Watercare or Waterbully?



If you look closely at the reverse side of your water bill you will see, under the heading:

Customer contract

“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:

Customer contract

“You can expect Watercare to:

  1. Provide reliable, safe and affordable water and wastewater services.
  2. Make it easy for you to do business with us.”



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.



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.

  1. Why was that reading done?
  2. Who authorised it?
  3. Why was the meter deemed faulty?
  4. 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.

  1. Why was I not informed of this?
  2. 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.

  1. How was usage of 1,000 litres per day calculated?
  2. 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.”



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


  1. 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.
  2. That error resulted in your later estimated reading being incorrect and the bill which was issued to you being too high.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. We are now requested to advise thast further phone calls and emails from you to Watercare will be regarded as vexatious.
  8. An error had been made by Watercare. Promptly upon the error being brought to its attention, the error was remedied and an apology give.
  9. Any further intimidation of Watercare staff by either telephone or writing will require the matter to be referred to the Police.

Yours faithfully


Sally Fitzgerald



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.

“Dear Sally,

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,

  1. “your manner in these phone calls has been overbearing and aggressive”
  2. “A number of female staff have felt threatened and been upset as a result of your behaviour.”
  3. 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.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Osborne.


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.”



To be perfectly frank, I have not found it easy to do business with Watercare. Specific answers to my specific questions are still outstanding. 





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17 Responses to Watercare or Waterbully?

  1. Michael says:

    this article starts by referring to Watercare Contract. Had anyone actually read it in its entirety? Had anyone raised an eyebrow when on page 31 it states that “[…]we will have no liability to you for any breach of our obligations under this contract”? Did anyone just thought “What the…”? All user’s responsibilities are very well defined, but the big Corporate entity has no obligations???

    Secondly, did anyone notice that Watercare succeeded to make the use of rainwater illegal? Well… not illegal in the true sense of the word, but definitely pushing this out of the average person reach. I am talking about using rain water for Laundry and Toilets, well advocated by all “Eco” groups and endorsed by so many Council pamphlets… well, if you do that, then I bet Watercare will hunt you down to the full extent of the law, because they cannot charge for the waste water produced. And I understand this, from a commercial perspective. What I do not understand, is how can everyone be so blind and not notice what they are doing? Basically not only they have a monopole on supplying water, but they made it very, very expensive for anyone to use water which is not supplied (sold) by them. You can use water from extra sources and discharge to waste water network, but the conditions asked in this situation would definitely make this not economical anymore. Page 18 of the new Contract reads: “We may audit your water use (at your cost) to work out any applicable extra charges. We may also require you, at your cost, to install a meter on your wastewater outlet to help with measuring the volume of wastewater you discharge”. And I ma confident that all admin time will be charged at $141/hr as per the Charges Schedule.

    they also forbid the land owners to use the land in the vicinity of their pipes, where running on private land. I understand the idea of public infrastructure and the care required when working near them, but how about they pay the rates for that part of the land, considering I cannot use it anyway? In my case I have their pipe running for approx 50m through the property (including a manhole)… how about we check how much of my section that is, and they pay the property rates for that percentage? How does this sound, Watercare?

    If any of my views are incorrect, do not hesitate to let me know by replying to this thread… we are all in the same boat, we might as well talk to each other… right?

    • Bobbie-jo Butler says:

      I have also had some problems with Watercare, I have just telephoned them regarding my new monthly water account. I am a property owner, but rent the house that I live in. I pay the water account directly, not to the landlord. The last account was $16 overdue, for which I have been lumped with a $7 penalty fee. Firstly, was told that they can only give me limited information regarding the account as I am not the land owner, even though I explained that I use the water and pay the account, and therefore the account should be in my name as the consumer. Secondly, apparently if you have $5 or more in arrears for one month, you will get charged the $7 fee or 1% of the amount owing, whichever is the greater. She said that this has always been the case, but in checking my previous accounts, this has certainly not always been the case. Anyway, I think that a penalty of over 100% is not justified. She then went on to say that her power company will charge a penalty fee for unpaid amounts. I told her that if my power company charged a penalty of over 100% I would tell them to shove it and go to another power company, but I can’t do that with Watercare, because they have absolutely no competition and can therefore treat their customers however they like. Has anyone actually been to the Commerce Commission about this Company? I would be interested to know.

  2. Sharon says:

    I’ve been posting my experiences on other sites. It’s terrible they’re a monopoly, they need competition to give them a run for their money.

    Isn’t it sad that water which is every humans being right to access isn’t free? Next thing we’ll be charged for the air we breathe. How can companies assure they never go out of business?, charge people the right to use resources that essentially should be free and are available to every man woman and child, resources that we need for everyday survival and charge consumers the right for the privilege and water is it. Water is the new gold. It’s the commodity that wars will be fought over and with increasing scarcity, things will only got worse.

    Be careful. Our water bill went from $50 in July to $89 in August, $100 in September, now it’s $145 in November, it’s nearly TRIPLED since July and our water usage has remained the same, in fact it’s decreased since we had a person move out in August.

    So I queried the charge and went to check the meter and it had no cover on it. Apparently one of the meter readers took it away 6 months prior to get it replaced and never did.

    It had been buried in dirt, when I dug through it was like digging through an undisturbed grave, the dirt was riddled with worms and tree roots and still I couldn’t get through to the meter itself to get a reading.

    So the incredible thing is how on earth the meter guy was able to read this in less than 30 seconds just 6 short days ago when I still have not been able to uncover the meter as it’s so covered with dirt it would take ages to do so.

    This meter clearly had NOT been read in MONTHS so where are they getting their estimates from?

    Apparently we’re using 884 litres/day (actually on closer inspection from the bar graph it’s more like 1,250 liters per day!!!!!) and there are only 3 people in the house. Our usage habits have not changed for months.

    So unless he has a crystal ball, where is the meter reader getting that figure from? Makes me irate!

    So I challenged Watercare services and am having a meter reader come out and show me how on earth they managed to get the reading when the meter is so damn covered with dirt it’s impossible to get one.

    I call shenanigans on this one!

  3. Pingback: Watercare Bills Up or Balls Up? | Accountability in Auckland Council

  4. Hi. Sort of good to see I am not the only victim.
    Think I have won mine, I just bullied them back but it is pretty shocking that a company can be so incompetent then just blame the customer.
    New to this, I blogged my experience. Should be here
    Good luck

  5. pato says:

    Water care? or water rip the rates payers of as much money as we can. The more i research in the net about this company the more negativity I found, a direct reflection of what the company policy is all about. i wonder if the mayor of auckland has any direct liability on this matter?
    My story, same as everyone else in this blog

  6. Ivor says:

    This is a précis of the Watercare survey 2011 as sent to me by Mathew Telfer 7/01/2013.
    I understand that only 7 customers were asked to participate in the survey – giving rise to the survey results that they now rely upon to bill us monthly and estimate bills……..


    The 2011 Customer Survey
    I have included the details for the survey below for your information. As you have pointed out this was not a survey of the majority of our customers which would have been cost prohibitive for 430,000 customers. The survey was only one of the considerations made for the change to monthly invoicing.

    · In 2011, Watercare engaged an independent market research firm because we wanted to understand our customers’ preferred payment frequency for household utilities
    · The customer research was conducted using standard market research methods – focus groups and telephone interviews
    · The sample was randomly selected from our customers in the Auckland area. All interviewing was done by Consumer Link, a fieldwork and tabulations company owned by Colmar Brunton Research
    · Of the customers we surveyed, 84.3% said they would prefer to receive their bills monthly – instead of six monthly or quarterly – because monthly bills assist them to better manage their home budgets
    · The result is statistically sound with a maximum margin of error is +/- 4.0%, and a confidence level of 95%

    It is not worth the paper it is written upon.

  7. Haha. I notice that when you finaly do get an email response from them their email address is not info@watercare.co.nz as noted on their website but info@water.co.nz….Theyve dropped the “care” from their email address. Significant?

  8. Thought I had won but how about this for a completly screwed up letter from them.

  9. Mike says:

    I would just like to add my name to the list of UNSATISFIED Water Care customers. Too much information to supply on your blog I’m afraid. I manage 5 properties and since the monthly billing has started it has become a bloody nightmare. Interesting that I was never consulted about monthly and quarterly billing.

  10. Ivor says:

    Precisely. I have several commercial properties. My compliance costs have gone up +3- 400% since the introduction to monthly billing. It has increased by a significant factor the entries required for my GST returns and also the costs associated with my accountant at the end of the year processing that many more transactions.

    WaterCare did not ask / survey commercial customers before deciding to change over to monthly billing – in fact, I have been told by the WaterCare call centre that they specifically did not consult with business because they knew that it would create administrative gridlock and that there were only 7 (seven) residential customers that they surveyed that lead them to decide monthly billing was desirable (for them anyway).

    Go figure – I would like to see people stand up and insist that the billing goes back to 3 or 6 monthly cycles.

    I have requested the survey and the resulting report on several occasions and they (Mathew Telfer) has refused to divulge it. I still insist on seeing it and will continue to press for it.

    Mike, if you don’t mind me pointing out that this new CCO is required to operate in a cost effective manner but by introducing monthly billing – along with estimates each other month (don’t get me started on that), I fail to see how it is administratively cost effective for them. I get 6 bills a month now from them and as I live in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North East of England …… It must cost them more to administer my accounts / properties than it did before – especially as I OBJECT to paying for an ‘assessed’ bill they then must then re-issue the invoice as a actual ‘customer reading’.

    By the time I get the invoice to pay I am already at the $7.00 penalty line. I refuse to pay a penalty for been the subject of such lackadaisical customer service and obvious money gathering policies. If they add on the ’penalty’ then I will not pay the bill until it is removed. Real simple.

    I have refused to pay for services to my properties during the last 6 months whilst I was in discussions with WaterCare about issues that I have with monthly billing (still remaining unresolved) – I wanted all penalties removed because they could not respond to a billing query before the $7.00 penalty kicked in…and it went on and on and on – I refused to pay until such times as they removed the penalties… then another two weeks would go by and like clockwork, further penalties……..…. and then they did something really silly – they started to intimidate and threaten my tenants! The police were very nearly involved.

    As Landlord, I am apparently responsible for the provision and consumption in my tenancies– but under law – I am not the consumer of the goods and services – the usage is completely out of my control. It is a very grey area.
    On a legal basis – someone should challenge it.
    If I am responsible for the consumption of my tenants water – WHY are they visiting my tenants and threatening to cut supply (reduce flows to 1 liter per minute)?

    Currently, as a result I am attempting to ascertain where I can send the legal bills I now have as a result of their unlawful interference with my tenants.

    I’ll keep you all posted – but I know one thing: This beast needs to be knocked down a level.

  11. Mike Jasper says:

    I’ve been in the same house for almost 20 years, and always had the meter reader text me for a reading, with actual readings happening about 3 times a year. This is due to the meter being located inside my property that is secured by locked gates for security reasons. This process changed about 18 months ago, when the readers texts stopped, and I began to get letters stating that, due to access problems, watercare were going to relocate the meter at my expense. I have never been a bad debtor, and the estimates I now receive are often higher than the actual usage, so it is not as though Watercare are actually missing out on $ from me. The meter is not located on the part of the network I am responsible for as the customer, and I am not responsible for the changes Watercare have made to their processes. Repeated (to put it mildly) communications with Watercare have only demonstrated to me that they have no perception of customer service as it exists in the commercial world, and this may be due to Watercare placing customer service under its revenue manager (!). My formal complaint about the run-around I had experienced when attempting to resolve the issue resulted in my receiving a letter from the revenue manager as ” meterIng is a revenue issue”, along with unguarded threats as to the penalties I would be liable for should I not fall into line. Keep in mind that I have never been a bad creditor, and have been a customer for 20 years in my current property, and for many years at previous addresses.
    Even if their estimates were 50% out, and actuaal readings were done every 3 months, I would only owe $180 (which would be paid on the next invoice) – the estimates are just as likely to be in their favour, and are highly unlikely to be more than 10% out. Despite this, Watercare expect me to fork out approx. $750 to relocate their meter & reinstate the surrounding paving.
    There was no reference in the letter to investigating the particular issues I had raised in my complaint, just more bullying over my non-compliance with their dictates. The letter climed that their “contract” with me was legally enforcable, but as a monopoly supplier of an essential resource, the terms of trade are actually highly legally contestable. All of this sh*t, simply because someone has decided that the meter reader cannot send me a text any longer!

  12. Len says:

    Mike (Jasper),
    Meter Reading Organisations that Watercare contracts can now send you a txt / give you a call the day before the Meter Reader is due. Just need to contact Watercare and provide your mobile / landline number. (Do it over the phone, say “I want to give my phone number to your MRO to be informed of Meter Reader visits”, and then call back the next day to make sure the number has been correctly entered in the Water Meter Inventory screen). Unfortunately MROs can’t tell you the exact time/hour when the Meter Reader will visit, so you would still have to be at home on that day if you don’t want to leave your gate unlocked. That might help avoiding you having to pay for a meter relocation..

  13. Alan Smith says:

    Hi Guys and gals and all other victims of this faceless cartel called Watercare. First of all, The CEO of this outfit receives approximately$16,923.00 a week! Please correct me if I am wrong ( $880,000 per annum ) I am quite sure that if his office door was nailed up, the outfit would run no differently.

    My just received account shows $9.40c for incoming water, $12.55c for wastewater and $16.66c for wastewater fixed charge. What the hell is this??

    As we all know as proud house owners ( As the majority of us are ) We take care to make our properties and the unmown burns outside our places look good enough to make us feel quite chuffed.

    A lot of us use a considerable amount of water to keep our gardens a pleasing look to our eyes during the dry warmer months…..WE PAY FOR THIS WATER!!!!!!

    Why do we get ripped off during this time. Why is there not a standard annual wastewater fee based on winter months or just an annual fee per number of dwellers in our household. Is this too sensible for these Watercare bigwigs……….Whoops sorry, I forgot about the CEO’s salary, tut tut.

    This has been a common bitch of just about every one I know, but this outfit called” Watercare ”
    seems to be totally oblivious and bullet proof, answerable to no-one. Have you ever tried talking to Auckland council about it………….Ah they pass the buck and it’s not worth trying to talk to the Mayor at the moment………is it?

    My question is…What can we as house owners and rate payers do about it?

    Hey ya all, I’m all ears and eyes,

    Alan Smith, East Tamaki Heights, 2016

  14. Jon says:

    I never even thought about water as a bill until the last year or so. Now against my wishes based on a seemingly ridiculous survey they have changed the billing to every month, labelled me as a 7 person family charged me for there own errors and the latest technique asking me to check my water supply every month in case I have a leak.
    I am going to research what alternatives you can do unless anyone has already done that?

  15. Gordon Barnes says:


    31/07/ 14
    I to am have trouble with water care estimated bills and having to write and explain to Water care they charged me penalties on water bill even though i would send in the revised water care reading i fought them with my time and they lost the battle they use their time paid by us to cheat us out of paying the correct amounts .
    They have a duty and a care to send the correct readings for the water used, estimated readings should be NO more than !0%
    No other business in Auckland could get away with this . When advised about the inflated bill they ignore it and say they will not send a revised bill then charge a penalty of $7.00 if not paid on time . Advise Water care that you are disputing the Readings
    This is not going to go away
    It’s the tail wagging the Dog ,I think it’s time to organize a campaign and maybe a look at a Class action against the business practices of the Water Care organization They are picking off individuals and it’s time to stand up to the bully boys with strength of numbers

    Gordon Barnes gordytuf@msn.com 817708

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