Thames Water faces councillors’ anger over billing changes for tenants
Ed Sheridan, local democracy reporter
- Credit: Archant
Angry Islington councillors took Thames Water to task over its move to start billing council tenants directly.
The decision, which is due to take effect from April 1 and will see council tenants paying water bills separately to their rent, is not one over which the council has any control.
Thames Water has rolled it out in multiple boroughs to secure a more “direct relationship” with residents, but councillors on the Town Hall’s housing scrutiny committee have raised concerns about the change.
Service delivery lead at Thames Water, Kevin Dix, said the transition programme has been running over the last four years: "The reasons for this are it gives us an opportunity to have a more direct relationship with them [tenants], but also brings about other benefits that each tenant can take advantage of.
“We’ve got the benefit of experience, and over the last four years, I’m not going to say we’ve got everything exactly right, but what we have done is learn from it and the journey that we help take local authorities is one that makes sure that we are communicating with customers along the way.”
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Under the existing system, Islington passes on a set price, but the new system allows Thames Water to find out more about the personal circumstances of residents, provide support or reduce tariffs.
Cllr Diarmaid Ward, housing chief at the council, said it is in an "unenviable position" because it does not have a choice.
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He said: "[You’ve] talked about the direct relationship with the customer; nothing that you have talked about are things that could not have been done under the existing system."
Cllr Phil Graham added it would "have been nice to have a heads up" and said the "way this has been handled has been shocking".
"Myself and other councillors really were angry when those letters went out, because nobody told us about it," he said.
Thames Water's representatives apologised for upset caused and said the changes will not result in bumper bills.
However, councillors warned there was a “high chance” that if residents have not set up a direct debit or caught up with a missed payment, it would impact their credit history.
Cllr Gulcin Ozdemir described this as a "big concern".
Thames Water has promised its teams will work with residents, even if they fall into debt, and pledged not to suddenly file with credit agencies as a first instance.
Vulnerable residents are expected to receive a letter with extra information.