Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q I keep getting letters from Southern Water introducing ‘Homeserve’. They are trying to sell me insurance to protect against underground pipe leaks to my home, which they say I’m responsible for and could cost me hundreds of pounds to have repaired. My household insurance doesn’t cover this eventuality, but are they right to charge me for leaks in their pipework?
A The ownership of any water pipe underneath your front garden or drive to the stopcock in the road, and the responsibility for its upkeep is down to you, not the water company.
That’s why you are getting these letters trying to sell you leak protection insurance, for which Southern Water naturally gets a rake-off for every policy sold. I believe the latest sales ploy is to offer three months ‘free’ protection accompanied by dire warnings that ‘one in 13 homeowners have suffered a water supply emergency at some point.’
But I’m a little puzzled why Southern Water customers would be tempted to take out this insurance.
In order to comply with the regulator’s leak reduction policy Southern Water has given Ofwat an undertaking to owner-occupiers that it will provide no less than three free underground pipe repairs. They will provide up to one hour’s leak detection service for domestic customers, together with free repairs and replacements under the customer’s garden, right up to where the pipe enters the house.
Maybe you should send a big thanks but no thanks to Southern Water. With all this going for precisely nothing, why bother to insure with ‘Homeserve’?
It’s literally money down the drain. Well, you can’t blame them for trying.
Q My sister’s boyfriend has a trade card for plumbing supplies. He loaned it to us to buy a rather expensive set of replacement taps for our bath. Unfortunately when my partner came to fit the new tap unit, he discovered it had a pinhole leak in the casting, making it completely useless. I took it back to the wholesaler who refused to refund me. Can they get away with this?
A I rather suspect they can. If you buy anything from a trade outlet it’s assumed that you’re a business customer, and as such you don’t have the same legal protection as if you were a private consumer.
Trade contracts can exclude most of the normal consumer rights stuff, and frequently do, although many have some kind of compensation policy which usually provides for a replacement if you find yourself landed with a duff product.
There is also the other matter of using a card to obtain a trade discount off the price of products to which you were not strictly entitled.
You could try insisting on a replacement set of taps, but if that’s stonewalled you’ll need to check with the wholesaler’s terms and conditions of sale which will be legally binding. Don’t be surprised if you end up out of pocket.
Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.