Veolia, water leaks and extortionate bills

Apologies for this rather long shaggy dog story…

My mother, who lives down the road from us, was widowed in April 2009 and has since been pretty lost, depressed and very dependant on me and my husband. To add to her misfortune she has suffered several leaks in the underground water pipes between her house and the water meter at the end of her drive - about 80 metres. Her house was built about 15 years ago, therefore the age of the installation should not really be a factor.

The first leak happened in the summer of 2008 when my father was alive after which they received a bill for water for about 1000€, which my father paid with no fuss. The problem, a faulty fitting, was identified and repaired by my husband.

In the summer of last year there was another leak but this time with no outward signs and the fact was only brought to our attention by a letter from Veolia. We employed an irrigation, pipe-laying and trench-digging specialist who eventually narrowed down the site of the leak - in a completely different place from the first problem - and relaid approximately 60 metres of new pipework. At this time I advised my mother to increase the level of her existing insurance with Domeo Assistance to include exterior pipework, which she did.

In October this year she received yet another letter from Veolia, this time suggesting that due to unusual consumption she may have a leak INSIDE the house and that in order to verify this she should take meter readings just before going to bed and first thing in the morning. Well, it was impractical to suggest that my 83 year old mother, living on her own in the country, would walk up an 80 metre drive in the dark, lift a heavy cover and read the meter just before going to bed, to then repeat this action first thing in the morning just after rising. Therefore, and I have to be honest here, we put the letter to one side…

A week or so later my mother phoned us up in distress saying that she had no water in the house. Almost at the same time her neighbour phoned us to say that there was water flooding out of the water meter at the top of my mother’s drive. This time, after obviously turning off the water supply, we phoned Domeo Assistance to arrange for repair. The next day a designated plumbing company came and fixed the problem, which was a leak just at the meter joining her pipe feed. Incidentally, the plumber explained that a large percentage of their work were these kind of leaks to outside pipes after the meter.

In December my mother received a bill from Veolia for just over 3000€ which sent her spinning into an even deeper depression. We were advised to go to the local Veolia office where I was helped to write a letter stating my mother’s case for a “degrevement”. Mid January she received a very curt letter saying that Veolia would not allow the degrevement - no explanation as to why - and that my mother should send a cheque immediately for the full amount.

Not having this amount of money simply to hand over to Veolia, but not quite knowing who to turn to for advice, I’m afraid we rather let this matter go hoping it might go away…

Unfortunately it hasn’t: this week my mother received a reminder for the amount outstanding with the added threat that if she doesn’t pay within 15 days they may cut her water supply.

Since it seems Veolia just like to send bills and give no opportunity for human contact - in case they may have to enter into any kind of discussion with the customer - I have just written a letter to the Director of the local Veolia office asking for a face-to-face meeting.

Any help or advice would be hugely appreciated, we really don’t know what rights my mother may or may not have concerning this issue. She is actually worrying herself sick over this.

Of course it could appear, to someone cynical, that Veolia must be raking in an obscene amount of money from similar domestic leaks?

That’s brilliant advice, thank you so much Sam :wink:

Hey Petra, what an awful situation. Your poor Mum - did you know that the Centre Medico-Social can probably help? Depending of course whether your Mum has paid any tax or is officially recognised in France. If the answer is yes they will pay up to 80% of a bill like this - but it depends on your Mum’s income. If it’s modest then she’s in with a chance. Make an appointment with your local assistante sociale asap.
Get the Mairie involved as well - they can act on your behalf - especially if you live in an area prone to leaks (i do - hence this is info gathered from painful experience).
Worst case scenario start to pay 5€ a month. Then they can’t cut you off and the french baliff (i forget their name right now) - can see you’re contributing something if they get involved.

Good luck.

Can appreciate it - typical situation between 2 companies not wanting to take any “blame”. Still, if Veolia reckon Domeo should be responsible I’d go with that - gets your poor mummy off the hook. At least now you’ve had some “human” contact from Veolia - which is an improvement on the original situation. Will keep fingers x’d for you. Do contact Domeo - and investigate all avenues because one thing is certain, whoever may be at fault it’s not your mum!

Hello Alison,

Sorry I never got around to thanking you before for your reply. It really is very much appreciated that you took the time to look into our problem and give your advice.

I had a phone call this morning from Veolia in reply to the letter I wrote to the Director of the local Veolia office requesting a meeting to discuss the matter. They seem to think that because my mother took out her insurance with Domeo before the meter was read last year that Domeo should be responsible for the full amount owing, even if the leak happened before she took out her insurance. They are going to mark her dossier as being investigated, therefore my mother is in no immediate danger of having her water cut off. They say we should now write to Domeo requesting the degrevement. I tried to explain that it was Domeo who advised us to get in touch with Veolia in the first place to ask for the degrevement but the woman I spoke to was adamant that it was up to Domeo! I find it all completely confusing and I have a feeling that this issue might end up being kicked around between the two companies for a long time to come.

I’m not a legal expert but did used to deal with customer complaints for a company who provided, amongst other things, plumbing & drainage works for insurance company customers.
Do you have the details of the Domeo Assistance plumber who fixed the leak between the meter and the feed pipe? Did the plumber say WHY these leaks are common?
Could you have a case against the company who replaced the pipework previously for poor workmanship? (not sure how it works in France but know that in the UK one has, I think, 5 years from identification of the problem in which to sue.
Also, under the terms of her insurance contract with Domeo Assistance, do THEY have procedures in place to help her reclaim this money from the previous contractor (if poor workmanship) or simply under the terms of her policy if it’s “just one of those things”.
Oddly enough, having had a look at the Domeo website - they’re 49% owned by the co I used to work for - Homeserve. So do ask them if they can help in any way. To be honest if the pipework was only replaced the year before I can see no reason why the leak would occur unless either the job wasn’t done properly in the 1st place or if there’s some discrepancy between the diameter/circumference/fixings of the pipe and the meter inlet/outlet.
One last thing - did the specialist you employed guarantee the work in any way, and are they a member of any professional body?