The independent London newspaper

Water palaver: council springs a surprise on tenants

10 January, 2019

WATER bills are beginning to worry Camden Council’s tenants.

They are not the only residents of the borough who carefully scrutinise their bills from Thames Water but last night (Wednesday) they asked their landlord to explain why, for the first time in years, they are being asked to pay the privatised utility directly instead of through the Town Hall rent collection system.

A heated discussion was held at the annual meeting of the tenants’ representatives at the Crowndale Centre.

The tenants fear that their charges will go up once the “third party” – the council – steps aside to allow direct payments to go ahead.

In view of the fact that energy bills follow only one trajectory – upwards – it is an understandable fear. Especially when one considers the reported financial state of affairs of Thames Water. It is facing a huge investment of billions of pounds in the renewal of part of the capital’s sewerage system.

It is also said to have debts totalling 11 billion.

It seems as if the council only informed their 22,000 tenants last month by letter simply pointing out that the change had to be made because Thames Water have ended “their agreement with us to collect their charges” and “now want to collect” them.

There was no description of how the present system operates, leaving tenants mystified – and fearful.

Apparently, under the present system, the council charge Thames Water a small nominal fee to act as agents in the collection of the charges.

This is not the same system employed by other London councils. Many of them, apparently, charge Thames Water a fee as well their tenants, a system that has led to a High Court case involving Southwark Council and a ruling that the council owed tenants millions of pounds.

This soon became known on the tenants’ grapevine and many in Camden thought the council were guilty of a similar practise.

But questions remain. Do Thames Water simply want to rationalise their collection system – on the surface a perfectly reasonable move? Or have their accountants worked out this would facilitate any upward movement in charges in the future?

The lesson to be learned here is that instead of simply dashing off a short letter telling tenants what will happen from April, the officials ought to have composed a friendlier and more informative one.

The very brevity of the letter they sent to tenants could suggest to the suspicious mind that they are hiding something when, in all probability, they are not.

It’s what they don’t say in the letter that has got tenants worried.

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