The Leak Outside the House

The question of responsibility hinged on whether the local council’s Highway Maintenance Group (HMG) had given the Resurfacing Contractors (RC) misleading information about the location of the Communication Pipe in order to reduce the quoted cost for the job, or whether the RC had knowingly sent a team to undertake the job without the assistance of a Network Service Technician in order to reduce costs and increase profit.

The legal deadlock continued, with the costs, from the penalty payments imposed by the Water Company, spiraling. The increasingly high cost of assuming responsibility for the repairs and the related penalty payments fueled an increase in the amount and quality of the legal advice sought by both the HMG and the RC, which legal advice begat its own spiraling costs. That is to say, as the deadlock continued, the state of affairs in which either party exposed itself to the possibility of having to assume responsibility for the repairs, penalty payments, and the legal costs of the other party became prohibitively expensive for both parties, i.e., given that both parties only had evidence that was self-incriminating, it was not in either of their interests to break the deadlock by attempting to broker a deal with the other party or taking the case to court and having their self-incriminating evidence examined. Both parties lawyers had advised against going down the court route, as it could also be very expensive.

The case was further complicated by the fact that the damage to the Communication Pipe was just outside the border of a privately owned domestic property undergoing renovation. This renovation meant that at the same time as the RC was undertaking the resurfacing job on the pavement directly outside the domestic property, privately contracted work was taking place just behind a knee-high wall, in the front garden of the domestic property undergoing renovation. Under the Water Industry Act 1991, homeowners only have a responsibility to repair leaks on supply pipes on their side of the property boundary, but, if a Communication Pipe outside the property boundary is damaged because of building or renovation work, Section 75 of that act states that the Water Company can undertake the repair and then charge the cost of the repair to the homeowner.

Both the HMG and RC had a suspicion that they may well have been able to pin the responsibility for the repairs and penalty payments on the homeowner. The problem with this was twofold. Firstly, to even raise the possibility of the damage to the pipe not being the fault of the other party would damage the legal position of the party who “brought it to the table” - neither party could be seen to be anything less than 100% sure of their case. Secondly, if responsibility for the damage to the Communication Pipe was found to lay with the homeowner, and the costs of the repairs and penalty payments were assumed by the homeowner, both the HMG and the RC would be left with hefty legal bills to pay which could not be passed on to the homeowner (as the only way to get the homeowner to pay for these bills would be to provide evidence that the responsibility for the damage to the Communication Pipe lay with the homeowner, but also to somehow conceal that evidence from the homeowner in order to get the homeowner to defend their position in court, which with even the smallest amount of basic legal knowledge, or actually, just basic common sense, the homeowner would see was a fruitless task).

Letters were sent, mediating parties were sought and terse conference calls were had. The deadlock continued for many months.

The Communication Pipe was in fact fixed before the legal skirmishes had come to a head. The leak had become somewhat of a “political football” at local council meetings, and, eventually, the governing party paid for the leak to be repaired (though they did not supply money for the cost of the penalty payments) from its campaign funds. This repair was then held up as a visible example of their commitment to local issues.

The real reason for the leak was not in fact the HMC’s misleading information, nor the RC’s corner cutting. Nor was it the privately contracted renovation work at no. 56.

The real reason for the leak was a slight movement of the Communication Pipe leading to a rupture in the External Stop Valve caused by the growth of a tree root. This was a common occurrence, and the responsibility lay firmly with the Water Company. The repairs could have been undertaken as little as two days after the leak was spotted (though in some instances it can take up to 28 days, depending on location) by the residents at no. 54 (who coincidentally, lay the blame at the feet of those awful people at no. 56) and reported via the Water Company’s “Leakline” - a freephone number set up by the Water Company as a desperate measure to reduce the amount of the fines levied by Ofwat every time it missed its Annual Leakage Reduction Targets.

Sometimes the real story isn’t about people its about things.