UK community receives landmark water rebate

Householders in a Staffordshire village wrongly charged for surface water drainage for many years are to receive more than £400,000 from Severn Trent Water, following the intervention of the Consumer Council for Water. In a landmark case, 700 homes and local businesses will share the rebate after Severn Trent agreed to refund the incorrectly billed customers back to the year 2001. This is the first time such a settlement has been reached covering an entire village...

STAFFORDSHIRE VILLAGE, Jan. 9, 2008 -- Householders in a Staffordshire village wrongly charged for surface water drainage for many years are to receive more than £400,000 from Severn Trent Water, following the intervention of the Consumer Council for Water.

In a landmark case, 700 homes and local businesses in Marchington near Uttoxeter in the East Midlands will share the rebate after Severn Trent agreed to refund the incorrectly billed customers back to the year 2001.

This is the first time such a settlement has been reached covering an entire village and was achieved with the support of the local Parish Council and the Consumer Council for Water.

The village's drinking water supplier and billing company is South Staffordshire Water, which collects waste water charges on behalf of Severn Trent, owners of the waste sewers, but not the surface water drains.

Villagers discovered they were being charged for surface water drainage from their land, gutters and down-pipes, which did not run into the waste sewer and applied for rebates. Severn Trent was initially only prepared to do this for one year for residents who made specific applications.

Marchington resident Malcolm Jeffries first discovered the overcharging. Villagers Stuart Miller, Charles Crowe and Julian Blakemore then consistently pressured South Staffs Water and Severn Trent over a period of more than 18 months to resolve the situation on a more realistic basis.

Stuart Miller of Jacks Lane initially raised the matter with the Consumer Council for Water. When it became clear that the issue affected many properties in the village the Parish Council became involved. It requested a fair settlement for all customers who had been paying for years for a service they simply had not been receiving.

Charles Crowe, of Woodland Views, Marchington said: "This all started after I contacted the Highways Agency and discovered that, as suspected, the drainage culverts flow into the village brook and are owned and maintained by the Local Authority Highways (Stafford), not Severn Trent."

"Severn Trent said if people wanted to remove this charge and claim a rebate they must make applications individually. If customers have been paying for something they have not been getting and the company is advised that their bills are wrong, why should customers have to make individual claims and be limited to a single year's rebate?"

Julian Blakemore, also of Woodland Views said: "I'm pleased that we have reached a satisfactory conclusion with Severn Trent. Water companies are monopoly suppliers and some have a reputation for treating customers with indifference. It is essential that organizations like the Consumer Council for Water have the powers to encourage a more enlightened approach."

Charles Crowe added: "While I feel the result is what should be expected in such instances, I'm certain we wouldn't have achieved it without the intervention of the Consumer Council for Water."

Sir James Perowne, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water Central and Eastern, said: "The Consumer Council for Water represents the rights of water customers in England and Wales and we can intervene in complaints to water companies if individual customer's efforts are proving fruitless."

"What makes this case unique is the number of customers affected. We asked Severn Trent to arrange a survey to ascertain just how many homes had been charged incorrectly for this service. They came back with the figure of 700."

"It was unfair that people had to apply for separate rebates. Charges should be returned to everybody, regardless of whether they knew about the mistake or not. Severn Trent did then agree to refund all customers, as far back as 2001 and we feel this is a satisfactory outcome for all parties.

"Since our inception in 2005, we have achieved over £3 million in compensation for water customers. It is important to remember that this kind of oversight might occur in other villages. So we urge customers to check their bills and if in any doubt, contact their water company."

The Consumer Council for Water represents consumers in England and Wales. It is the statutory water consumer body, and operates as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly Government. It has a committee for Wales, and at local level it is supported by nine regional committees in England.

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