AN ANGRY mother said she will be jailed before paying her sewage bills following a six-year “hellish nightmare”.
Mel Sheridan watched her Hayle home subside despite repeatedly asking South West Water (SWW), Cornwall Council and Cormac to investigate a sinking section of road.
She has not paid SWW since 2012 after requests for a refund were ignored.
“They will have to throw me in prison before I pay,” she said.
“South West Water have caused me six years of hell. My career as an artist has suffered, my heath has suffered, I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2011, my relationship with my son has suffered and all because they would not listen to me.
“I am not paying because I did not receive the service I was being charged for.”
Towards the end of 2007, water started to collect in a dip she had noticed in Tremeadow Road two years earlier, rather than run into a nearby drain.
Despite up to 200 calls per week at its height, she claimed she was passed between the company, Cornwall Council, and Cormac, never getting a straight answer.
By 2009 Miss Sheridan’s home was leaning over Tremeadow Road and she lodged a subsidence claim with her insurer.
Yet SWW still refused to investigate the pipes under the road.
She said: “It was taking over my life. I was making so many calls and everything was on hold.
“Imagine living in a house which you thought was going to collapse at any time.”
In April 2012, maintenance crews found that a 18th-century pipe had cracked and a SWW sewage pipe had a gap in it underneath Tremeadow Road.
Both pipes were repaired and Miss Sheridan’s house was underpinned and rebuilt by her insurer.
As a result, she said: “I added up what I had paid in sewage bills, which came to £4,337.54, and asked them to pay it back to me.
“This isn’t a compensation claim – I just want the money back because they weren’t providing me with what I was paying them for due to the cracked and missing sewage pipe.
“By refusing to investigate for eight years they contributed to its subsidence, so I don’t think I should have to pay for that.”
SWW refused the request but offered a good will gesture of £2,300 for bad customer service.
“But that isn’t what I wanted,” she said. “I wanted them to recognise that the sewage service I was paying for wasn’t being done and therefore I should be entitled to a refund. It has never been about the money, it is the principle.”
Miss Sheridan has been threatened with court action over the £1,600 she owes the company in unpaid bills, but said she will only pay if it gives her the refund she wants. Alternatively, she will start paying when her debt reaches £4,337.54.
A spokesman for SWW said it found no evidence its sewer has caused subsidence to the property and had not been contacted by Miss Sheridan’s insurer, adding: “We recognise that during our investigations Ms Sheridan did not receive the level of customer service that we aim to give our customers. For this reason only we have offered her a one-off payment as a gesture of goodwill.”
Cornwall Council said it believed Miss Sheridan’s insurance company accepted that the council had no responsibility for the escape of water that led to the subsidence or any delay in dealing with the problem.
A spokesman added: “It has been determined therefore that the council is not responsible for any damage.”