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A council water meter that shouldn't be there

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A district council installs a water meter on someone's property, but were they allowed to do so in the first place? 

The council told a property owner it had decided to install a water meter on their property. This meant the council would charge for water based on how much was used, rather than the flat rate for homes.

The owner complained because they felt the council had made the decision to install the meter without any evidence that the owner was using too much water, and without telling them first.

The council responded by explaining its policy about how they make the decision to install the meters, and that the area where the property was located met their criteria.

The owner complained to the Ombudsman. They said the council’s decision wasn’t based on their own water usage, but that of a different property on their road. As only three per cent of households in the district were metered, the owner considered the council was being unreasonable. 

The Ombudsman noted that Section 26 of the Rating Powers Act 1988 permitted a council to replace a uniform annual charge for water consumption with a charge ‘according to the water consumed by any person receiving the same as measured or controlled by meter or other device.’

However, there was no specific amount of water use identified in the legislation that gave the council authority to install a meter. Instead, all the section referred to was that the amount of use that triggered a council’s decision to install a meter be agreed by resolution in a council meeting (or agreed with any person).

Given that there was no record of any resolution by a council using Section 26 of the Act to fix the amount of any charge for water consumption, or any resolution under Section 19 of the Local Government (Rating) Act setting a targeted rate, the Ombudsman formed the view that the council didn't have authority to install the water meter and charge for it and concluded that the council’s decision to impose the charges had been unreasonable.

The council acknowledged that it was not supposed to charge for the meters and agreed to apologise to all the property owners affected in the area where the meters had been installed, including the complainant. It also agreed to refund the levy imposed on affected property owners and to apply a standard charge for water. The complainant accepted this outcome.

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