/ Home & Energy

Raise a stink over water companies

Flood in a house

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.

Comments
Guest
Nerys says:
30 July 2013

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.

Guest

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

Guest
MJR says:
31 July 2013

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.

Guest

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.

Guest

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

Guest
MJR says:
1 August 2013

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.

Guest
MJR says:
1 August 2013

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.

Guest

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.

Guest
MJR says:
1 August 2013

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) Regulatio