South East Farmer highlighted the likely plight of hundreds of other farmers and growers like Mr Gray in our December edition. But so far, Mr Gray has not been offered any compensation by Castle Water – which made the billing mistake – or OFWAT, the water industry regulator.

Mr Gray is asking for £200 in compensation after Castle Water sent him bills for mains sewage which he is not connected to because he has his own septic tank. Between August and December last year, he was sent bills for £728, £362 and £474. “I asked them for compensation for all the time and bother involved in this saga and because the company was not inclined to believe me at all,” said Mr Gray, who runs a pick your own raspberry and strawberry business on 65 acres near Wokingham in Berkshire.

His neighbour, Tim Robbins, who runs Holme Park Game Hatcheries – a traditional game farm on 150 acres – was also billed for mains sewage services when he, too, has his own cess pit. Initially, Mr Robbins was sent a bill for £200 and then another for £800. Castle Water even sent a bill for mains water which – like Mr Gray – he receives from South East Water. “They came with all the final demands and in the end I hit the roof,” Mr Robbins said.

“I had protracted shouting matches with clueless girls. I had never had anything to do with Castle Water, and it seemed as if they created the bills out of thin air.” Mr Robbins found out that a nearby veterinary practice and an accountancy firm had the same bills.

In the end, he contacted the chief executive’s personal assistant and the company “held its hand up” and sent a letter of apology. Mr Robbins is not asking for compensation.

It seems likely that the mistake arose after Castle Water took over the management of business accounts in the Thames Water area. South East Farmer contacted Castle Water for an explanation but the company did not respond. We also contacted OFWAT to ask whether Mr Gray and the 900 other addresses which the NFU estimates may be involved in the billing mistake in the Thames Water supply area are entitled to compensation. OFWAT had not responded by the time we went to press.

Peter Gray remains concerned because he says:

  • some of the many people who received the bills and demands to pay within 14 days may have felt confused and threatened and paid up;
  • Castle Water should have known who its customers were, where they were on the map and what they were paying before sending out the bills. Such simple checks could and should have prevented the mistakes;
  • either the Consumer Council for Water or OFWAT should investigate Castle Water for what happened. “There should be some sanctions against them for demanding money with harassment,” Mr Gray said. “After all, fraud used to be against the law.”