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Thomas and Gillian Hodge with one of the water bills. SUR
Axarquía water bill row: 'They have sent us a quarterly bill for 45,220 euros and we were only there for two weeks'
Dispute

Axarquía water bill row: 'They have sent us a quarterly bill for 45,220 euros and we were only there for two weeks'

José Juan Jiménez, mayor of La Viñuela, has said the meter readings are correct and that a modification to a local drinking water law "penalises excessive consumption”

Eugenio Cabezas / Jennie Rhodes

La Viñuela

Thursday, 9 November 2023, 12:40

Opciones para compartir

The approximately twenty residents of La Viñuela in the Axarquía who have received quarterly water bills exceeding 45,000 euros have said that they will hire lawyers and go to the Andalusian Ombudsman if the town hall does not resolve the problem.

The bills, which have gone mainly to foreign residents and some Spanish, relate to water used in 2022. The residents have said that they are not prepared or “cannot afford” to pay these amounts to the town hall. British resident Paul Rouse, who has received a bill for 300 euros, set up a Facebook page in early October to help those affected and it already has more than 220 members.

Rouse told SUR on Wednesday, "so far, as far as we know, none of them have paid these amounts and we have all returned the bills that were deposited with the bank. " The 71-year-old retired industrial engineer has been living in Malaga province for 22 years and moved to La Viñuela in 2016 after 15 years living in Álora. "In my case the bill is not so big, it's about 300 euros, but I usually pay 30 or 40 euros for a quarter," he said.

Rouse went on to say that the mayor of La Viñuela, José Juan Jiménez, has refused to recalculate the bills. "The most striking thing is that they are all bills for a quarter of 2022, then we have had normal bills since then. I am convinced that it has been because of the cuts and the air getting into the pipes that happened last summer. We have checked with several technicians who have made reports for us. In addition, all the houses affected are in high areas of the village," he argued.

Ombudsman

The retired industrial engineer explained that a number of residents have already lodged appeals with La Viñuela town hall, which now has three months to respond. "If they do not do so and do not agree to recalculate the bills, we will go to the Ombudsman and we are even prepared to hire lawyers if necessary, because this is an absolute abuse, we cannot pay such high bills", said Rouse, who estimated that the total amount the town hall is trying to get from the twenty or so residents could be around 200,000 euros, "when we have been told that just one bill of 30,000 euros is equivalent to what they get in a whole year", he said.

One of the highest bills has been sent to Scottish couple Thomas and Gillian Hodge. They have owned their villa with a garden and swimming pool in the Lomas de Sabato area of the village for five years. They told SUR they “almost had a heart attack" when they received a water bill for 45,220.04 euros last month, corresponding to the second quarter of 2022.

"Of those three months we were only there for two weeks," said the couple, who are currently in Scotland. They claim they did not refill the swimming pool last year and that their small garden requires “no watering at all".

"It is impossible that we used that amount of water, 1,556 cubic metres in three months," said Thomas Hodge, who has lodged an appeal with the town hall. "Hopefully they will listen to us, we can't afford to pay that amount," he said.

The Hodge's water bill.
The Hodge's water bill. SUR

Drought decree

Mayor of La Viñuela, José Juan Jiménez has told SUR that the problem has affected "around 15 or 20 homes with gardens and swimming pools, which apparently have wasted water". He went on to say, "The readings are correct, the meters work well, we have two plumbers who are reading and checking them." However, he added that the residents "are within their rights to lodge appeals and they will be investigated by the municipal technicians".

The mayor explained that the bills come from the tax department of Malaga’s provincial administration, La Diputación de Málaga. He said, “The town hall can do nothing, we will act in accordance with what the law says.” Jiménez added that they have been warning residents for several years that they were using excessive amounts of water "with bills of 2,000, 3,000 and even 4,000 euros," he said. "If someone uses a million and a half litres of water in a quarter, that is what the whole village uses in three days, which is not acceptable and if they have used it, they have to pay for it.”

The mayor, who has been in office since 2011, explained that a local drinking water law bylaw was modified two years ago in line with successive drought decrees issued by the Junta de Andalucía to deal with the extreme drought in the Axarquía. The regional administration asked town halls in the area to reduce their water consumption by 20 per cent and the restrictions included a reduction in water consumption per inhabitant to 180 litres per day. Jiménez pointed out that the modification "penalises excessive consumption of more than 350 cubic metres, when they are charged at 32 euros per cubic metre".

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