It’s an 18-month war that sees a number of British expat residents wondering why on earth they chose Loulé for their retirement.
“If I had known now what I was letting myself in for, I would never have come here,” said one.
“To be honest, we just can’t wait to get out,” said another – while a couple who planned a winter stay in their Vale do Lobo villa have already packed up and gone.
“I am both furious and appalled by the way we have been treated,” Chris Diacon told us, mid-way through his journey. “We are currently on our way back to the UK, having curtailed a stay in the Algarve that was meant to last until December.”
The residents’ anger centres on “ridiculously high” water charges levied by water authority Infralobo, and the “completely illegal” additional tax on the number of bedrooms with which residents of three developments have been saddled.
The wrangle has been doing the rounds of the region’s courts – none of whom seem willing to deal with it – and came to a new ‘peak’ of disgrace earlier this week when Infralobo officials started forcibly cutting households from their supplies – despite the fact that everyone had paid all the water charges due.
What the households had not paid – on advice from water regulatory authority ERSAR – was the additional bedroom tax, which Christine and Tony Cooke told us could put another €100 per month on to household water bills.
Christine and Tony are possibly the only homeowners who avoided last Monday and Tuesday’s enforced water cuts.
They managed it by parking one of their cars right up against the water meter supplying their home.
It was a Wild West-type strategy which 76-year-old Tony explained he could have done without.
“I came here to retire, to take life easy,” he explained. “But the way we have been treated has just led to endless stress. We have truly had enough of it.”
Wife Christine explained they are not the only ones. “There are about 20 households that have been cut off. They have all paid their water charges religiously,” she added. “This kind of treatment is simply going to see more and more people leaving. It’s a disgrace.”
A spokesman for Loulé council explained the cut-offs had been implemented because the council felt too much time had passed without the courts coming to any kind of decision.
“The regulations were approved by the council, and after five months of delays, nothing had been decided,” we were told.
We were also told that “there is no entity that can decide whether or not Infralobo is acting legally”.
That may not be entirely true. The Resident has had access to a decision by ERSAR, in which it clearly states that Infralobo and the Câmara of Loulé have not been acting within legal stipulations.
In a long and detailed report dated last March, ERSAR said: “We note that the Infralobo tariff should be based according to applicable legislation and regulations. There should also be a management contract, subject to the approval of Loulé Câmara.”
None of these legally stipulated prerequisites have been complied with, adds the report.
Concluding that it is “urgent” that both Infralobo starts complying with legislation and Loulé Câmara revise its municipal regulations, ERSAR’s report gave the borough 10 days to come up with a suitable reply. This deadline appears to have cut no ice at all.
Today (eight months on) a Câmara spokesperson told us she had been told what to say, but advised to put “none of it in writing”.
The Câmara will be reviewing the tariffs that have seen 20 households in Vilas Alvas, Vale de Garrão and Quinta Jacinta cut off since Tuesday, and expects “significant reductions” will result “in due course”.
Where that will leave the 20 households currently without water was left hanging.
“I will try and find you an answer,” we were told.
Chris Diacon on his way home in disgust, explained the cut offs came following residents’ refusal to sign water contracts that were slickly worded to mean they were also “signing up for the bed tax”.
“ERSAR has completely justified our refusal to sign,” he added.
Certainly the Cookes are in no mind to remove their strategically parked car.
“It’s staying where it is for now,” said Tony.
Calls to Infralobo have resulted in the information that the man we need to speak to, engineer José Miguel, is both “in a meeting” and “out of the office”.