have prevented it.

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lessismore

Perhaps there should be some agreement as to what can be put down the sink and the loo?

At one time the water companies didn’t agree to waste disposal units yet these would seem to be a very good solution to the problem of food waste particularly in flats – and they ARE used in lots of homes. Do any waste disposal unit makers tell you that your water company doesn’t agree with your use of them?

Have a look at feminine sanitary products and baby products and wipes and their claims to be “flushable”. The water companies won’t agree and neither will the householders who having used these flushable products have had a problem. Only the problem often ends up as somebody else’s.

Are there guidelines? What do we want/need?

If you’re interested in Thames Water’s full comment about the case talked about by Peter, here it is:

“We’re really sorry if Ms X feels she was let down by our customer service. This was a complex job because of the difficulties we had in locating the blockage due to the fact the manhole cover had been built over. While we did our best to resolve this problem as quickly as we could, our communication was perhaps not as good as it could have been and we must improve on that.”

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lessismore

Isn’t there currently a Thames Water consultation?

Shouldn’t we be telling them what we expect them to provide us with?

I think we should expect there to be agreement on what can and can’t go down the drain instead of companies making things and suggesting we can flush them when our water and drainage company doesn’t agree! Surely they should be putting money into what could be a resource for them as well as the money that they now have to put into renovating the drains. In the past I believe a lot of money was taken out rather than being used to improve and maintain the systems.

We don’t want them lecturing us about using less water when we can see leaking water from broken pipes in the street not being fixed by them and their contractors for days and days! They need to take more responsibility.

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MJR

Ok, you had difficulties locating the manhole cover because it was built over. So let’s forget sewage for now and look at supply pipes. Take for example farm worker Mr B living in a rural village where his water meter is at the PSC over a mile from his property and his supply pipe (that he is responsible for) runs beneath the local landowner’s fields. Then one day he receives his water bill for more than £2,000 and complains to the water company – who investigates and discovers a leak on his supply pipe but it’s under the landowner’s stable block. So who’s going to pay for the repair? The landowner (I don’t think so) the water company (but it’s not their supply pipe) so it’s down to Mr B (who can’t possibly afford such an excavation and restoration. So why is this despicable scam in place when the gas companies are responsible for gas supply pipes and electricity and media companies for cables? Because supply pipes are constructed from lead and replacing them would mean a big dip in the shareholders profits which is why the Government excluded the water companies from supply pipe responsibility. But has the Government not spared a thought for the nation’s unfortunate mothers bottle-feeding their babies with lead without even knowing it. And breast-feeding isn’t an option because these poor mothers are filling their own bloodstream with lead every time they fill the kettle.

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wavechange

Lead piping is not a significant hazard unless the water is soft. Anyone who is concerned about lead in their water can ask for their water company to carry out tests.

A great deal of care is taken to ensure that our water is fit to drink, and governments past and present ensure that this is done.

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MJR

So you say

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wavechange

Try contacting your water supply company and you might find that I am correct.

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Malcolm R

MJR – from a DEFRA document:
“In hard water areas the scale that forms on the inside of pipes protects against the dissolution of lead from the pipe into the water. However in soft upland water supply areas there is a greater likelihood of lead from pipes being present in the water. Where this risk exists, water companies treat the water with orthophosphate and this reduces the problem significantly. None the less, particles of lead may build up in these older pipes and intermittently appear in tap water.”

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MJR

Yes, excellent spin doctors and shiny literature with smiling faces. Which water company are you spin doctoring for?

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wavechange

MJR

That’s a little uncalled for. You can find the document that Malcolm has quoted here:
http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/lead.pdf

Here is another reference to this treatment from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: http://www.ciwem.co.uk/policy-and-international/policy-position-statements/lead-in-drinking-water.aspx

I don’t have any connection with the water industry, though I understand how orthophosphate dosing works to protect water supplies from lead contamination.

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MJR

At the other end of the spectrum – the Government allows water companies to hijack the pensioners heating grants for water they cannot possibly use under an old Ratable Value system that no longer exists. But the water companies are allowed to use this RV system because Council Tax allows a 25% living alone allowance, and also council tax benefit for people on low or no incomes. (Domestic) water meters sited in public highways on the water companies’ own pipe work, supply pipe opt out and an outdated RV system that allows hijacking of pensioners heating grants is the biggest scam since PPI but far more despicable.

Is it an wonder that a poster referred to the water companies as “rapacious b*stards” on the Money Savings Expert’s open forum?

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John Ward

There is no need for any householder to continue to pay for their water according to historic property values. Water supply companies will fit a domestic water meter free of charge in the customer’s supply pipe [either at the main turn-off valve or between there and the point at which the pipework branches to various outlets]. With a metered supply, the customer only pays for the amount of water actually consumed. For people with low consumption this can save a lot of money. We arranged for it to be done at an elderly relative’s house in London last year. It was done promptly after our request and the installer did the job very quickly with a very short disconnection period and virtually no spillage. The water bill is now much lower without any change in the pattern of consumption.

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MJR

Yes, excellent spin doctors and shiny literature with smiling faces. Which water company are you spin doctoring for?

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MJR

Didn’t mean to send that twice…

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Nerys

orthophosphate? Isn’t that some kind of salt? Have I been putting lead and salt in my baby’s formula? OMG that’s just sick! Profiteering b*******…

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Malcolm R

No, it’s apparently what you find in soft drinks – mainly colas. A link to lead in water is http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/lead.pdf

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wavechange

Actually, colas contain orthophosphoric acid (usually listed as phosphoric acid) rather than orthophosphate. ‘Orthophosphaate’ is likely to be a mixture of sodium dihydrogen orthophosphate and disodium hydrogen orthophosphate, the proportions of each being used to regulate the pH of our water.

Phosphates in drinking water are harmless. In fact we need phosphates in our diet to make various components of the cells in our bodies. A problem with phosphate dosing of our drinking water supply is that when waste water gets into our rivers and other water courses it causes problems.

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Malcolm R

I was looking at an American studty on the short-term ingestion of colas, which refers to phosphate content; I assumed phosphoric acid appears as a phosphate in the cola. http://www.jacn.org/content/27/2/332.fullObjective: “The aim was to study the effect of short-time ingestion of Coca-Cola®, a phosphate containing soft drink, and of Fanta®, a non-phosphate containing soft drink”. I was really pointing out that orthophosphate in the minute quantities used seems harmless; far more harm is done by discharging agricultural phosphate into the ground water system, I understand.

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wavechange

It is mainly as the free acid rather than the salt in cola. That’s why it is good at removing the tarnish from copper or copper-coated coins.

Sorry Malcolm – I’m on science autopilot. :-)

Though I know little about treatment of drinking water I have a considerable interest in what happens when phosphates get into our watercourses.

I guess we are off-topic. :-(

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Nerys

Well I wouldn’t put cola in my baby’s formula, would I? Why can’t the greedy b******* replace the lead supply pipes or would that affect their fat cat profits. My next door neighbour uses cola to clean her toilet, said it’s better than Harpic. Why are the water companies such sick disgusting greedy b*******?

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Malcolm R

The water companies have no lead pipes in their supply system – they are generally iron or plastic. Some houses still have lead pipes, either to and/or from the stop c*** in the building. These are the householders responsibility, but are not considered a hazard – naturally not affected in hardwater areas, and protected by the treatment given above.

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Nerys

That’s a little uncalled for. You can find the document that Malcolm has quoted here:
http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/lead.pdf

Here is another reference to this treatment from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: http://www.ciwem.co.uk/policy-and-international/policy-position-statements/lead-in-drinking-water.aspx

like I said – spin doctoring…

Nerys – your neighbour uses cola to clean her toilet for the same reason that the water companies use orthophosphate to clean lead supply pipes – which means the water companies are treating us like lavatories. If you want decent water for your baby, Nerys, buy a Brita jug or buy you water from the supermarket. And your ‘greedy b*******’ comment is spot on.

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Malcolm R

Nerys, not sure who this comment is from. However, orthophosphate does not clean pipes, it forms a barrier to minimise any lead being taken into solution – my understanding and I think covered in the documents referred to.
I would look hard at the quality of bottled water before giving it to your baby – previous studies have shown tapwater to be of better quality.

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wavechange

Malcolm is right on both points.

The reason that lead pipes are a problem is that some lead salts (e.g. lead nitrate) are soluble. Lead phosphate is effectively insoluble, so orthophosphate treatment produces a coating on the inner surface of the pipe, helping prevent the formation of soluble lead salts. This is important in soft water areas. You can buy lead test kits if you need reassurance but I understand the science and trust the water companies to comply with rules and provide us with safe water.

Bottled still water can have much larger numbers of bacteria than tap water, though no harmful bacteria should be present. As with tap water, it should be boiled before being given to babies.

We really should get back to the subject of flooding….

When flooding occurs, there is a danger of drinking water becoming contaminated by sewage. Water companies should alert people to that risk. I live in an area that was affected by flooding in 2007. My own home was unaffected, apart from the garden. I recall being warned about the need to boil water, though I cannot remember whether this came from the water company or local radio.

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Nerys

All supply pipes are made from lead but you know that, Malcolm, so why lie about it? And are you and wavechange the same person or posting from the same computer?

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Malcolm R

Nerys, perhaps you would look at these documents and then reconsider your comment?
http://www.ciwem.co.uk/policy-and-international/policy-position-statements/lead-in-drinking-water.aspx
http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/lead.pdf

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John Ward

Malcolm R is correct in saying that all water company supply pipes – that is those running from the treatment plant to the the main turn-off valve at the edge of each property – are made from either plastic or iron. Lead still remains in use at many properties on the customer’s side of the valve into the house. The older the property the more likely this is to be the case. When major alterations are carried out to older properties, the opportunity is usually taken to replace the lead pipes with new plastic tubing but this is not compulsory.

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wavechange

Nerys

If you do suspect that any user of Which? Conversation is misbehaving then use the ‘Contact us’ form provided in the Terms and Conditions for this website rather than posting an accusation in public.

Have a look at all the topics that Malcolm and I have posted on and it will be obvious that we are not the same person. I suggest you find out about what supply pipes are made of and give Malcolm an apology. :-)

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Malcolm R

I have re-posted the links, that have been given earlier, that explain the situation regarding lead in water and the materials used in pipes. It is shown as waiting for approval because it contains web addresses, so presumably is not yet published. Hopefully, if they are read, they will prove useful.

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MJR

Malcolm, water supply pipes running from the boundary of ones property and under other people’s lands into the home are lead. And these pipes are the customer’s responsibility whether they run under other people’s lands or not. The Government gave this privilege to the water companies and the onset of privatization to protect them from replacing lead supply pipes all over the country. Gas and electricity companies were not given this privilege for that reason. Also, we can change our gas and electricity companies but we are not allowed to change our water companies, otherwise a lot of people would switch to United Utilites because they abide by The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act. I for one would love to change to UU but I’m stuck with the rapacious SESW.

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Malcolm R

I don’t think I’ve made any statement to the contrary. If you read my opening comment you will see my view on water companies and the sewage issue, which was the original topic. Regarding lead, the water companies distribution pipes are not lead; the householders from their source may be. The fact that these pipes, of whatever material, may travel under others property is not being disputed.

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Nerys

John Ward, do you know what slanting means?

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Nerys

Malcolm R, what is the difference between water supply pipes and gas supply pipes?

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Nerys

What is the difference between a water meter and gas and electricity meters?

Answer: gas and electricity meters are sited on your property recording how much gas/electricity you use. Water meters are sited in the public footpath on the water companies own pipework recording leaks under other other people’s lands.

Why were water companies called rapacious b******* on the Money Saving Expert’s open forum?

Answer: because water companies are rapacious b*******.

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wavechange

My neighbours have their water meters close to their houses. Have a look at the United Utilities website and you will see that they prefer install water meters in homes, normally free-of-charge, and will charge to install it outside.

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John Ward

I would refer you to my comment on 5 July [8.22 pm] in response to MJR about the installation of water meters. As Wavechange says, they can be put inside the property where it is usually simpler.

Incidentally, Nerys, I have no idea what “slanting” might mean in the context of this Conversation. I hope I have not written something derogatory.

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MJR

Wavechange, in reply to your comment, “My neighbours have their water meters close to their houses. Have a look at the United Utilities website and you will see that they prefer install water meters in homes.”

That is because United Utilities abide by The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act and if I could change to UU (like I can with other utility companies) I would do so tomorrow. But I cannot because water companies were given privileges during the onset of privatisation that are open to abuse. My water company (SESW) do not abide by the The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act but instead site their meters on their own pipework in the middle of the pubic footpath thereby recording leaks on their own pipework and under other people’s lands. Some SESW customers have meters sited in the next street. I’m sure they would love to change to UU too but are not allowed to do so and that is wrong. There should not be one law for gas and electricity companies and a privileged one for water companies. I am of the opinion that that a lot of water companies are abusing the The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act (and I don’t mean UU and others that stand by it) and by doing so are getting away with the biggest scam since PPI. And that is because so many people take everything on face value rather than looking beneath the muddied waters.

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wavechange

MJR

If SESW is not complying with the regulations you can contact the regulators, Ofwat.

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betty49

I understand that the responsibily for sewage pipes and manholes covers and below them ( out doors) were recently transferred to the water board or council is that right

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MJR

Betty49

That is correct. But the customer is still responsible for outdoor supply pipes, and supply pipes under the public footpath and other other people’s lands. You gas supply pipe on the other hand is the gas company’s responsibility.

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John Ward

Where there is a metered water supply, the customer’s reponsibility starts at the water meter. In many modern developments this might well be in the footway outside the property from where an exclusive supply pipe will enter the property. Modern customer pipework will usually be in blue plastic. Sometimes – due to the layout of the houses – it might be necessary for the supply to pass under property in other ownership but, unless someone has interfered with it, the supply should still be exclusive. Where there is a concern over excess metering, or a suspected leak, or interference with the supply, it would be worth fitting a second meter indoors and checking the consumption recorded by both meters to make sure they are the same. If the problem were serious this would pay for itself. The customer would remain responsible for putting right what had gone wrong which could include replacing the supply pipe between the meter and the house. Although it is not compulsory to do so [unless there is a fracture in the pipework or joints which could lead to the ingress of foreign bodies and contamination of the supply], it would be advisable do it in order to avoid inaccurate billing and to prevent waste. Where there is a supply passing under land in other ownership there may or may not be a legal authority with rights of access for repair and maintenance. The householder normally has a right to carry out work to their water supply under land in other ownership subject to notice and conditions. Insurance cover might be available for such eventualities. All these issues should be investigated when properties are purchased and the conveyancer can usually [for a small fee] obtain an underground services diagram. With older properties that still have lead pipework between the water supply company’s iron or plastic water main and the customer’s property this is not inherently unsafe but it is more prone to fracture and damage than modern plastic tubing. The customer has the right to replace the lead pipe at any time at their own expense. Unless there is a turn-off valve or a water meter in a suitable position this would normally involve arranging for the supply company to turn the main off for the period of final connexion and, again, there is probably a charge for that. I do not believe this is a new problem – the pipework between the street main and the house has usually been the customer’s responsibility but for decades it was undisturbed and there has been little reason to make any alterations. Vehicles passing over property frontages have given rise to many of the problems affecting old water pipes.

supplypipe will usually be and there will usually be a blue plastci pipe fromthere into the property and serving bno other property

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MJR

John Ward, you said, “Where there is a metered water supply, the customer’s reponsibility starts at the water meter…”

That is true and it’s fine if your water company is United Utilities who site meters in the customer’s home in accordance with The Water Meters (Regulations) 1988 act. But if your water company is SESW who do not abide by The Water Meters (Regulations) 1988 act but site meters on their own pipework in the public footpath or in the next street (and they do that too) then it isn’t fine; its an outrage and there is no other way to describe it. The water meters scam is the biggest since PPI. Some rural properties have meters sited over a mile from their properties, metering supply pipes under landowner’s fields. Do you think these lands and fields are barren? What if the customer is a farm-worker living in a cottage and his meter over a mile away is recording hundreds of pounds and the leak is under somebody’s stable block? According to you, the farm worker has the right to dig out the land owner’s stable block and fix the leak. In theory, yes – but practically speaking, no! We are talking about a poorly paid farm-worker and a rich landowner who may not want his stable block dug up and his horses disturbed. We could be talking about lawsuits… And how can a poor farm-worker afford to carry out such work or pay to have such work carried out anyway? And in the meantime the meter is making hundreds of extra pounds for the water company. As betty 49 said, “I understand that the responsibily for sewage pipes and manholes covers and below them ( out doors) were recently transferred to the water board…”That is true. And it’s time that supply pipe responsibility was transferred to the water companies where it belongs as well (same as gas pipes). And speaking of gas pipes, we cannot change our water companies as we can with gas and electricity companies – otherwise I would change to UU. But it’s all a scam, all the way, isn’t it? The biggest scam since PPI… but far more despicable.

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John Ward

I can see what you are saying, and I appreciate the difficulties in the example you have given where the water company’s main is a long way from the dwelling. Finding the exact source of a leak is not easy if buildings have been put up since the water pipes were first laid, in which case the only remedy might be to divert the supply around that part of the route – as you say, potentially a very expensive exercise. It shows how crucial it is when buying a property, especially in rural areas, to investigate these things very carefully, and to find out about the water bills. I suspect that even a specialist “pipes & drains cover” insurance policy would not sort out this kind of problem because it might have been a pre-existing condition.

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John Ward

I have just been looking at the Sutton and East Surrey Water [SESW] company’s website and it has a ot of useful information on the installation of water meters and leak prevention. Among other things it says that the company offers a free leak detection and repair service for domestic customers. Of course, there might be special circumstances in the example you have quoted which make that inapplicable.

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JD

We have just been put in a similar situation to the person in the original article, although nowhere near as drastic, and our experience of the service from Thames Water has been sub-standard. It is disgraceful that these large companies that we have not selected, but are forced to ‘use’ as our water suppliers, can treat their customers in such a way. They cause distress and inconvenience to their customers without a second thought and it is only when you, the customer, challenges them repeatedly, do they even begin to help you. Their customer service skills are a disgrace.

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Nerys

An awful lot of water company spin doctors on here… am i right?

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John Ward

The one thing that Which? Conversation does not seem to be able to attract is contributions from representatives of the industries concerned in the topics! It is virtually impossible to get them to offer any facts or advice in answer to the comments made by participants like ourselves. Not even the corporate PR people appear to keep an eye on Which? Conversation. It would be useful if the relevant regulator would pipe up and say something sometimes: it might help to scotch certain misbeliefs that otherwise persist and gain traction from repetition. I think even the occasional spin doctor post would earn respect from most contributors.

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Malcolm R

John Ward, I totally agree that the “providers’” views would be invaluable in providing information that would help the conversation along. I, like others, dig around the manufacturers, providers and trade associations etc. for their views but I accept this does not give an expert or necessarily balanced view. I really think it is for Which? to get these organisations involved – it occasionally happens but not regularly. It could also balance some of the bias and prejudice that seems to creep in, even in the introductions!
As for spin doctors, we have a few amongst the lay men (and ladies) contributors!

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wavechange

I cannot see much chance of input from companies, John, at least when emotive topics are under discussion, though I very much agree that it would be very good to have an input from these companies and some up-to-date facts. However, I would not appreciate any spin doctor posts.

I hope that companies do keep any eye on our discussions. When a company or other organisation annoys me, I suggest they read what is being said about them on Which? Conversation.

The idea of input from regulators is a good one. Even if this was posted on their behalf by a member of the Which? team, it would be great to know that the regulators are listening.

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wavechange

I agree with your comments, Malcolm. What disappoints me most is when we do have guest Conversations where there is no input from the guest except for the introduction, even where there are no hostile posts. It would be great to engage in discussion and – if appropriate – constructive criticism.

Hi all, we also love it when businesses come and comment on Which? Conversation. Over the years we’ve had everyone from energy companies to regulators to MPs making comments. We would of course like more to come and comment – especially if they have contributed the Convo themselves. What I will say is that many of them are watching – regulators have read your comments on nuisance calls for example, and MPs have referred to comments and poll votes in parliament.

But, point taken, we do try our best but we could probably try harder.

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Nerys

Come on Which? Lift the lid on the rapacious b*******…

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Nerys

JD

I’m expected to fill up my baby’s bottle from their disgusting lead supply pipes. Certainly not, I’m a Britta fan. And what about the customer is responsible for old lead supply pipes under other people’s lands. You couldn’t make it up, could you? Come on, Which? Sock it to the rapacious spin-doctoring scum bags.

Hello Nerys, thanks for your replies. Appreciate your passion, but please try not to use bad language.

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MJR

John Ward said, “The one thing that Which? Conversation does not seem to be able to attract is contributions from representatives of the industries concerned in the topics!”

It’s because they cannot deny the great water meter and supply pipe responsibility scam which protects them from having to replace lead supply pipes. And how can they deny that domestic water meters installed on their own pipework in the public footpath to monitor leaks under other people’s lands is an abuse of consumer rights? The £200 Government heating grant for pensioners ends up in the coffers of the water companies because of the outdated RV rip-off for an extra £200 per year for unconsumed water, leaving pensioners to freeze to death in winter. And how many mothers up and down the country turn on the tap first thing in the morning and fill their kettles without flushing out the lead accumulated in the lead supply pipes from the night before. Lead supply pipes should have been replaced years ago due to the serious effect lead has on babies and young children. As I’ve said several times before, the water companies are getting away with a scam that is far more despicable than PPI and that is why the representatives will not rise to the challenge.

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wavechange

Lead piping is not used for water mains, since lead is not strong enough for large diameter pipes. Lead pipe is still present in some supply pipes. As I have said before, it is really only a problem in soft water areas. If you have lead pipes and are concerned, you can ask your water company to carry out a test. If you don’t trust the water company, you can buy your own kit to test for lead. You may find that your water company will replace lead pipes free of charge, particularly any piping up to the stop valve. The pipe after the stop valve is considered the householder’s responsibility, though I found one company that will replace it in some circumstances. Flush the loo once before making morning coffee and that should remove any lead that has dissolved overnight.

Here is information from Ofwat about water meters: http://www.ofwat.gov.uk/mediacentre/leaflets/prs_lft_101117meters.pdf

If the supply company cannot fit one, the reasons will be explained and water use can be estimated on predicted use if a water meter had been fitted.

I am reasonably happy that our water companies are providing a safe water supply, though the comments in Peter’s introduction to this Conversation do concern me. I believe that it is reasonable to push for water meters to be installed in or close to properties so that customers with water meters do not pay for water leaks.

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Malcolm R

MJR – do you have evidence of excessive levels of lead that give you such concern?

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MJR

Malcolm R – I have evidence that the water supply pipe to my property is lead which is why I use a Britta jug.

The longer water is left lying in lead pipes the more excessive the levels of lead will be (ie) if a young family go away for a two-week holiday and fill the kettle on their return they are going to consume two weeks accumulation of lead and that is a cause for concern. But most young families do not know that and the water companies are not going to tell them.

Now can you explain why United Utilities abide by The Water (Meters) 1988 Regulations but SESW do not? Unfortunately I cannot change to UU (as one can with other utilities) so I’m stuck with the rapacious SESW.

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MJR

Wavechange advises, “Flush the loo once before making morning coffee and that should remove any lead that has dissolved overnight.”

No, Wavechange — that will empty merely empty the WC cistern in the bathroom which is nowhere near my kitchen taps. But as one will use the loo anyway it’s a great piece of water company spin-doctoring. And what about those with the PSC in the next street – do the maths.

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wavechange

MJR. I’m trying to be helpful. If you flush your loo, it will remove standing water from the supply pipe. If you have lead piping in the house, that is your responsibility and not that of SESW.

Have you tested your water to establish that lead is a problem? I should also test the efficacy of your Brita jug if you do have a problem. It might not be as effective as you think.

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MJR

Wavechange said, “I believe that it is reasonable to push for water meters to be installed in or close to properties so that customers with water meters do not pay for water leaks” and I agree with you and as this is stated in The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 it should be in place. UU do abide by the The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 but SESW do not. Unfortunately, due to certain privileges given to the water companies (but not other utilities companies) I cannot change to UU much as I’d like to.

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wavechange

MJR

I have had a look at the SESW website. I had never heard of the company, but it was easier to find information related to lead piping than with my own supplier, though it’s much the same.

SESW will test your supply for lead providing that this has not already been done. It will replace piping on its side of the stop tap if you replace lead piping that you are responsible for. That’s the same as my supply company. There is some useful advice on their website: http://www.waterplc.com/userfiles/file/FS_lead_in_drinking_water.pdf

If SESW are not complying with regulations, do report the problem to the regulator.

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MJR

wavechange – How many families with young children return from a two-week holiday and put the kettle on as soon as they step inside their front door – thus consuming a cup full of lead contaminated tea? Or worse: prepare a lead contaminated drink for their young children? Of course these unfortunate parents are not aware of this health hazzard and the rapacious water companies are not going to tell them.

Re “SESW will test your supply for lead providing that this has not already been done. It will replace piping on its side of the stop tap if you replace lead piping that you are responsible for. That’s the same as my supply company. There is some useful advice on their website:” All I have found in the SESW website is spin doctoring poppycock i.e. how am I supposed to replace several meters of piping under somebody’s else’s land at a cost beyond the average consumer, plus trespass? Also, SESW (unlike United Utilities) is in breach of The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act and getting away with it because nobody seems to notice. But the banks got away with the PPI scam for years until somebody woke up from the sleep of unawareness. Unfortunately this nation is short of Columbos.

SESW do not abide by The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 where as United Utilities do abide by the act? I would also ask the some from Which?

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wavechange

MJR

If you switch off the water supply before you go on holiday, which is a sensible precaution to avoid flooding, I’m sure you will remember. Even though I do not have any lead pipes, I always draw off water before filling the kettle.

Have you had your water tested to establish that a problem actually exists? Water companies treat their water, especially if it is soft, to help decrease the risk of customers having problems with lead. You can carry out your own test if you do not trust the water company.

If there is a problem with lead, I suggest that you discuss this with your water supply company, but I suspect you are more likely to get help if you adopt a friendly, professional approach.

Best of luck. Others who have tried to make helpful comments have left this Conversation, so I will do the same.

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John Ward

I think it would be a very good idea to have a word with your water company because they may have an economical solution to the problem. I think there is a limit to what we can suggest as correspondents through Which? Conversation because we are not in possession of all the facts – crucially (a) exactly how far your property’s supply pipe extends before it meets the company’s main supply and their stop valve and whether it is a continuous pipe or is interrupted by joints, angles, or valves, and (b) what structures or obstacles occupy the land through which your supply pipe passes and what alternative routes might exist. There are a number of potential engineering solutions available today for replacing water supply pipes without major excavations or interfering with existing structures. It is also possible that the water supply company now has a main that is nearer than the one you are currently connected to. As Wavechange recommends, however, it would be in your interests to do a test for lead levels in the first place so that you can be certain whether or not there is a problem. It would also be worth while checking by means of metering – with the assistance of your supplier if possible – whether or not there are any failures [which might both let water out and let contamination in]. You can check the water hardness yourself on-line on the SESW website. The Water Quality Inspectorate also might have some useful information that would put you in a stronger position to take this further. I think some simple things are worth exploring first and it would be a cruel water company that that gave you no help at all. If you are paying both for wasted water due to leakage and for filtering to purify your drinking water the expense will never end unless something is done to rectify the supply.

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MJR

wavechange – how come you (and other ‘helpful comments’) avoid responding to, “SESW do not abide by The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 whereas United Utilities do abide by the act?” but instead thrash out the same old mantras? But as you’ve left the Conversation you won’t need to respond now.

John Ward, re your comment, “It is also possible that the water supply company now has a main that is nearer than the one you are currently connected to.” Yes it has, actually: at the boundary of my property – but it prefers to instal its meters on its own pipework in the middle of the public highway thus using their so called domestic meters to monitor leaks on their own pipework and under other people’s lands – which makes SESW in breach of The Water (Meters) Regulations 1988 act. I have been a member of Which? for some years now and will be taking my case to Which? within the next few weeks.

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wavechange

I understand a little about water chemistry, MJR, which is why I commented on lead in water. I do not know about water companies and their regulations, which is why I have not commented on them. My supplier is neither of the ones you mention. Perhaps what you regard as ‘mantras’ might just be good advice.

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John Ward

It’s a good idea to invite Which? to take up your case officially since, presumably, if there is a breach of statutory duty by Sutton & East Surrey Water Company, then the water regulator [Ofwat] is also delinquent. I hope you will let us know in due course what Which? says or does and how you ultimately solve your problem.

Hello MJR – please read our commenting guidelines: http://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines Try and be polite to other commenters.

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MJR

MJR

Wavechange – you said

“If you switch off the water supply before you go on holiday, which is a sensible precaution to avoid flooding, I’m sure you will remember. Even though I do not have any lead pipes, I always draw off water before filling the kettle.”

So who does that paragraph related to my question copied below? I said:

wavechange – How many families with young children return from a two-week holiday and put the kettle on as soon as they step inside their front door – thus consuming a cup full of lead contaminated tea? Or worse: prepare a lead contaminated drink for their young children? Of course these unfortunate parents are not aware of this health hazzard and the rapacious water companies are not going to tell them.

I was referring to families with young children, not myself so how does “I’m sure you will remember” fit my question. Nice try, wavechange, but slanting doesn’t work. Goodbye!

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MJR

To John Ward

Yes, I believe that SESW (unlike United Utilities) is in breach of its statutory duty and will be taking my case to Which? within the next few weeks and will let you know the outcome. Unfortunately (unlike other utilities) I cannot change my water supplier to the more consumer-friendly UU.

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Nerys

Guess what, I’ve just had a phone call: NatWest, Barclays and… oh, yes a claim for PPI, please press 5. But I’ve never had PPI so I pressed 9.

How soon before these calls target SESW victims of the great water meter scam? Because one day the Nation is going to wake up. No need for you to worry though, United Utilities. You abide by the 1988 reg-rules, so you can sit back and watch the s££t hits the SESW fan.

And nobody will be pressing number 9.

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stowaway54

If I flush the lol first thing in the morning I get everyones sewerage, thanks thames water

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