English couple fight council over water bill

BRITISH COUPLE David and Lisa Scutt from São Rafael, Albufeira, are contesting two water bills, totalling more than 9,000 euros, which they received from their local Câmara.

Since the bills – one for 5,844.17 euros (pertaining to 2,052 cubic metres) and another for 2,937.25 euros (1,030 cubic metres) – arrived in January 2005, David and Lisa have repeatedly complained to the Câmara, claiming that there must be a serious error, either with the meter or invoice calculations.

“There are only three of us living in the house and it is just not possible that we could use that much water,” David Scutt told The Resident’s Caroline Cunha. However, despite having had three meetings with Albufeira Câmara President, Desidério Silva, and engineers from the council’s water department, the problem has still not been resolved, with the council continuing to insist that the bills are correct.

“We took legal advice and were told we should pay the bills and then try to claim the money back through a tribunal,” says David. The couple went ahead and paid the two water bills, but, in order to do so, they were forced to use all the money David had recently inherited from his grandfather, money the couple had hoped to use for home improvements.

“It’s not just about the money involved here; I also can’t understand why the Câmara never contacted us when they calculated the bill. With the serious drought situation in the Algarve last year, shouldn’t they have been concerned if one resident was using that much water and come to see us to stop the situation?” said David.  

“When I first complained to the Câmara, a technician visited the house to look at the meter. There was no seal, the door was open and it was clearly corroded,” he said. “After persisting with my complaints that it must be faulty, the meter was sent to the manufacturer in Germany. The meter number on my bill and the one on the meter was not the same, and the report that the Câmara received back concluded that the meter was showing as minus, meaning that I should actually pay more!

“All the way through the report, the words “não satisfeito” (not satisfied) are used, which points to the fact that even the manufacturer has been unable to prove, conclusively, whether or not the meter is functioning properly,” said Scutt.

The couple contracted an independent qualified plumber to test the water at their home and were told that the water pressure was “off the scale” and that it should be between three and four PSI (pounds per square inch). Instead, the water pressure was over six PSI, meaning that it was above the scale maximum, a situation, they have been told, could have been responsible for breaking the meter’s mechanism.

After launching an official complaint against the Câmara with the help of DECO, Portugal’s consumer rights association, and lodging an objection at the Câmara’s Centro de Informação ao Consumidor, the couple are still no nearer to obtaining a refund.

“We decided that there was no other option other than to expose this scandal in the media,” said David. On the day that The Resident spoke to the couple, Portuguese television station TVI was due to visit the Scutt’s home to record a report.  

David and Lisa Scutt are concerned that they may not be the only Albufeira residents to experience this type of problem and have asked anyone else finding themselves in the same situation to come forward. If you would like to contact the Scutts, send your e-mails to [email protected] and they will be forwarded to them upon receipt.