Retiree billed $ 4,442 for 5 months of water, Watercare threatens debt collectors

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Watercare threatened to unleash debt collectors on an 80-year-old retiree after claiming she had amassed a $ 4,442 water bill in just five months.

The Auckland-owned company told Sujuan – who lives alone and asked that her last name not be disclosed – that it had chewed on nearly 1,200 kiloliters of H20 – about half the volume of a swimming pool Olympic-sized – since purchasing his two-bedroom North Shore. house at the end of April.

When she disputed the “baseless and inaccurate” bill and refused to pay it, Watercare insisted her readings were accurate and threatened to return the overdue amount to a debt collection agency.

A plumber and a technician from Watercare confirmed that there was no leak. Watercare staff then suggested that a crafty neighbor could siphon Sujuan’s water through a pipe and asked if she had a construction site near her property.

After receiving questions from the Herald this week, Watercare confirmed that it has now paid off the outstanding amount and apologized for the distress.

Watercare has now replaced the woman’s water meter after finding out she was 23. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

He also confirmed that Sujuan’s water meter was 23 years old and in dire need of replacement.

Sujuan’s daughter Dana has been at odds with Watercare since receiving a bill for $ 1,495 for a month on June 1, claiming her mother swallowed 392 kl of water in just 30 days.

The average water consumption in Auckland is 244 liters per person per day – around 7 kl per month.

Dana said high water bills continued to come in, with the September bill demanding payment of $ 4,442.79, of which $ 3,504.02 was “still due, now overdue.”

Dana’s mother, who is a resident but does not speak English, became increasingly anxious as the demands for payments increased and suggested that they offer to automatically deduct $ 10 from her weekly pension.

But convinced that the meter readings were totally out of whack compared to actual consumption, Dana refused to comply with Watercare’s demands.

She asked for photographic evidence of the meter readings, which she said was only provided when she threatened to file a complaint with the ombudsman.

A plumber who visited the property confirmed that there were no detectable leaks and Dana said a technician from Watercare came to the same conclusion.

She believed there had been a reading error or more likely the property’s water meter was faulty, but says Watercare refused to admit fault.

Watercare then entered the woman’s property unannounced last week and replaced her meter.

Sujuan, 80, grew increasingly worried about claims and suggested deducting $ 10 a week from her pension.  Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Sujuan, 80, grew increasingly worried about claims and suggested deducting $ 10 a week from her pension. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Dana – who sought legal advice and had prepared to take the case to the Dispute Tribunal – asked if removing the meter was a deliberate ploy to “destroy evidence.”

She referred the matter to police, saying Watercare’s actions violated Alert Level 4 restrictions, as replacing a water meter was not “essential” work.

Dana had checked the meter periodically for the past few months and believed her mother’s actual water intake to be around 6.5 kl per month, which is Auckland’s average daily intake.

Sujuan was happy to pay a reasonable amount that reflected reasonable usage, but Watercare’s bills were “extraordinarily high”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Watercare confirmed that it had repaid the entire outstanding amount of $ 4,308.01 to the woman’s account on September 13.

“We are very sorry to hear that the client and her daughter have been devastated by the events surrounding her unusually high water bill.

“We recognize that it took a long time to resolve.”

The high water bills were usually caused by private leaks, but Sujuan and Dana maintained that there had been no leaks or excessive consumption, the spokesperson said.

“On this basis, we acted in good faith by repaying $ 4,308.01 and replacing the water meter.

The water maintenance policy was to replace all meters over 15 years old.

Sujuan’s meter was installed in 1998 “so it was well overdue for replacement”.

The spokesperson acknowledged that the old meter was potentially the cause of the high readings.

Sujuan’s latest reading indicated that she had used 8kl in the last 45 days resulting in a bill of $ 62.08, so the likely future usage was around 5kl per month ($ 40.47 per month) .

The newly installed water meter would be closely monitored. A plumber will need to check if the readings continue to indicate high water use.

“Currently, only essential work is undertaken during Level 4 restrictions and we are investigating why our contractor has replaced the meter at this time.”

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