We received a bill from Thames Water for £272.33 for the six months to July 2020. This was more than double our highest previous bill.
I called Thames Water on August 4 and explained I couldn’t see the meter as it was 3ft below pavement level and covered by an ants’ nest!
The call handler told me no engineers had been out during lockdown so this couldn’t be an actual reading.
She promised to freeze the bill and get a reading done. But Thames Water then took the money from my bank account on August 12.
Guessing game: Thames Water estimated a bill for one reader which was more than double their highest previous bill
I spoke to another person who said the reading was an actual one, but she’d arrange another within 15 days.
In despair, on October 20, I tied a paintbrush to a bamboo cane and tried to clear the ants’ nest. My eyesight is not great but I got a reading which looked like 2031, yet Thames Water had used 2091 for the end of July.
I was promised the problem would be escalated and an engineer would contact me in the next couple of days. I still haven’t heard anything.
B. K., Orpington, Kent.
Tony Hazell replies: There are some important issues here. Thames Water issued an estimated bill which you tell me was more than double your previous greatest usage. What precisely had it based this on?
Many people were facing financial hardship last summer so a company operating a de facto monopoly should not be escalating charges based on invented readings.
You are both in your 80s and potentially vulnerable. Thames Water took the money despite telling you your account would be put on hold.
It admitted to me that it took a reading of 2030 on September 10. But instead of refunding your money, it chose to keep it, leaving you in credit by £146.14. This money could have been vital to you.
I asked Thames Water to make a refund, but it said that your next reading was due by the end of January so you would have to pay it back again then.
That was not Thames Water’s decision to make.
If customers have a problem with their water ball, they are encouraged to write to their firm
I asked for compensation but it refused. Its press officer pointed me to its ‘Commitments’ internet page. This says customers should receive a substantive reply to queries within ten working days.
Thames Water took months to correct your bill so why the refusal of compensation?
The only room for wriggling is that these ‘Commitments’ refer to complaints in writing.
Yet its website says: ‘If you have a complaint, please always call us if you possibly can’, and, ‘In the first instance, please give us a call’.
To summarise, a company can overcharge, mislead its customer, fail to pay back a credit balance, fail to pay interest on the money it is holding and then refuse compensation.
This is what happens when you have lack of consumer choice, weak regulation and too much power handed to a few companies operating regional monopolies.
If you have a complaint that isn’t resolved with one call, then write to Thames Water, PO Box 436, Swindon SN38 1TU.
You have YOUR say
Every week Money Mail receives hundreds of your letters and emails about our stories. Here are some about our article on the 50th anniversary of ‘ Decimal Day’ (February 15, 1971).
I remember growing up with old money. I loved the threepence: it was the prettiest coin we’ve ever had.
I used to get sixpence pocket money from my parents and would always spend it on sweets.
M. M., email.
I had a Saturday job as a shop assistant back then and I used to earn one pound and ten shillings for a ten-hour shift.
You could buy ten pints of beer or 160 cigarettes from that.
M. C., London.
It was annoying for people born in the late 1940s and 1950s as they had spent their schooling learning about old money.
Overnight all of that knowledge of the arcane Imperial system became useless.
L. R., Cambridge.
I was the decimalisation clerk at my local bank branch. People would come to me and I would convert their paying-in books before they went to the teller. I’m sure I miscalculated on quite a few occasions!
S. E., Manchester.
My grandmother never got over it. To her, there were always so many points, rather than pennies.
I do believe it contributed to a decline in numeracy, as before ‘D-Day’ children had to understand base 12.
M. B., Liverpool.
As someone who remembers it, decimalisation never bothered me. The only thing that annoys me is when people refer to one penny as one ‘pee’.
That day I was nine years old and had bought my mother an Easter egg and a mug on my way to school. The whole idea of a new currency completely blew my mind.
F. O., London.
Husband’s mystery credit card payments
My Husband has had a regular monthly payment on his Barclaycard since at least May 2015. He doesn’t know what this is for.
I contacted Barclaycard which cancelled the card, opened an investigation and stopped all transactions. It’s also refunded the November payment.
On the most recent bills it appears as an entertainment company. I’ve tried to find out more without success. We are pensioners and can’t afford this.
S. C., Belfast.
Tony Hazell replies: Firstly, to reassure you, the payments have stopped and will not restart. Where they were going remains a bit of a mystery but they have been going out since at least 2004, starting at £8.99 per month and increasing to £19.99.
My research suggests they may have been made to what is known as an ‘adult’ viewing channel.
Based on the merchant category code attached to the payment it seems likely there was adult content of some kind, which can also include companies dealing with sports scores, stock market quotes or videotext services.
In recognition of your long-standing relationship with Barclaycard it has, as a goodwill gesture, refunded your past two years’ payments bringing the total refund to £499.75.
Your experience is a lesson to us all to look at every statement, and in particular to watch out for regular monthly payments and investigate any that don’t ring a bell with you.
Eon’s slow down on solar
My partner and I moved into our house in January 2020 and tried to transfer ownership of the solar panels.
Eon acknowledged the request and asked for some details, which I supplied. But then the coronavirus pandemic intervened.
I asked for an update on September 5 and received an automated reply.
Shortly afterwards, its generation meter reader called so I thought we were getting somewhere. But since then we have heard nothing.
Further emails produced a repeat of the previous automated reply and they are not answering the telephone.
D. H., Dawlish, Devon.
Tony Hazell replies: EON told me that the paperwork you submitted early last year was incomplete, so it had not been able to complete the transfer.
It said it had asked for the outstanding section on at least nine occasions, most recently last month.
You assured me this was not the case, so I asked Eon to look again.
I am pleased it sent paperwork for you to sign and a meter reading was requested at the end of January.
Straight to the point
I was alerted to fraud on my HSBC credit card but am struggling to get the payments removed. I am worried I will be charged interest.
M. D., via email.
HSBC says that when a fraud is confirmed, it halts interest charges, blocks the compromised card and issues a new one.
If you are charged interest on a fraudulent debt, you will be refunded. The payments have now been wiped from your card.
I ordered some bridesmaid dresses from Asos to try on, but when I tried to return them two days before the 28-day cut-off, the courier had no slots, so they were not collected in time.
Now, Asos says I can only have a credit note, not a cash refund.
E. S., Chiswick, London.
Asos says it is very sorry about the difficulties you experienced. You had already spent some of the credit when you contacted me, but you have now been refunded the remaining £270.60.
The batteries powering my £1,999 mobility scooter failed after just seven months.
The firm I purchased it from, CareCo, told me this was due to lack of use over lockdown and that I should have recharged them more frequently.
I paid £270 for a three-year warranty, but the company is still charging £288 for new batteries.
P. H., Stevenage, Herts.
The batteries were not covered by the three-year warranty, but a separate six-month policy.
As you were unable to claim, CareCo agreed to reimburse you £270 for the warranty.
My local Barclays branch used to have a small box where you could deposit cheques. Now I have to wait in a long queue to bank it over the counter.
Barclays removed cheque deposit boxes in 2019 because they weren’t used enough.
It says some customers prefer to bank cheques in person rather than via machines, which is why it kept its counter service.
- We love hearing from our loyal readers, so ask that during this challenging time you write to us by email where possible, as we will not pick up letters sent to our postal address as regularly as usual. You can write to: asktony@ dailymail.co.uk or, if you prefer, Ask Tony, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — please include your daytime phone number, postal address and a separate note addressed to the offending organisation giving them permission to talk to Tony Hazell. We regret we cannot reply to individual letters. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given.