MONEYMAIL ADVICE: This pipeline puzzle just won't wash

Having moved house last year, I received a bill from Southern Water, addressed to the occupier, and paid the first six-month instalment.

Later, I received another bill, in my name, with another account number. SW confirmed the second account was correct and that the first payment I had made would be transferred to it.

It then sent me a red reminder about the second account.

I was told the transfer had not been made and that the second bill and red reminder actually related to my previous address.

Finally, I was told to pay the difference between my first payment and the total on the new account so that my water rates for 2007 would then be fully paid.

SW then sent me my 2008 bill  -  which included the whole 2007 bill.

As I had paid by cash, I offered to send copies of the receipted bills.

I was told that these were insufficient. I have now received a letter from a debt collector threatening legal action.

Mrs E. H., Portsmouth.

pipes


Answer: When the previous occupants moved out of your house, they told Southern Water they were leaving.

But they did not give the company your name, nor is there any reason why they should have done. That was your responsibility.

Without that information, Southern Water issued you, the new customer at the property, with a bill addressed to The Occupier. At that point, you should have told SW you were the new resident, instead of paying the bill.


That would have saved you all this bother. For when you later contacted SW to give them your name and address, they assumed you were another, later occupant and so opened a second account in your surname.

Thereafter, however, all the blame attaches to SW for not acting when you told them about this doubling up of the accounts.

It has not been able to give a satisfactory explanation as to why the transfer of the original payment to your own named account was not made, nor why the account, identified as The Occupier, was not closed.

This error left two accounts open on the property and eventually generated the debt letters.

SW has now accepted the copies of the bills as proof that you and The Occupier are the same person and has apologised.

Another welcome outcome is that the company now has a policy to start closing all accounts listed under The Occupier. This should prevent such a mix-up happening in the future.


In March I received about £600 tax refund in error.

I wrote back to HMRC, saying I preferred to pay back the money as a lump sum rather than having my tax code altered. I hate owing money. I have lost count of the tax changes I have had since and the letters I have written.

The last I heard is that my code would be adjusted so I would pay back the sum in 2010. But I will not be working then.

I am a pensioner and want to repay the money now. I do not want to be harassed at some later stage.

Mrs E. C. R, East Kilbride.

Answer: The ways of HMRC are mysterious.

You would have thought the taxman would have been delighted to learn that you wanted to repay the money immediately.

It would be simpler and more efficient, and it would have had the money immediately.

I expect the tax offices thought they were doing you a favour by stretching out the repayment period and building the money owed into your tax code so you would hardly be aware of the extra deduction. Most people would have preferred this.

However, at my behest, HMRC has written to you and provided the necessary information to enable you to repay your £600 immediately.


I am a widower with assets of more than £600,000, which I believe would qualify for relief from inheritance tax.

However, my accountant tells me that if I were to remarry I would have to share that relief with my wife, thus costing my estate £120,000. Is this true?

C.H., Winsor, Southampton.

Answer: You can benefit from your late wife's complete inheritance tax (IHT) limit only if she left her entire estate to you.

Assuming that is the case, your estate will get double the IHT exemption at the level it is when you die, according to Sussex-based lawyer Philip Lansberry, of Asb Law.

Currently, this would be £624,000.

You would not have to share this with your new wife, who would have her own £312,000 allowance.


Last December, I subscribed to Virgin Media's cable broadband service advertised at £10 a month, with no telephone line required, paying by direct debit.

They have debited my account with amounts ranging from £22.80 to £77.80.

In March, I complained and was passed from pillar to post.

Despite promises, no one called me back. Eventually, I was told I was on a package with a TV subscription.

I was informed the error had been resolved and that I would be billed for just £10 a month.

But no adjustments have been made, and I have had to pay even more.

R.B., Vauxhall, London.

Answer: I seems you were the victim of an isolated billing error. The offer you requested was incorrectly applied to your account  -  hence the large bills generated and sums debited from your account.

But rather than receiving a cash refund, your Virgin Media account has been credited with the amount wrongly taken out of it.

And as you are now definitely on your £10-a-month tariff, it means there should be no debits from your account for some months while you are 'using up' the credit on your account.

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