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OAP at wits’ end over £1,200 water bill sent in error

A pensioner was left at her “wits' end” after borrowing money over a £1,200 water bill that should never have been sent, an Assembly hearing has been told.

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone raised the case at Stormont and said Northern Ireland Water (NIW) later accepted the woman owed nothing at all.

He was speaking at a session of the Public Accounts Committee examining the performance of NIW since its establishment as a Government company in 2007.

Mr McGlone said the pensioner was one of 16 bill error cases brought to him, largely involving owners of small land holdings.

He said people had test meters installed and had received bills that did not take their domestic water use into account. Under current arrangements, domestic customers do not pay direct water charges.

The SDLP MLA said these customers should have had their domestic allowance deducted from their bills. He also said bills as high as £1,200 were reduced to zero when challenged.

“In one of those cases, a pensioner on pension credit went and lifted £700 from the Credit Union to help defer that £1,200,” he explained.

“She had paid that £700 and she was her wits' end — how I am going to pay the rest of this?

“Upon investigation, it was discovered that she did not have to pay any of it.”

Mr McGlone said his big concern was whether other people may have received similarly wrong bills and paid them.

NIW chief executive Laurence MacKenzie accepted the cases raised were “not acceptable” and said the company is working with the Consumer Council on the subject.

Mr MacKenzie gave evidence to the Committee alongside Paul Priestly, permanent secretary of the Department for Regional Development, NIW's parent body.

It was emphasised to MLAs that progress had been made on efficiency in the company, and on issues like drinking water quality.

But Mr MacKenzie said: “From where I sit, I would say there is a lot to do. The organisation is not as efficient as it ought to be.”

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