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Agenda item

Thames Water - Billing Arrangements for Tenants

Minutes:

Michael Benke, Kevin Dix, and Andy Mitchell were present from Thames Water, together with Adam Jenner, Head of Income and Home Ownership L.B.Islington, and during discussion the following main points were made

 

·       Members noted that a letter had been circulated before Xmas to tenants and a further letter would be circulated in the near future, together with information on the Council’s website. The view was expressed that this should include provision for those for whom English is not their first language

·       Thames Water stated that there would be a number of benefits from Thames Water doing direct billing to tenants and they would ensure that residents were communicated with effectively, and they wished to have a more direct relationship with tenants

·       It was noted that work had been taking place with the Council, in order to have direct billing to tenants, and that they had formed a good working relationship. Members were informed that Thames had been working with other London Boroughs over the past 4 years to transfer tenants to direct billing, and that this should ensure a smoother process with Islington tenants

·       Thames stated that tenants would also benefit from a number of possible discounts that they could apply for such as a reduction in bills if tenants earned less than £19000 per year, and other measures to reduce bills. Thames stated that they would be writing to residents that week to inform them of the new arrangements

·       It was noted that tenants transferring to Thames would have previous water charge arrears cleared, and Thames would only as a last resort employ debt companies. Thames would attempt to engage the tenant to ensure this did not happen

·       A Member expressed the view that negotiations between Thames and Housing had been taking place for a considerable period of time, and yet Members had not known of these proposals until relatively recently. This had meant that tenants, especially vulnerable tenants, were concerned about the proposals and this was unacceptable. It was stated that Housing and partner organisations are doing some work with vulnerable tenants, and Thames had arrangements for dealing with vulnerable tenants

·       In response to a question it was stated that bills would not increase for tenants as a result of the change, as there would be an equivalent reduction in their service charge on the rent account

·       It was stated that tenants could request a water meter be installed to control bills, however this would be dependent on an assessment of the technical difficulties of installing a meter at a property, and each application would be dealt with on its merits. Thames had a specialist metering team that dealt with such applications

·       In response to a question as to the average bill and price schedule that is payable for Islington residents, it was stated that whilst this would vary from property to property dependent on size, however such information could be circulated to Members

·       A Member referred to the fact that the reputation of Thames in the borough was not high following floods in the borough, and that he was concerned that many elderly tenants would not be able to set up direct debits and alternative payment arrangements needed to be put in place. It was also stated that tenants were concerned that bills would be increased in the future. Thames stated that they would circulate details of the options available for tenants to pay their water bills

·       Discussion took place as to the reason Thames had decided on direct billing and it was stated that OFWAT had recommended that water companies should be in closer contact with their customers and knowledge of their circumstances

·       Thames stated that a number of payment measures were in place and tenants should not be disadvantaged by not paying by direct debit or if they were not technologically aware

·       In response to a question as to billing, it was stated that the rent account sent to residents would exclude water service charges and that direct billing to Thames would be made clear to tenants and that Thames would also be contacting tenants in March. Rent officers will also be briefed as to the new arrangements in order to assist tenants

·       In response to a question as to whether Thames could apply an automatic discount to vulnerable tenants, it was stated that Thames did not have this level of information and it was noted that legally this information could not be passed to them by the Council. However, the Council are working with support organisations and partners to work with vulnerable residents to ensure discounts are applied wherever possible. It was stated that communications from Thames and the Council should highlight discounts that may be available for vulnerable Council tenants and partner organisations, including Partners for Islington

·        Noted that there would be no change to Housing Benefit for tenants as a result of direct billing from Thames

·       Members expressed concern that this proposal had been discussed with officers and Thames for some time and that Members were not aware until relatively recently of the proposals and this did not auger well

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)   That Thames Water be requested to report back to the Committee in 6 months on progress of direct billing to tenants, and the Executive Member Housing be requested to liaise with officers to ensure that communication with residents on the proposals is effective and informative of the new arrangements

(b)   That Thames Water be requested to provide information to tenants on measures that can be taken to reduce bills by conserving water

(c)   That details of the average water bill and pricing schedule for Islington properties be provided to Members of the Committee

(d)   That details of the options available for payment be circulated to tenants

 

 

The Chair thanked Michael Benke, Kevin Dix, Andy Mitchell and Adam Jenner for attending.