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22 December 2006

MSP Issues Pledge Over Blunders On Water Bills - Press & Journal

by Andrew Kellock, Press & Journal

A North-east MSP has pledged to pursue a series of water bill blunders with the watchdog group set up to protect customers.

Stewart Stevenson believes businesses in the Peterhead area have been let down "quite spectacularly".

He has repeated his demand that none of the companies which were issued with demands for huge payments should suffer because of mistakes made when their meters were being read.

The Banff and Buchan MSP has already secured an apology from Scottish Water for a series of errors which resulted in some local firms getting bills several times their normal quarterly average.

Raymond Matthew, owner of Bailie's lounge bar in Broad Street, Peterhead, received a demand for nearly £1,400, more than four times his usual charge.

Kenneth Watt, proprietor of the Palace Hotel in Prince Street, was left stunned when he was asked to stump up £35,000 - 10 times what he normally pays for a three-month period.

Mr Stevenson has held talks with Scottish Water and officials from the industry regulator, Waterwatch Scotland.

He said: "This has been a hugely worrying issue for the businesses affected, some of whom have received quite substantial bills.

"It is now clear that Scottish Water - and their meter-reading contractor, Yorkshire-based H2O Water Services - failed in their duty of care to their customers quite spectacularly.

"Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against one member of staff, and another has left the employment of H2O.

"Incredibly, after all this time and investigation, Scottish Water are still unable to say whether the meters in question were read incorrectly or not read at all. I received an update on the procedures which have now been tightened up and the lessons learned from this episode.

"I re-emphasised to Scottish Water that on no account must any business or individual be disadvantaged as a result of this failure.

"I have therefore asked Scottish Water to investigate the terms of their contract with H2O to see what action may be taken against that company.

"There are also several aspects of this case which I will be pursuing with the ombudsman body, Waterwatch Scotland."

Scottish Water insists none of the businesses caught up in the bills bungle has been overcharged.

It says that after correct meter readings were taken they resulted in higher figures and that bills were "falling back into their normal pattern".

It has admitted its meter reading system was "compromised" for about a year.

No one was available to comment at Scottish Water yesterday.

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