Do your water charges fit the bill?

In this blog our charges expert Andy White helps customers get to grips with surface water drainage charges.

Andy Rip Off BritainWhen it comes to utilities it’s not just energy bills that can sometimes leave us scratching our head –water charges can be confusing too.

This week I appeared on BBC Rip Off Britain to talk about surface water drainage charges, a topic which often causes confused customers to contact us for free advice.

So, if you missed the programme, here’s a quick guide to the key things you need to know:

What are surface water drainage charges?

These are what sewerage companies charge us to deal with the rainwater which drains off our property and into the public sewer. Managing surface water is a really important service as it reduces the risk of us being flooded – but it costs millions of pounds every year.

How will I know if I am being charged for this service?

Take a closer look at your water and sewerage bill and you should be able to see a separate charge for this service. In England the average annual cost for a household is about £35 – in Wales it is roughly £50. But for business customers it can run into thousands of pounds. If in doubt  – check with your sewerage company.

Does everyone have to pay these charges?

No. Some properties have soak-away ditches buried in the garden which ease the pressure on public sewers by absorbing surface water into the ground. If NONE of the water from your property ends up in the sewer, you shouldn’t be charged for surface water drainage.

OK, I’ve got a soak-away but I’m still being billed for surface water drainage – what should I do?

Call your sewerage company as they may not be aware you have a soak-away. You’ll then need to apply for a rebate so the charges can be removed from your bill. Some sewerage companies may insist on visiting your home or business to double check none of the water from your property is draining into the sewer. Remember, at the moment, it’s all or nothing – you’ll have to pay the full charge even if only a small amount of surface water drains into the sewer.

How much money will I get back if my application is successful?

Here’s where the water gets a little murkier. Water industry regulator Ofwat only insists that companies refund surface water charges to the start of the current year. Until recently seven out of the ten sewerage companies in England and Wales took a more sympathetic approach to customers by offering refunds that go back further. But we pressed the other  companies to follow suit and as of April 1 2016, Southern Water, United Utilities and Thames Water will also offer rebates that go beyond the current financial year. Please bear in mind the period for which charges are rebated varies and in most cases the more generous approach only applies to claims made after companies changed their policies.

Remember – if you’re unsure about your water and sewerage charges we’re here to offer you free, independent advice. Call us on 0300 0344 2222 (England) 0300 0344 3333 (Wales).

This blog has been updated to reflect changes to water company charges schemes that took effect from April 2016.