Here is a saga that has gone on for seven months. Allan and Jackie Edmondson first contacted me last October. Jackie wrote that she and her husband had had their c-store, Ocean Stores at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, for three years and knew that all their service providers had been notified at takeover time. Although they set up a direct debit with United Utilities at the time they moved in, it wasn't until May 2006 that they received a letter from UU saying they needed some details from the Edmondsons "as they had just moved into the property".
"Imagine my shock at this as we had been paying by direct debit for the past three years," says Jackie. "After some phone calls it seems that we should have had two accounts from the start. My question is, do any of your readers have two accounts for water?"
At stage one of the appeal process, the couple were informed that they had been paying for sewerage and waste water, but not for ordinary water supply. Incompetence on UU's part springs to mind. And that bill, by the way, came to about £100 a month. "I have a corner shop, not a 50-bedroom hotel," yelped Jackie when the invoice arrived for arrears.
At the time I spoke to both United Utilities and Ofwat. UU seems to think that two bills are standard practice, but Ofwat does not. Ofwat told me that some areas of the country may get two bills, but only because they are serviced by two different water companies . He recommended that the Edmondsons get back to UU and ask for one bill on a metered basis (rather than on a rateable value basis). If the company refuses then their first port of call should be the Consumer Council for Water (tel 0161 236 6112) whose job it is to reconcile customers and suppliers. If the council failed to achieve reconciliation, then Ofwat can intervene as it has statutory powers.
Towards the end of April this year Jackie brought me up to speed on the situation. The Consumer Council had been in touch with UU and the arrears bill (more than £400) was reduced by 50% as a 'token of goodwill and an apology for their error'.
"But although I got a reduction I still have two separate accounts," writes Jackie. UU apparently says this is down to a technical fault. The company's new computer system is not producing single accounts for dual-metered sites. But hopefully it will do so soon.
And her advice to others who may be up against it: never give in to a utilities supplier. It's a good thing we have watchdogs, isn't it?