Backdated water bills

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

A water company can backdate water bills.

This page tells you when you might find yourself in this situation, what is likely to happen and what you can do about it.

Why is my water bill backdated?

Water companies are entitled to bill you for the services they provide. They can backdate bills regardless of whether they have billed you before.

One reason for getting a backdated bill is that the water company has only just become aware of the existence of your property. This can happen where major changes have been made to the property in the past which the water company didn't know about. For example, the property may have once been one large house and is now split up into smaller flats.

Another reason for getting a backdated bill is that your property might be newly occupied and the water company has only just found out about it.

You may also have a backdated bill if you have got behind with payment of your bills, or simply because the water company has made a mistake and forgot to bill you.

What you can do if your water bill is backdated

If you're asked to pay a backdated bill because the water company has made a mistake, you should try and negotiate with them to come to some kind of arrangement. This may involve asking them to pay back what you owe in instalments, or even writing off all or part of the payment. The water company doesn't have to agree to what you ask but you could try pointing out to them that, as it's their mistake that has allowed back payments to build up, it's reasonable to expect them to come to an agreement.

Each water company should have a code of practice for dealing with customers who have fallen behind with payments. Ask your company to provide you with this. You should find company contact details on your bill. Use this code of practice if you need to negotiate with the company.

Some water companies operate charitable schemes which can provide help with paying off  backdated charges so it's worth asking them about this. If you're on benefits, you could also check whether you're eligible for the Watersure scheme, or if you are a customer of Welsh Water, The Welsh Water HelpU scheme.

If you need advice or support in asking the company to negotiate the backdated payments, the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) may be able to help.

If you live in rented property or in a block of flats, you may pay rent or a service charge with water included. Check your paperwork for details. If the water charge is included, your landlord or management company is likely to be responsible for paying the bill rather than you.

What happens if you don’t pay?

If you're faced with a backdated bill and you don't pay it, the water company can take you to court to recover the debt. They have to do this within six years, under the Limitation Act 1980. There are no legal limits to the amount they can recover, but in practice they may decide to charge you for this year plus the last six years. The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) can give information on how debts have been recovered by water companies in the past. The water company can't disconnect your water supply if you don't pay.

If the water company is taking you to court, talk to an adviser.

Next steps

Other useful information

Read the guidelines for companies on dealing with household customers on the OFWAT website.

Check which water company supplies your area on the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) website.

If you need more help with your water bills, contact the CCW on their website.

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Page last reviewed on 20 February 2020