A CANBERRA couple slugged with a $2820 water bill after the territory's main water provider, ACTEW, failed to inform them of a leak had the invoice slashed to $440 at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In handing down the decision, the water provider was slammed for failing to take water waste seriously after an unusually high reading was kept from the couple for five weeks.
''I was struck by the fact that an organisation tasked with proper water management for the territory appears unable to see past its accounts department when faced with a clear issue of water wastage on a serious [to the consumer] scale,'' the tribunal said.
ACTEW also failed to comply with the Consumer Protection Code clause that states utilities must send customers an account at least every 120 days. In this case ACTEW took 125 days.
ACTEW offered to reduce by $2500 a first bill for water use from May 9 to August 15, which totalled $3499 under its undetected water leak policy. The couple paid the outstanding $999.24 but disputed a second bill for water use between August 15 and October 26.
When the couple's meter was read on August 15, 2012, it was 20 times higher than previous accounts and ACTEW ordered a second reading before issuing the account. This was done 26 days later on September 10. It confirmed the high usage and an invoice was prepared on September 12.
But the letter along with a letter advising of a possible water leak did not arrive until September 23.
The tribunal found this delay to be unacceptable.
''So they took almost all of a week to put the letter into the post and it was received by the applicants on the following Monday,'' it said.
After being notified of the leak, the couple engaged a plumber for the next day and paid $2508 to have it fixed.
A second bill for $2820 was issued on November 2. ACTEW offered to reduce the second bill by $1181.47, leaving the residents to pay $1638.32, but the tribunal found that as they ''did not move with anything like haste'' the applicants should only pay $440.
''My view of the respondents' management of what was a crisis of water wastage is that it was indifferent, bordering on negligent,'' a member of the tribunal said.
''It was certainly rude and dismissive, because the respondents' initial means of dealing with it was to bill the applicant customers for the lot.''
In an emailed statement, ACTEW said it was unable to comment on the tribunal's ruling.