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.
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.