If you look closely at the reverse side of your water bill you will see, under the heading:
“By receiving our water and wastewater services you are deemed to have accepted our customer contract. A copy of the contract is available on our website.”
On the website you will see under the heading:
“You can expect Watercare to:
- Provide reliable, safe and affordable water and wastewater services.
- Make it easy for you to do business with us.”
NEW MONTHLY BILLS
Just how easy is it to do business with Watercare if something goes wrong?
Perhaps my story about the first monthly bill I received for my rental property in Henderson will illustrate this.
On 8 August 2012 I received a water bill dated 6 August for my Henderson property. A glance at the graph of Usage history immediately indicated something was wrong. First reaction by me was to suspect a water leak but then on closer inspection I noticed the “reading” was an estimate. Why estimate the average daily usage for the last month at four times the actual average daily usage for the last year?
On 9 August at 7.30 am I rang Watercare on 442 2222 for an explanation of what had gone wrong. The Manager was not available so I spent 40 minutes going through a series of discussions. Initially I was asked to get my tenants to get a water reading, then I was told I would “have to” take a meter reading myself. This was absurd. I was at pains to point out this was an assessment. I was told a faulty meter had been reported on 3 May but a subsequent visit by a contractor on 29 June had found this not to be the case. At least I finished the conversation some 40 minutes later with the name and phone no of Michael Graham, Revenue Manager ph 539 7720.
DEALING WITH MANAGERS
At 9.10 am I made contact with Mr Graham. His explanation did not gel with the fact that I had received my previous water bill dated 9 July that disclosed the date of the then latest actual reading as 4 July 2012. This post-dated 3 May by some 2 months. I said I would send him some specific questions for clarification.
At 11 am I emailed the following letter to him:
“Upon receiving my latest bill for water at 9 Ascot Ave, it was clear to me there had been a cock-up. I did not appreciate having to spend 40 minutes on the phone this morning trying to sort the matter out.
As I understand it:
A meter reader did a reading on 3 May.
- Why was that reading done?
- Who authorised it?
- Why was the meter deemed faulty?
- Why was I not informed of this?
I understand a further visit was made by a contractor on 29 June who deemed the meter not faulty.
- Why was I not informed of this?
- What was the reading on that date?
According to your explanation of estimates being based upon 90% of the average daily consumption over the previous six months, usage of 252 litres per day should have been calculated.
- How was usage of 1,000 litres per day calculated?
- What assurance can I have that such glaring errors will not occur in future?”
By 2.20 pm I had received no reply. I rang to see what was happening and was told it was being handled by the “Communications Team”. I asked who was in charge but Mr Graham was not prepared to say. He merely told me “I will get someone to contact you.”
DEALING WITH SENIOR MANAGEMENT
At 2.45 pm I rang Debbie Hickson, PA to Mark Ford, Chief Executive on 539 7301.
I asked to speak to Mr Ford but she transferred me to Owen Cook, Communications Manager. I asked when I could expect a reply to my letter of 11 am and was told “This afternoon.”
At 4.20 pm I received the following email from Daniel Wrigley, Communications Advisor:
“As discussed over the phone with Michael Graham, there was a human error with the recording of your meter reading back in May. This has resulted in your latest estimated reading being incorrect.
Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. A new amended bill has been issued to you today. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.
The 3 May reading was a regular scheduled meter reading. An accurate reading of your meter could not be undertaken due to condensation inside the meter – not a technical fault. This was confirmed by the maintenance contractor.
Watercare has a legal right to undertake these readings, as the meter remains the property of Watercare. The meter readings for your account were undertaken in accordance with our customer contract, which you can find online at: http://www.watercare.co.nz/common-content/customer-contract/Pages/customer-contract.aspx
The usage of 1,000 litres per day was incorrectly calculated because the 3 May reading was not marked as an anomaly. If it had been, the system would have used the 1 November 2011 reading and based consumption off 278 litres per day.
Again we apologise for the inconvenience caused and will endeavour to ensure this issue is not repeated in the future.
If you have any questions relating the new bill which you should receive by Monday, please contact me directly on the numbers below.”
At 5.15 pm I rang Mr Wrigley and asked him to provide specific answers to my specific questions. He kept reiterating “We believe we’ve answered your questions.”
One would have thought if a meter was suspected of being faulty, the customer would be advised. If an actual reading was made some two months after 3 May why was this not used? The generalised reply does not explain how daily usage of 1,000 litres per day was calculated for the period from 4 July to 2 August.It simply saysthe “3 May reading was not marked as an anomaly”. Clearly Question 7 has been avoided. Likewise Questions 4 and 5.
Unable to get specific answers to my specific questions from Watercare, on 22 August I complained to Doug McKay, Chief Executive of Auckland Council.
On 23 August he wrote to me advising me “Watercare Services Limited has its own governance board and chief executive. The company is responsible for its own operations and it is not my place to interfere in that process.” He sent a copy of that letter to Mark Ford, Chief Executive, Watercare.
On 23 August, at 2.23 pm, I sent the following complaint to Mark Ford via email.
“ It is disappointing to me that what started as a request from me two weeks ago for some specific answers to some specific questions has now culminated in me writing to you to lodge a formal complaint.
When I received my estimated monthly water bill on 8 August, it was clear to me, with just one glance at the graph of usage history, there was an error. I object to the fact that I had to spend considerable time explaining to Watercare staff this was an assessed bill, and despite being told I would “have to” do my own meter reading, I had to expend considerable time and patience reiterating this was an assessment. I was told we can’t rely on the graphs provided but I pointed out I have a mathematical background and, in relation to the figures provided, the graph was spot on. I was told no manager was available to speak to me at the time but I ascertained Michael Graham’s phone number and rang him an hour later.
Not satisfied with Mr Graham’s explanation I sent him an email at 11 am asking 8 specific questions. At 2.20 pm, having no answer, I rang him and was told a reply was being handled by the “Communications Team.” I asked who was in charge but Mr Graham merely said “I will get someone to contact you.” The email received at 4.20 pm from Mr Wrigley was a generalised reply and did not gel with the facts. I rang Mr Wrigley insisting on specific replies to my questions but he merely responded time and time again “We believe we’ve answered all your questions.”
The generalised reply claimed , inter alia, “There was a human error with the recording of your meter reading back in May . This has resulted in your latest estimated reading being incorrect.”
But let’s look at things chronologically.
My previous bill dated 9 July recorded:
Actual reading 1/11/11 7323
Actual reading 4/7/12 7392
With the latest actual reading already recorded on my previous bill as having been made on 4 July why would 3 May have an impact on an assessment from 4 July to 2 August? Thus the reason for my insistence on specific answers. It appears there may not have been just one cock-up but several.
My endeavours to get specific replies and engage in dialogue with you have proved to be fruitless. There seems to be a culture which pervades large bureaucracies in monopolistic situations, that the best method of dealing with a complaint is to attack the complainant and try to discredit them rather than deal with the problem to the complainant’s satisfaction. There is nothing more frustrating to a complainant when the explanation proffered doesn’t gel with the facts.
I resent being accused by David Hawkins of bullying and harassing staff – this from a man who persisted in talking over the top of me and was unprepared to engage in a rational discussion. Some of your management staff seem to operate under the misapprehension that by a process of inculcation they can convert flannel into fact.
As pointed out to Mr Hawkins yesterday, my dealing with several staff was a matter of choice – not by me, but by Watercare.
I would appreciate specific answers to the specific questions I posed on 9 August and an account of what actually happened, not what could have happened. I look forward to a prompt, satisfactory response.”
An hour later a courier driver turned up at my doorway with the following letter from Sally Fitzgerald, Partner, Russell McVeagh.
“Dear Mr Osborne
RE: WATER METER –9ASCOT AVENUE
- We have been instructed by Watercare Services Limited (Watercare) in relation to issues arising out of an incorrect recording of the reading of your water meter in May this year.
- That error resulted in your later estimated reading being incorrect and the bill which was issued to you being too high.
- You drew this matter to the attention of Watercare on August 9 2012. Watercare undertook a new reading and provided an apology for the error within 30 minutes of your complaint having been communicated to Michael Graham, revenue Manage
- Since then, we are instructed that you have cotacted the Watercare office with repeated telephone calls, a number of emails and demands including speaking directly to the Chief Executive. Watercare has over 400,000 customers and consequently a large customer services section to deal with issues such as this.
- We are instructed that your manner in these phone calls has been overbearing and aggressive, including communicating with our client’s staff in a particularly derogatory manner. A number of female staff have felt threatened and been upset as a result of your behaviour.
- You have advised Watercare that you complained to the Commerce Commission and Watercare have recently received a response from the Commission that it does not deal with issues of this nature.
- We are now requested to advise thast further phone calls and emails from you to Watercare will be regarded as vexatious.
- An error had been made by Watercare. Promptly upon the error being brought to its attention, the error was remedied and an apology give.
- Any further intimidation of Watercare staff by either telephone or writing will require the matter to be referred to the Police.
Half an hour later another courier driver turned up at my doorway and said he had come to collect a package from Mr Osborne for delivery to Russell McVeagh. I said I had no such package and there must be a mistake.
Quarter of an hour later the same courier driver returned and said Russell McVeagh had requested return of the letter delivered to me earlier that afternoon. I said it was my property and I had no intention of returning it.
At 5 pm I sent the following email to Sally Fitzgerald.
I am perturbed by the tone of your letter and have been extremely upset by your allegations. I refute them.
You have claimed, inter alia,
- “your manner in these phone calls has been overbearing and aggressive”
- “A number of female staff have felt threatened and been upset as a result of your behaviour.”
- You have claimed “intimidation of Watercarte staff”
Under the Privacy Act please provide me with any internal communications and complaints about me that Watercare staff have communicated amongst themselves or to you.
Please be specific about how and when the claims quoted above were made.
At 5.22 pm I received the following email from Sally Fitzgerald.
“Thank you for your email below. I will seek instructions from Watercare, and respond as soon as I have done so.”
BUSINESS WITH WATERCARE
To be perfectly frank, I have not found it easy to do business with Watercare. Specific answers to my specific questions are still outstanding.