National Ombudsmen
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Fifty-eight tenants with Hammersmith and Fulham reimbursed for overcharged water rates.

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has resulted in London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham repaying a significant sum of money to 58 elderly tenants who had been overpaying for water in their homes.

Following a complaint about the lack of meters in council-owned homes, an investigation by the LGO led the council to identify that it had overcharged tenants by more than £38,000 for their water.

The complaint was brought about by a woman who lives in a council-provided sheltered housing complex. She told investigators that the council had acted unreasonably when they charged her an expensive compulsory water charge, rather than for just the water that she used.

She also complained that the council refused to provide individual water meters even though residents had asked for them, and Thames Water had supported their requests.

The woman had been living in her property – one of a group of 63 - since 2007. After moving into her home, she found that individual water meters were not fitted and thought that she was paying too much for her water.

In April 2010, the woman complained to the council that, rather than paying the Thames Water assessed household charge for an unmetered property of £175, she was paying a yearly charge of £332.80.

The council responded by saying it had charged the woman for water use in accordance with its policy. But, as a result of the LGO investigation, the council identified that it had been charging residents more than it had paid Thames Water. This is not in accordance with the Water Resale Order.  The investigation did not find fault with the water meter part of the complaint.

The council has since written to tell all affected tenants that they are owed money for overcharged water rates between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2013. The woman who brought the complaint has been refunded £798.99 and the council is in the process of refunding all other tenants who have been overcharged.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin said:

“While I recognise that the council is now taking steps to rectify the situation and refund tenants, it has taken a complaint to me and a subsequent investigation for the council to act.

“This is an issue that should have been identified when the woman first questioned the council’s charging policy in 2010.

“I hope that this report will highlight to other councils the importance of complying with the Water Resale Order by clearly explaining to tenants how it calculates their water rates when it demands payment.

"We are here to ensure that councils remain accountable to the public, as well as support them to improve their services. This case is a clear example of this process in action and shows the power of a single complaint to make a difference to a large number of others in the same situation."

In addition to refunding all residents who have been overcharged, the LGO has recommended that the council pays interest on the amount that the tenants had been overcharged, and to comply with the requirements of the Water Resale Order by clearly explaining to tenants how it has calculated their water rate when it issues a demand for payment.

The council should also review how it collects water charges from council tenants across the borough and pay the woman £100 for the time and trouble it has taken to bring about the complaint.

The LGO has been able to investigate this complaint as it was brought to us before April 2013. Housing jurisdiction changed in April last year, and the LGO no longer investigates housing management complaints, which are now dealt with by the Housing Ombudsman.

Related Report: Report 12 012 460 London Borough of Hammersmith (41KB)

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