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AquaGib clarifies controversy over water bills

AquaGib has sought to clarify the controversy over high water bills, explaining in a detailed statement today that June bills are based on accurate meter readings that reflect usage over the lockdown period and not just that month alone.

The company stressed too that it was working with its customers to ensure there were no unnecessary charges arising from “arbitrary” estimates of consumption during lockdown.

This comes as the company addressed significant concern within the community over hikes in estimated water bills issued by the company to consumers during the period of pandemic.

It also comes after the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the government was “seriously concerned” about the disparity in estimated water bills issued by Aqua Gib to its customers.

In a statement, AquaGib said that it maintains the “highest ethical standards” in making sure that customers only pay for the actual consumption used over this past three-four month period.

“Due to Covid-19, and in line with Public Health advice in March, AquaGib took the decision to suspend meter reading services on 16th March 2020,” the company said.

This decision, the company added, was based on attempts to minimise the number of personnel that would be in the street on a daily basis and interacting with the public, to help restrict the spread of the virus, and to protect AquaGib employees from becoming infected.

“Being unaware of how long the lockdown would be in place, and because we understand that customers generally want to receive a monthly bill for their utility usage, AquaGib took the decision to begin estimating across the entirety of its customers,” it said.

The company said estimating was a “last resort” and that these estimates were calculated and based on the customer consumption from the same period last year.

“We appreciated that this is not an exact science, and not something that we would generally even prefer to do on a mass basis, but nevertheless it was an attempt to provide an indication of billing during the lockdown period,” AquaGib said in the statement, which is published in full on page 11.

“We understand that some customers received zero bills because they weren’t in their accommodation at the same month last year, and others received higher bills because their business was now closed as opposed to being open at this point last year.”

“The key point is that these estimates are only meant to be indicative, and that our commitment was that in the long run all customers will only have to pay for the consumption that they have used.”

The estimating process continued until the end of May when the meter reading services were re-engaged.

“By this time we recognised the arbitrary nature of estimating,” the company said.

AquaGib explained that the bills its customers have received in June 2020 is the correction of the previous estimating and gives the correct picture of customers usage over the last three to four months.

It advises that in order to get a true picture of their consumption, customers need to add their June 2020 bill to the last two or three estimated bills and then divide by the total number of bills.

“When processing the June 2020 bills, the general weakness in estimating has come to light,” AquaGib said.

Despite this, AquaGib said that there has been “a relatively even split” between those customers that have found that they were overcharged during the estimating period, those that were undercharged, and those that have seen only minor differences in consumption.

“For those who have been overcharged, our Customer Services Team have been working with you to correct all of these issues, and issuing credit notes to those customers so that their customer account reflects the accurate actual consumption over the past 3-4 month period.”

“For those that have received higher than normal bills, it is important that customers view the bill as a correction of 3-4 months usage.”

It said that doing so will generally give a clear view of individual consumption over the lockdown period.

As part of its billing process, the company said it had been checking high bills to make sure that the primary units for the periods that were estimated have been taken into account, and, where necessary, are making these corrections so that there is no unnecessary secondary unit charge.

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