Its last critical intervention was in February when, far from calling for reduced charges, amid self-congratulatory bilge, it lamely complained that water companies should be “giving something back” to their customers from higher than expected profits.
But, if there has been a system failure, from top to bottom, perhaps the greatest failure is in ourselves, for tolerating this obscenity, where – as the Mail puts it, largely foreign-owned companies have “ripped off” billions from us.
Routinely, we read on our forum pages and elsewhere calls for “action” and complaints that there are no organised activities in which people can partake. But, in this particular instance, there is one obvious and very simple action we can all take against this egregious looting – we simply withhold payment.
As we recorded earlier, our more robust forefathers between the wars, tenants in London and Glasgow, faced with predatory landlords, mounted a series of rent strikes, forcing landlords to reduce their charges – but not before huge and prolonged battles with police and bailiffs.
Such robust action, however, is not for everyone, but there is graduated action which can be taken at every level, all of which can have a cumulative effect. At the bottom of the rung, one can send a letter to the water company, preferably addressed to the chief executive, complaining about the charges, and demanding a reduction.
Those wanting to take the inevitable brush-off further can withhold payments. But that does not necessarily mean refusing to pay. Simply holding off until the final demand makes a statement. Then, paying in odd sums, underpaying by a few pence, and sending the payments to the chief executive’s office, without a customer account reference but with a further letter of complaint, all adds to the pressure.
In essence, these companies are predators and they will continue to hike their charges until they meet a level of resistance which negates the value of further rises – or until the regulator, buoyed by public protests, finally steps in. This is the “hissing geese” strategy of Colbertian fame.
For those with a tougher constitution, there is the option of outright refusal to pay. This takes a steady nerve but, at the end of the process, all the water companies can do is huff and puff. Water disconnections are no longer permitted. This is the route I have taken, and now Yorkshire water asserts that I owe them over £1,500 in back charges and fees.
In fact, I owe them no such sum. This is an artificially inflated figure, with court and solicitors’ costs, representing corporate bullying by the company as it deliberately seeks to maximise the debt as “punishment” for late payment and as a deterrent to those who might consider taking them on. And all this is in complete breach of the industry code of practice on debt recovery. That the companies ignore.
The experience, though, is to be put to good use. My plan is, in due course, is to mount a formal complaint – not to Ofwat or channelled through the consumer patsy, the Consumer Council for Water, but to the Monopolies Commission on the basis of “abuse of monopoly power”. There is no hurry on this and our quest might eventually take us to Brussels and the European Commission, which also has powers to carry out investigations. The irony of it all!
What would be the best outcome is for the Secretary of State to refer the water industry to the Monopolies Commission, and thus force an investigation, while imposing a moratorium on any further increases. If the so-called “watchdogs” can’t do their jobs (and that includes Parliament), then we have to look elsewhere for our remedies.