A leading Melbourne QC says Melbourne Water has acted unlawfully and outrageously by refusing to repay immediately millions of its customers who have been overcharged for their water in a billing blunder.
Nanjing Night Net

David Galbally, QC, has drafted a letter for customers to fill out and send to the state government-owned water agency demanding to know when they will be repaid their share of the $306 million mistakenly billed to customers for the Wonthaggi desalination plant before it was finished.

After acknowledging its error, Melbourne Water initially said consumers would be refunded over five years in the form of offsets to future water bills.

However yesterday the authority raised the possibility of some alternative repayment methods.

Mr Galbally said Victorians should stand up for their rights and make statutory bodies and governments accountable.

‘‘I think the conduct of Melbourne Water is nothing short of outrageous, not to ignore the fact that they have taken this money unlawfully, they have no entitlement to it,’’ he told radio 3AW.

‘‘If the boot was on the other foot they’d be screaming to get money out of customers and taking all sorts of legal action.

‘‘This is not their money. It’s the Victorians’ money. There are going to be elderly and other people who can’t afford to have this sort of money taken out of their accounts and not repaid back to them. Can you imagine if somebody didn’t pay their water bill? They’d immediately get a letter of demand, and I think that it’s conduct that we should not put up with. The standard has got to be equal across the community.’’

Despite becoming aware of its error months ago, Melbourne Water will continue charging people for the operation of the desalination plant while it remains a construction site. After a series of delays, the project is not due for completion until next February.

Melbourne Water has said it cannot afford to repay consumers immediately and in fact has to continue to overcharge for water because the extra money has been factored into its latest five-year financial plan.

Mr Galbally has drafted a template letter for customers to complete with their personal details and send to Melbourne Water.

The letter demands that the water agency provide details within the next week of the amount overcharged, when the money will be repaid, and at what interest rate.

The letter states that if the money is not returned, the customer ‘‘shall have no alternative but to deduct it from your future accounts together with the current overdraft interest or existing overdraft interest at the time’’.

Mr Galbally urged customers to send it immediately.

‘‘The money is not entitled to be held by Melbourne Water,’’ he said.

‘‘If I was to take money out of my bank account that had been put in by accident by the bank, I would be made to repay that. If I didn’t repay it, I could well be charged for theft because there is no entitlement to have the money. Accident or no accident, once you’ve been told that the money you have in your hands doesn’t belong to you, you need to return it to its owner. It’s simple.’’

He said customers could launch a class action against Melbourne Water.

Below is a the template letter drafted by Mr Galbally (or open here in a new window):

Dear Sir,I advise I am a customer of Melbourne Water [or whichever authority is the relevant authority].  My account number is [insert details].  I have been advised that over the last 3 years or so I have been overcharged with respect to my water bills.  Would you provide me within the next 7 days the following:• Details of the amount or amounts overcharged in respect of each account rendered; • When you will repay the overcharged amount and at what interest rate?Should you not be able to repay my money within a reasonable time, I shall have no alternative but to deduct it from your future accounts together with the current overdraft interest or existing overdraft interest at the time.I look forward to your reply as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,[insert name]

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