Reflections on water bills… No, really.

I’m dubiously assured by the clever scales at the gym that I am around 64% water, which according to a quick Google search is either 4% too much or 6% too little but, by any way of reckoning, it’s significant proportion.

Water is essential to us being alive. Not only is it the majority contents of the meat bag behind this keyboard, but it’s also crucial in so many day to day activities – washing, cooking, cleaning, flushing, and – of course – without it, those waterproofs you’re keeping in the drawer would be entirely pointless.

There have been, and continue to be, public debates about how our water companies work. The FT does a relatively regular article in which they point out the folly of the way things are run; political parties argue for nationalisation; others talk about giant sewers cutting London in half; but what no one seems to talk about is the real issue affecting us all.

No water company, and I’ve experience of 3 (which feels like it might be above average) seem to have put any effort at all into their billing process – despite, presumably, water being the main thing a water company sells.

I have just had a quarterly statement which is what prompted this post; once again it brought news that having used some water, which was not what they expected, they needed to change the amount of money I am paying each month. It follows the last bill which told me I’d used some water, which had surprised them, and prompted them to put my bill down.

In seven years with this company, I have received 28 quarterly statements and 28 of them have told me I need to change what I’m paying, while also reporting – like most of our water bills, I imagine – a mundane, relatively consistent water usage. I live in a flat, I haven’t suddenly got a pool to be filling.

Where one bill professes that I have overpaid and can take a bit of a break – reducing my payment down to around £2.99 a month – the next will assert “you are not paying enough” and put it up to £40. And then the cycle will repeat.

By now at least 50% of my bill must be going on the admin team associated with changing the direct debits alone, and another 10% must be funding the 8 pages of charity fundraising and explanations of why I have to pay for water included with each one.

Why, in a world intelligent enough to have created gravy granules, can a water company not develop a billing system capable of working out – after six years of collecting evidence – how much water I use in a year, and, adding a smaller buffer perhaps, divide the cost of that by 12?

It’s not the biggest issue facing us today, I know, but we’ve got to start somewhere – and it’s these things which really niggle me.

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