Watch out for water companies raining on your parade

A household I know received a letter from the water company saying it was going to change the direct debit is deducted from their account from December 2013 but nothing else other than an ‘opening balance’ of £17.04. It gave no meter reading, history of payments, no details of standing charges or even what the current payments were.
The family had to check their bank account to realise the direct debit payments were being doubled! And as the supply of water and waste water drainage were provided by two different water companies, they then had to check the second company to find that the total monthly water bills would be £49 or £588 a year.
Needless to say they contacted water company that wanted to increase their direct debit. The water company call centre worker took the wife through a number of security checks before admitting could not say when the water meter was last read by them or how much water was being used in a household equipped with shower timers and many other water-saving devices. The only thing they could say was that instead of a ‘opening balance’ of £17.04, the household actually owed £17.04.
the water company then said it was “looking at how to give more information” to customers when it amended direct debits.
In the meantime customers are just expected to take everything on trust as the water companies plan to announce their next round of increased charges in January.
It is time to fight back. Ofwat, the water industry regulator needs to ensure that customers get the information they need. We have long talked about fuel poverty when 10% of income is spent on gas and electricity but now it looks like water poverty could be with us for some pensioners.