Protests and Procedures

Clearly the imposition of a Fixed Standing Charge bears most heavily on the low user, who also, though not necessarily, tends to be the low income consumer. It's a 'screw the poor' device. And as such, one casts around not unreasonably for assistance from socially responsible groups and agencies.

When you start protesting like this you very quickly encounter an infinity of Consumer Protection Agencies, ombudsmen for this, ombudsmen for that, Ofthis, Ofthat Oftheother.... each staffed by a gaggle of Overpaids and Sinecurists whose function in life is to assure you that they are Heroic Champions of Consumer Interests and that, unfortunately, your particular complaint falls just outside their remit. Ofwat were the first port of call. This consumers' champion was quick to confirm that it is an Heroic Champion of Consumer Interest but that, alas, my complaint fell just outside its remit. It passed on my letter to The Consumer Council for Water, which turned out also to be a Major Champion of Consumer Interests.

(Why has no one yet thought to regulate all these Ofs for Consumer Affairs by an overarching body of yet more Overpaids and Sinecurists? We could call it Ofcon.)

In response to my complaint that Anglian Water would shortly be unreasonably imposing a full Standing Charge, The Consumer Council for Water explained to me that Anglian Water would shortly be imposing a full Standing Charge, adding that it had now closed my enquiry. It also said that, were I in financial hardship, the benefits system would pay up.

(Think about that for a moment. Anglian Water raises its charges, poor people cannot pay so the benefits system, that's you and me, opens its wallet. All this could be achieved so much more efficiently by Anglian Water simply signing itself on at the benefits office and one of the directors popping in once a month to pick up a giro.)

But, you ask, who is the natural person to go to to fight instances of injustice such as this? Of course! I wrote to my MP, Stephen Barclay, who proved, in the words of the foreman in a factory where I once worked, "less use than a bucket of ***k". Stephen Barclay MP wrote to Anglian Water and returned with the news that the sun shines out of Anglian Water's plug hole and that all is well with the world. Barclay was also keen on the signing Anglian Water on to the social security system and claiming benefits route. And a couple of weeks later when Anglian Water, in a grand publicity fanfare, announced the creation of half a dozen new apprenticeships, whose broad smirk was to be seen in the local paper, hogging the photo op? None other than Stephen Barclay MP. Whaddyaknow!

It took a year for Anglian Water to bother themselves much with me. There were letters of a dark tone, vague suggestions of 'proceedings' and threats of a multiplicity of costs bearing down on me. My credit record was apparently In Peril!

Then the letter arrived from the Debt Collection Agency!!! And the phone calls from the Debt Collection Agency Lady who sounded terribly headmistressy. I explained that the sum in question was not a debt but a disputed sum and that they could not collect a disputed sum until and unless it was declared a debt by a competent authority, viz, a Court. The Debt Collection Lady demanded I pay up.

The Debt Collection Agency admits on its headed paper, to being regulated by the FSA, the Financial Services Authority. An email to them revealed that, have you guessed this, they are Heroic Consumer Champions but that, unfortunately, my complaint fell just millimetres outside their remit. Surprise! Surprise!

And surprised, gobsmacked, I indeed was when a follow up complaint to the debt collection agencies' professional body, the Credit Services' Association, on the ground that the pursuit of me was illegal, was generously conceded. They cannot collect a debt which isn't a debt! Apparently that falls under the heading of extortion, or demanding money with menaces or somesuch nonsense that Anglian Water would instantly deny. Who knew? The Debt Collection Agency in question wrote me an apology; they had long before decided the demand was unlawful, but clerical slip ups, clerical errors, they had unfortunately omitted to inform me. They were sure I would understand (yes, only too well!). The brief was returned to Anglian Water in whose hands it remains. Anglian Water knows where I live! There is no reason why Anglian Water should not prosecute me and justify its position to a court of law, yet it declines the offer. Why would that be?

And what are my objections to paying?