Brussels water company Vivaqua has been unable to send bills to tens of thousands of customers due to software issues, resulting in higher than usual customer bills and the company having to borrow money to pay its own staff. It is unclear when the issue will be resolved.
One year ago, the Brussels intercommunal association Vivaqua – which supplies drinking water to the 19 Brussels municipalities and four municipalities in Walloon Brabant – switched to new software to manage customer data. The update was supposed to simplify the administration process but has instead led to a number of complications.
"Major problems surfaced when transferring customer information resulting in the data of tens of thousands of customers not being transferred correctly," spokesperson Saar Vanderplaetsen told De Standaard. Many Brussels residents have not received their quarterly advance bills for months and there are "major delays" in collecting payments from over a quarter of customers – roughly 90,000 water connections.
"The money we collect from customers is our biggest source of income. We do not get any subsidies," Vanderplaetsen said. "The fact that a significant part of our income has been lost for quite some time has definitely put our budget under stress."
The IT issue also has consequences for customers: those who do not receive (and pay) advance bills for months will one day inevitably receive an abnormally high final bill. Brussels water tariffs are among the lowest in Belgium but the amount still goes up to €300 a year for an average household. Vanderplaetsen highlighted a "greatly relaxed" instalment plan that Vivaqua has put in place for this reason.
Additionally, to still be able to pay its staff and subcontractor invoices, Vivaqua is taking out several short-term loans totalling "several million" from credit institutions.
When all Brussels residents will receive their water bills again is unclear: "We missed the earlier deadlines we had set ourselves. We thought the problem would be solved by this summer."
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Many final bills were sent in July but these turned out to contain some calculation errors. "Water tariffs were then raised early this year and mistakes were made in the implementation of these new tariffs. We have a crisis team and an action plan but no idea of timing."
Vivaqua is preparing an internal audit to find out the root cause of the issue. In the meantime, the Brussels Regional Government was also informed of the problems at the water company. Brussels Environment Minister Alain Maron expressed his concern and has asked Vivaqua management for further details about the consequences for consumers.