Thousands of council house tenants could have been overcharged for their water by council bosses, it has been claimed.
In guidelines set out by independent regulator Ofwat, it says resellers – in this case Dacorum Borough Council – must charge no more than the amount they are charged by the water company, which in this case is Affinity Water.
But the Hemel branch of UKIP have spoken to more than 50 council tenants who think they have been overcharged for their water supply – including branch chairman Rachel Biggs – and they believe countless more have been exploited over the decades.
Mrs Biggs, who lives in Downside, Hemel Hempstead, said: “The council should be looking after the most vulnerable in society, not making a profit from them.
“The council is aware which of their tenants are vulnerable, and should be advising them accordingly.
“The council has a moral duty to work within the scope of the law and to advise those vulnerable tenants that there are other ways to pay for water/waste charges and how much these charges will be.”
Seen in documentation handed over to the Gazette, Mrs Biggs, who lives alone, calculated an overpayment charge of £100.29 in a year.
In a payment breakdown document, Mrs Biggs paid £6.47 a week for 48 weeks of clean water and sewerage services, which came to £310.56 in total.
However, on contacting Affinity Water direct, she discovered she should be paying a ‘single adult’ fixed charge of £96 for clean water and £114.27 for sewerage services, which adds up to just £210.27 compared to £310.56 – a discrepancy of £100.29.
According to the Ofwat guidelines, water resellers can charge a maximum annual admin fee of £5 for those without a water meter and £10 for those with one.
Andy Vincent, group manager for tenants and leaseholders at Dacorum Borough Council, said: “Around 96 per cent of our tenants – 9,792 in total – pay direct to Dacorum Borough Council for their domestic water supply. We collect these charges on behalf of two local water companies.
“Water charges are calculated according to the rateable value of each home and are set by the local water companies, not Dacorum Borough Council.
“Tenants’ weekly water rates vary from £3.05 for a bedsit to £29.25 for a five bedroom house.
“We are paid an admin fee for collecting these charges on behalf of the water companies.
“This fee is used to provide services to our tenants, including the delivery of day-to-day repairs and improvements to peoples’ homes.”
However, Ofwat guidelines say the amount charged is in fact down to the reseller – in this case, Dacorum Borough Council – to work out.
The fee is calculated using variables such as the number of people living in each property, the total floor space and the number of bedrooms.
Mrs Biggs, who herself lives in a council property, says the council is not being transparent with new tenants.
She said: “Anyone who is a council tenant and working, disabled, on low income or retired can ask to pay the water company direct.
“The council is not informing people. Anyone is within their rights to ask for these overpayments back. We will help if people contact us.”
Do you think you may have been overcharged for water services? Email firstname.lastname@example.org