A shell-shocked man feared he would be left drowning in debt after a water firm withdrew £17,500 from his bank account to pay a bill.
Mark Searcey wasn’t banking on bad news when he checked his finances online but found Northumbrian Water had taken the huge cash sum without warning because of a faulty water meter at his flat in Colebridge Avenue, South Shields.
Mr Searcey, 30, who suffers from learning difficulties, diabetes and a condition called Moyamoya – which effects the flow of blood to his brain – couldn’t believe his eyes when he made the startling discovery on October 15.
The full amount was refunded after he contacted his bank and cancelled the payments.
But after initially laughing it off as an administrative error, he was stunned to receive a letter from the utility company demanding the cash still be paid just four days later.
He was also charged an additional £4.80 for cancelling his direct debit.
A Northumbrian Water spokeswoman apologised and said the issue was caused by a “leak at the property, estimated meter readings and difficulty in contacting the customer.”
She said they had flagged up the bill because of the unusually high figure, but bills asking for payment were sent out ‘in error’.
She said an initial bill was also sent out ahead of the money being taken out of his account, but Mr Searsey insists he did not receive it.
Mr Searcey, who makes his water payments by a regular direct debit, said: “It just gave me a shock. I was checking my bank account when I noticed £17,500 had been withdrawn.
“I had to look at it again as I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t afford to pay that amount. There was no letter warning me about it. The money was just taken out in one go.”
Mr Searcey, who has lived in his flat for two years, believes the massive figures could have been calculated due to a fault with a water meter and a leak in his back yard.
He says a Northumbrian Water worker inspected his home recently and found there was a fault with his water meter, which meant it was still running – and building up costs – even when water facilities were not being used in the house.
They also later discovered a leak under the property.
He said: “At first I thought it was a laugh, but after I contacted my bank to get the money refunded into my account I got a letter from Northumbrian Water still demanding the money be paid.
“I have a range of disabilities and health issues. This is the kind of stress I don’t need. I just want it to get sorted out.”
A Northumbrian Water spokesman said: “The issue is complicated, involving a leak at the property, estimated meter readings and difficulty in contacting the customer.
“A bill was sent in error.
“We will be visiting him to fully check his supply for leaks and his bill will be recalculated based on his average usage.
“We have agreed a payment plan with the customer for future bills and are sorry for any inconvenience.”