Operator of Jolly Fine Pubs Tim Woodcock claimed Castle Water charged the Fox and Grapes pub in Wimbledon for the “rogue” and excessive readings in 2021, during a period when the pub was closed due to Covid, but has been ignored by the supplier after attempting to dispute the bill.
He said: “Our customers have got less money in their pockets, everything's getting more expensive and, just like every other operator, we're getting squeezed in the middle and having unresponsive big utility companies that are in the wrong and refuse to engage or listen is not helpful.”
Woodcock, who runs three pubs in the capital, stated he was forced to pay the fines, having to use his personal funds, before he was able to properly dispute the charges as Castle Water threatened to cut the pub’s water supply, despite claims the readings were incorrect.
According to the licensee, the pub’s visual meter readings soared from 1982 to 23025 between 1 April and 18 June because of a fault with the meter or a pipe leak and he should be refunded as the pub was not at fault.
In the wrong
Woodcock added: “It's not down to us, because there's no leak in our property, [it] would have clearly flooded if it had been.”
Castle Water initially changed the meter and the pub’s readings returned to their normal, lower rates.
Though after repeated attempts to contact the company to challenge the situation and attain a refund, even providing a spreadsheet analysing the usage, Woodcock has had no response since October last year.
He said: “It is wrong to issue threats and demands. Even if you think you're right, it's wrong to do it.
“I’m not in a position to say no to them because I get cut off, it would be like saying no to your gas supplier and being unable to cook any food. You have to say yes and go along with them, and in return you expect to be listened to if you think they're in the wrong.
“And if they are in the wrong, they need to hold their hands up; they can't just ignore you. They could even reply and say, ‘we think we're right because’, but they don't even do that.”
This comes as trade body UKH last week called for energy suppliers to be “named and shamed” for treating hospitality businesses like “cash cows” amid the ongoing energy crisis.
Woodcock concluded: “You cannot treat people like this in such a high-handed manner and ignore them afterwards.
“An ombudsman or regulator or some sort third party for [businesses] to appeal and resolve these disputes [is needed]. [That] would be a massive bonus.
“If you're a consumer, you can go to the regulator and say, I've got an issue with my water supplier, and the ombudsman intervenes on your behalf. As a business customer, you have no such redress. So, you really are at the mercy of these guys.”
The Morning Advertiser has made repeated attempts to contact Castle Water for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.