Water firm left with egg on its face over false bills sent to Portsmouth businesses

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A WATER company has been left with egg on its face after sending out hundreds of false bills to companies in Portsmouth.

Bentleys Tailors on Albert Road, Southsea, was one of the businesses to receive an intimidating letter from water utility firm Castle Water threatening the shop with court action and debt collectors if it did not pay a mystery £188 bill.

Alex Bentley, 66, owner of Bentley's in Albert Road, Southsea, is one of the hundreds of businesses in Portsmouth who have been sent letters from Castle Water claiming that they owe cash when they don't. Alex was miffed by the tone of the letters and the way they look like final demands for cash. Picture: Sarah Standing (180861-2924)

Alex Bentley, 66, owner of Bentley's in Albert Road, Southsea, is one of the hundreds of businesses in Portsmouth who have been sent letters from Castle Water claiming that they owe cash when they don't. Alex was miffed by the tone of the letters and the way they look like final demands for cash. Picture: Sarah Standing (180861-2924)

Shop owner Alex Bentley, who pays his water bill by direct debit, was horrified after the threatening letter dropped through his door at the end of November.

Castle Water’s message warned the pensioner ‘your outstanding balance remains unpaid and overdue’. It went on to warn the shop owner he had 14 days to pay the bill otherwise ‘we intend to pass the debt to an independent debt collection agency in order to recover this debt’.

To add insult to injury, Castle Water concluded in its letter: ‘We intend to apply late payment interest and/or debt recovery costs.’

After Alex contacted Castle Water, the company was forced into an embarrassing climb down when the mistake was pointed out. Despite this, though, the shop owner has not received an apology and insisted the customer service was poor.

Alex, 66, said: ‘They admitted their mistake which they said was caused by a processing error on the system but I’m yet to receive an apology.

‘I was told there were hundreds of companies who had been sent the wrong bill when I spoke to their customer service department. He made it clear he was cheesed off at having to deal with lots of complaints from businesses like me. I was dumbfounded by his tone – there was no thought at how to handle customers.

‘The letter was very threatening and took a sledgehammer approach with it immediately threatening debt collectors and court action without the courtesy of even offering a reminder.’

Castle Water, which has received an avalanche of negative reviews online, took over commercial water billing from Southern Water after it decided to focus on residential properties.

Alex added: ‘To receive a letter like that just before Christmas is horrendous and could push businesses suffering hard times over the edge.’

John Reynolds, Castle Water chief executive said: ‘Following a minor processing issue, 40 business customers in the Portsmouth area who normally pay for their water and wastewater services by direct debit, were sent a debt reminder letter in error.

‘We wish to apologise to the organisations affected for any confusion caused and are writing to each customer personally to reassure them that no further action is required.

‘Direct Debit remains the easiest way to pay for water and wastewater bills and allows businesses to spread their costs over the year. ‘