Council tenants warn against water rate rises as Thames Water takes over billing
Water company says 'new direct relationship' with residents will help tenants who need extra help
17 January, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Housing chief Councillor Meric Apak
TENANTS leaders have demanded Camden Council protect them from any water rate hikes, after control over their bills was handed over to Thames Water.
The housing department was accused of not doing enough to help council tenants prepare for the change, which some estate representatives say could leave them open to significantly higher charges.
Camden says it is powerless to stop Thames Water overhauling the system, which has historically seen the council collect money for water bills on their behalf – as this was considered the easiest way to reach 25,000 homes.
The company now says it wants to get to know its customers better and will take over the administration itself.
At a meeting of the Camden’s district management committees – the forum where leaders of tenants’ associations talk directly to council chiefs about issues affecting their homes and estates – fears were raised that the elderly and vulnerable would not be able to negotiate the best rate with Thames Water.
Chris Tarpey, from the Chalcots estate, said: “What is going to happen is that Thames is going to transfer everyone onto a system called ‘rateable value’ – at the moment we are on a system called ‘assessed value’. If everybody is moved over automatically onto the ‘rateable value’ method, charges will rise by 66 per cent. I’ve extracted the figures from Thames Water’s own website and that is the result.”
He added: “When you [the council] say the charges won’t change, they won’t change as long as you send in your application to be on the ‘assessed rate’. On the Chalcots, a two-bedroom flat charge is £316 a year. If you allow them to put you onto the rateable charge system that will rise to £528.”
Derek Jarman, from the Kennistoun and Willingham Estate in Kentish Town, warned that “the vulnerable and disabled” will have problems, while Petra Dando, from the Camden Association of Street Properties, said: “We are now looking at another scenario which falls into the category of crisis management. It is completely unacceptable to leave this. We need to get Thames Water down here for clarity. Camden need to get moving, like they should’ve done six months ago.”
Housing chief Councillor Meric Apak said he was willing to hold another meeting with tenants on the issue.
He insisted the council had never made money from the water bills, but had charged the water company an admin fee for collecting it.
“The reason why, presumably, Thames Water changed the arrangement with us is because they were paying that charge and it was cheaper for them to collect the charge,” said Cllr Apak.
He added that he did not think charges would go up in cost.
A spokesman for Thames Water said: “We’ll be working closely with local authorities, including Camden, and housing associations over the next two years to make sure each customer is set up with the right payment plan, and to understand if they have any additional needs in accessing our services or paying their bill.”
He added: “Customers are at the heart of everything we do at Thames Water, and as part of our record £11.7bn business plan for 2020-25, we’ve pledged to increase our priority services register to 400,000 people, and offer more than 200,000 customers who find it hard to pay discounts of up to 75 per cent. By knowing which of our customers need additional support through this new direct relationship, we’ll be able to proactively help them whenever they need us.”