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Deductions for disputed water bill


justace
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History.

 

I telephoned my water supplier about 4 years ago in response to information they sent regarding water meters and an estimate of expected annual metered charges was calculated, based on my details. As a sole occupier, the amount was considerably less than current bills charged under the Rateable Value(RV) system.

I readily agreed to the meter installation and sent the postcard which had been provided, as requested.

 

Although no timescale for the installlation was given, I was a little concerned as the months passed without any action but assumed that they were busy meeting demand nationwide from others in a similar situation.

No communication was received until around 10 months later when the annual bill arrived, based on RV.

 

I telephoned them to explain that I had not yet had a meter installed which would have reduced the bill, according to their estimate, and they said enquiries would be made.

When they phoned back, they told me their contractor had no record of receiving my meter request card and as there was no meter, the bill was correct.

I argued that I had agreed to the installation almost immediately during the initial enquiry when the estimate was given and that it should have proceeded but they insisted agreement by telephone was not acceptable, a postal request was required.

 

My contract is with the supplier, they were aware of my request and confirm a record of the call. Beyond that, the subsequent failure of a system, whether theirs, their contractor or postal services should not result in me having to pay hundreds of pounds more as a consequence.

 

Numerous calls appealing for fairness were rejected. During one of them I asked when the meter would be installed, they said that they would put the request through for me and a meter was in fact installed within a few weeks. Note, no postal request!

 

In an effort to reach a resolution I proposed to pay their calculated estimate in full and accepted that any difference between it and actual metered usage charges would be subject to adjustment, this was rejected.

I considered my proposal to be reasonable and carried it out, payment was made.

 

Demands from them and a number of their debt collecting agents have continued for more than 3 years now, at times beyond what I would consider harassment levels. Threats of damage to my credit rating have no effect, I don't use it. Threats of court action were welcomed at every stage.

I'd be more than happy to put this case before a judge but they have chosen not to pursue that action, perhaps reflecting their confidence in success.

 

Initially I took calls from these agents and took the time to explain the circumstances of the case but after a few, I gave up being pleasant to them. I've become quite adept at handling their calls now ... "For security purposes could you please confirm the first line of your address" .... "No" ..... flustered noises are heard followed by a pleading "but why not? I can't discuss the case until ...", just before I hang up. Interrupt their script and they're lost.

It seems to me that security is not advanced by providing personal details to an unknown person calling from a withheld number.

 

All metered bills since, with the exclusion of 'carried forward' arrears amounts, have been paid in full.

It has been necessary to check bills carefully, one carried an 'Actual' reading which was around 40 units more than what was on the meter 2 weeks later when I checked it. This would have resulted in an overpayment of £85, I recalculated it using my 'Actual' readings and paid the amended amount.

 

This further evidence of incompetence was added to my court file and I waited for proceedings to start, none did.

 

Recently.

 

In February I got a letter out of the blue, thanking me for asking to pay my water bill by payment card, a card was enclosed.

3 weeks later another letter, claiming I had failed to keep to my agreed payment plan and demanding payment to bring it up to date.

(Doesn't an agreement require acceptance by two parties?)

In a phone call I told them there has never been and will not be any agreement to a payment plan prior to a court decision and requested details of the alleged agreement, it has not been supplied.

 

The sting.

 

In early July a letter arrived :-

"As you are still in arrears with your water service charges, I have today written to the Department for Work and Pensions(DWP) to request that your charges are paid directly from any benefits you may receive. (...)"

 

Despite my protests the DWP insist that they have to comply with the request and have now initiated deductions, "You do not have the right to appeal against the decision to take money off your benefit...." the notice read.

 

Due to long term illness, I am in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support.

Had this not been the case and I was fit to work, they would have been forced to seek a judgement in court for an attachment of earnings order which could be contested. I am therefore disadvantaged because of my state of health in being denied any right to challenge their claim, this cannot be fair or just.

 

Their action effectively picks my pocket and uses the DWP as their agent to circumvent the judicial process.

 

A recent anonymous telephone enquiry has revealed that meter requests can currently be accepted by post, online and by phone.

 

I have read many similar and very helpful posts from knowledgeable people on this forum but none quite fit my particular circumstances.

 

I'd be extremely grateful for any opinions and advice from those with experience in these matters.

 

Thankyou,

 

Justace

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It seems I picked a very bad time to submit my post, within seconds of the site upgrade.

Hopefully, things have settled down now.

 

I'd be very grateful for any opinions or advice on my case.

 

Thanks

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I thought they could set arrears ammount out of benefits at only 5.00, then on top of that they would take the weekly amount relevant to your meter. How much are they taking?

 

Doesnt seem fair regarding delay in meter, but I worry they can still force you to pay the previous bill and any discount would be gesture of good will. Hope I am wrong there, unless there are rules with regulatory authority stating how they go about it.

 

More caggers will come xxx

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Tnankyou for your comments loopinlouie , good of you to help out.

 

They're taking £5.43 which seems to include arrears of £3.00 weekly. "At 26 July 2010, the amont you still owe will be £324.57."

The actaul amount claimed has varied on many occasions without explanation, up and down.

 

Bills for current metered charges have been paid in full for 3 years, one has just arrived this week covering the past 6 months and will be checked for accuraccy tonorrow.

 

There are 2 separate issues here :

1)The current bills make claims for amounts which are not accurate in accordance with the meter readings, which I correct and pay after adjustment. Had I paid there bills as pesented, i'd have been out of pocket by over a hundred punds. Although discrepencies may have been correctly amended in a later bill, my limited finances do not allow for paying more than is due.

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loopinlouie

 

Please forgive my poorly written and incomplete response which I have only a vague recollection of making. A testament to the effectiveness of current medications :confused:.

 

Continued (amended) -

There are 2 separate issues here :

1)

The current bills make claims for amounts which are not accurate in accordance with the meter readings, which I correct and pay after adjustment. Had I paid their bills as pesented, i'd have been out of pocket by over a hundred pounds. Although discrepencies in overcharging may have been correctly amended in a bill 6 months later, my limited finances do not allow for paying more than is due.

2)

The system whereby deductions from benefit can be made 'in the interests of claimants' where they are unable to budget for payment of essential utility bills, I would wholly support. However, it does not apply in this case. I have successfully budgeted and paid all current bills for more than 3 years.

Using it to gain payment for a disputed amount and impose their claim without any challenge to its legality, is surely an abuse of that system.

 

 

honeybee13

 

Thankyou for your suggestion.

I have looked at the OFWAT site which refers such complaints to the Consumer Council for Water.

An email containing the details has now been sent to them.

 

This quote from the OFWAT site offers some hope :-

 

"Companies should make sure that customers are no worse off if they cannot meet the deadline for installing a meter. Such provisions include allowing customers to pay bills that better reflect the charges customers might have paid had they been metered. Most companies will backdate metered charges to the date on which the meter should have been installed, or pay compensation if they fail to meet the three-month deadline."

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Hello there. Isn't there a regulator for the water industry? Ofwat rings a bell. You could try them, or possibly Tradiing Standards to see if there is anything you can do.

 

B

Really, no. You'd think they'd be interested but they don't care about us as they are there for them.

 

I used to think that these regulators (in general) were there to look after the interests of the consumer, but experience has taught me otherwise. I'm not saying you should never pursue a complaint through a government or council sponsored regulator/agency/ombudsman etc, but don't expect too much.

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Right then, loopinlouie's hit the nail on the head:

loopinlouie

 

The system whereby deductions from benefit can be made 'in the interests of claimants' where they are unable to budget for payment of essential utility bills, I would wholly support. However, it does not apply in this case. Using it to gain payment for a disputed amount and impose their claim without any challenge to its legality, is surely an abuse of that system.

 

It is an abuse of the system, no doubt, but it's coming from both sides - the water company and the DWP.

 

You should have a read of this thread which contains the solution for you:

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?159676-Water-rates-deductions-from-benefits

 

The solution, as you will see, is to make a Part 8 Claim against The Secretary of State in a County Court seeking an order that the Third Party Deductions be stopped and that all money taken be repaid.

 

You will note that I said that the DWP changed its decision in advance of the hearing. Funny thing is was that the documentation just didn't look legal enough (no signature for a start), so the Claimant couldn't ask for a discontinuance, and so attended the hearing. As soon as we arrived at the court we were confronted by a frantic DWP barrister desperately exhorting the Claimant to agree and sign a Tomlinson order before we went into the judges chambers. As the Lay Representative I told her to bog off. She said she'd tell the judge on me for not agreeing to look at their proposal for settlement. Ha!

 

As it turned out she was the one who got told off for not making sure it was sorted out sooner. The barrister at the previous Allocation Hearing also got a rough ride from the judge. I don't like to gloat, but helping to bring these arsey barristers almost to the point of tears fills me with glee.

 

Anyway, what you need now is a letter before action to the DWP's solicitors office advising them of your intended court action. The DWP acted illegaly because you didn't fail to budget for your water charges, the deduction are not in your interest, and you are not part of a family. The law is clear, the funding is there (because it's free to start a claim when you have a low income) and so is the help: I can probably knock you up a letter before action within the next couple of days, so let's go get 'em!

Edited by cerberusalert
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History.

 

I telephoned my water supplier about 4 years ago in response to information they sent regarding water meters and an estimate of expected annual metered charges was calculated, based on my details. As a sole occupier, the amount was considerably less than current bills charged under the Rateable Value(RV) system.

I readily agreed to the meter installation and sent the postcard which had been provided, as requested.

 

Question

 

Are they saying you owe the full rateable value or are they saying you owe them something which may be called the "Assessed Household Charge"?

 

I ask because where a water meter is requested the property should be assessed to see if one can be fitted.

 

In properties where a meter can not be fitted you should then be offered the option of the "Assessed Household Charge" (that's what Thames Water calls it). This figure is based (depending on supplier) on size of dwelling and/or number of occupants etc.

 

It's very hard to find figures for what this Assessment Charge would be (as surprisingly it's not very well advertised) but for me single occupier in a 1 bed flat it cut my bill from £300 to £200 per year 8)

 

Surely an argument here could be that since they failed to supply a meter as requested then it should be charged under this assessment rate rather than the standard rate from the time it was requested until fitted.

 

Just a thought.

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Good info Samsmoot.If you would like to put something together on this-I think would be good info for a stickie either here and/or in the Utilities forum.

Have a happy and prosperous 2013 by avoiiding Payday loans. If you are sent a private message directing you for advice or support with your issues to another website,this is your choice.Before you decide,consider the users here who have already offered help and support.

Advice offered by Martin3030 is not supported by any legal training or qualification.Members are advised to use the services of fully insured legal professionals when needed.

 

 

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samsmoot

 

Extremely helpful information, thanks.

I was hoping you would make a contribution to this case, having followed your previous posts.

 

I'd love to challenge the DWP on their decision as you suggest, it's clearly wrong in this case.

Whether I'd be shooting myself in the foot if I were to take that action at this time is another matter.

 

On reflection, I am ironically being afforded some protection by the DWP, which if removed could prompt immediate court action by the water company before I've got all my ducks in a row.

Since they're suddenly taking action that could have been started more than 3 years ago, I suspect there's a 'new broom' in the office.

Perhaps issuing a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the water company and ensuring my defence is in order would be a sensible approach but I'd welcome alternate opinions.

My 'Go whistle, I'll see you in court' strategy has been foiled by the DWP pickpockets, so I think it's time to prepare my case in earnest.

 

As I see it, I'm already £325 in 'debt' which will eventually be taken through benefits if I do nothing. Depending on the court outcome, I'll either be debt free as I was, or might have some costs added, which can only be taken through benefits at a similar rate.

If I'm to suffer the pain, I'd rather it was for a little longer having made a stand .... or if justice is done, not at all.

 

 

speedfreek

 

Thanks for your question.

All my bills before metering were charged under the Rateable Value(RV) system which was also used to calculate local taxes, after the Poll Tax collapsed. Although it's no longer used by local authorities, I believe water companies were allowed to continue charging under it.

The "Assessed Household Charge" you mention doesn't apply as a meter could be fitted.

 

There are many other schemes in place from different suppliers to assist those struggling to pay and if I was in that situation then I'd probably use them. However, I've been fortunate enough to be able to meet my bills for 3 years, reluctantly.

If a meter reflects the cost of supplying water and I'm paying for what I use, no problem. The fact that metered charges are well below what I previously paid, proves I've been overcharged for many years. Imposing another year at those inflated rates on me because of their failure is simply unfair.

 

 

MARTIN3030 / site team

 

As this is moving in the direction of court action, should I make linking posts in other relevant areas which might offer additional experience and guidance?

I'm not too sure how things work but have noticed that some other good advisors seem to contribute only in specific forums.

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On reflection, I am ironically being afforded some protection by the DWP, which if removed could prompt immediate court action by the water company before I've got all my ducks in a row.

Since they're suddenly taking action that could have been started more than 3 years ago, I suspect there's a 'new broom' in the office.

Did you make an error, justace? You seem to have left out the word 'racket' following 'protection'.

 

If they take court action it won't be immediate, and you'll get plenty of time to put in a defence - you can always get it delayed by asking for a striking out of their claim - that'll prolong it a fair bit.

 

As I see it, I'm already £325 in 'debt' which will eventually be taken through benefits if I do nothing. Depending on the court outcome, I'll either be debt free as I was, or might have some costs added, which can only be taken through benefits at a similar rate.

Yes, there might be costs added if you lose your claim against the DWP, but they are unlikely (in my experience) to seek to recover this from you. In any event these costs would not be recoverable through your benefit - the DWP would have to send the bailiffs in if they wanted their money.

 

Give me the go-ahead and I will prepare for you a letter before action - you will have to fill in some blanks yourself.

 

You are doing the right thing to make this challenge, and you have little to lose. I am prepared to help, but insist that you have the same level of commitment - you may have to make up to three court appearances, will need to correspond with all parties in a timely fashion, and you will not be swayed by anything the DWP says, because they tell fibs. Are you up to it?

 

I can promise to do the letter within a week, but will probably be sooner.

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Quote;

 

 

"As this is moving in the direction of court action, should I make linking posts in other relevant areas which might offer additional experience and guidance?

I'm not too sure how things work but have noticed that some other good advisors seem to contributelink3.gif only in specific forums."

 

No I think things are in hand here,no point in getting into debates or discussions which could lose sight of the things already highlighted here.

This needs to be progressed (continued) within the confines here,given that we have someone who has first hand experience and a very good understanding of the situation,and a cause of action.

Having searched CAG archive I am reasonably confident that samsmoot is the best one to lead things.

Of course thats not to say that further input should not be encouraged later-just that its of no value to get sidetracked whilst samsmoot is dealing here with the benefit of knowledge and experience.

Have a happy and prosperous 2013 by avoiiding Payday loans. If you are sent a private message directing you for advice or support with your issues to another website,this is your choice.Before you decide,consider the users here who have already offered help and support.

Advice offered by Martin3030 is not supported by any legal training or qualification.Members are advised to use the services of fully insured legal professionals when needed.

 

 

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Also with any deductions out of one's benefit the person claiming should always be given a notice from the dwp stating who has made an application for benefit deductions etc

 

no one should force anybody into poverty (constitutional right's and freedoms)

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I also agree that the Court will not be minded to award any substantial costs in the SCT.

In any event its reasonable to assume that the Court will be mindful of your financial situation when deciding to award costs if judgement goes in the DWP favour.

If you are in a vulnerable position then the DWP would not be able to use bailiffs for recovery....thats a long way down the line anyway.

Have a happy and prosperous 2013 by avoiiding Payday loans. If you are sent a private message directing you for advice or support with your issues to another website,this is your choice.Before you decide,consider the users here who have already offered help and support.

Advice offered by Martin3030 is not supported by any legal training or qualification.Members are advised to use the services of fully insured legal professionals when needed.

 

 

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Quote;

 

 

This needs to be progressed (continued) within the confines here,given that we have someone who has first hand experience and a very good understanding of the situation,and a cause of action.

.

 

 

Having searched CAG archive I am reasonably confident that samsmoot is the best one to lead things.

Of course thats not to say that further input should not be encouraged later-just that its of no value to get sidetracked whilst samsmoot is dealing here with the benefit of knowledge and experience.

 

 

justace

 

MARTIN3030 makes a excellent point in suggesting following samsmoot's advice in this post.

 

:)

 

dk

Edited by dragonkeeper
adding 's

:welcome::rofl::welcome:

 

 

 

 

 

[sIGPIC][/sIGPIC]

 

 

 

:tea:

 

 

 

most of my knowledge is from the school of hard knocks

 

not based on any legal background

 

As quite a lot fellow caggers state seek Legal Advice

 

 

:ranger:

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I appreciate the vote of confidence.

 

Am still awaiting justace to give the go-ahead, and if he does I will try my very best to get the deductions stopped. For sure, any amount of threatening letters won't do it, nor will the issuing of a claim in itself. It'll probably go all the way to a hearing.

 

It can be a frustrating and exhaussting task to take this kind of action against such a high authority, but I strongly believe that it's something that needs to be done. I hope justace decides to go ahead, but will understand if he chooses not to.

 

I don't want to come off as preachy, but if this kind of thing is let go without challenge, things will only get worse. I think it's imperative not to concede when a win is possible, sometimes even if it's only to prove a point.

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Sorry to all for my delay in responding, I've not been too well in recent days.

 

 

samsmoot

 

Thanks for your advice.

My commitment to fighting injustice is total, please don't be concerned on that score, I'm not the type to allow such things to go unchallenged or submit to intimidation, regardless of their status.

Had it been necessary, I would no doubt have fumbled my way through the case on my own. However, with your excellent advice and support, I'm sure the prospect of success is greatly increased.

Something that worries me though is whether I'll be fit to attend court hearings as there is no way to predict how well I'd be on any particular date.

 

The 'letter before action' you suggest would be ideal but perhaps should be delayed in light of the following.

A letter has been received from the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) saying they have written to the water company following my complaint, which has 14 days to respond to the issues I've raised.

 

Could you please advise if you think we should await their response or go ahead with the DWP letter?

If you'd prefer to go ahead, I'd be very grateful if you could supply the draft as offered.

There is no great urgency on my part, whenever is convenient for you will be fine.

 

 

MARTIN3030

 

Thankyou for your response.

I have every confidence in samsmoot who's doing a fine job.

My point regarding linking posts was that when the DWP issue is resolved, it becomes a utility/debt issue which is dealt with more specifically on other forums. Users who stick mainly to those forums may be able to offer additional relevant personal experience or advice which could be helpful.

 

I happily accept that doing it at a later stage might be a better option and bow to your knowledge in these matters. :)

 

 

dragonkeeper

 

Thanks for your input.

I agree wholeheartedly.

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Here's the draft letter. The blanks need filling in, remember to sign it, keep a copy and send it recorded delivery.

 

Before you do that you might want to wait and see if anyone on here spots any obvious errors or recommends any alterations.

 

A question to caggers: will court attendance be mandatory for justace? As it's a part 8, and a decision should be made according to the undisputed facts, can't it be heard on just the papers instead?

 

 

 

*****

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[Date of Writing]

 

 

 

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Litigation Division

DWP/DH Legal Services

New Court

48 Carey Street

London WC2A 2LS

 

 

Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,

 

I am a benefit claimant - N.I. No: [insert N.I. No]. Since [insert Date] a portion of my benefit has been, and is still being taken from my benefit for water charges by way of Third Party Deductions. My water company, [insert ] made the application for the TPDs whilst the charges were in dispute, and those charges remain in dispute.

 

I wish to advise you that these deductions are unlawful, and that unless they are stopped forthwith (and my money repaid) I will have no alternative but to seek a remedy by way of civil action in the County Court.

 

I must remind you that you have the responsibility to ensure that any deductions from a claimant's benefit are made in accordance with the law, and the law is very clear about the circumstances under which TPDs for water debt can be made.

 

I wish to draw your attention to Regulation 35 of The Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987, which states,

 

"Deductions may be made from benefit and direct payments may be made to third parties on behalf of a beneficiary in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 9"'

 

Paragraph 7 (2) (as amended) of Schedule 9 states,

 

"(2) Where a beneficiary or his partner is liable, whether directly or indirectly, for water charges and is in debt for those charges, the adjudicating authority may determine, subject to paragraph 8, that a weekly amount of the specified benefit shall be paid either to a water undertaker to whom the debt is owed, or to the person or body authorised to collect water charges for that undertaker, but only if the authority is satisfied that the beneficiary or his partner has failed to budget for those charges, and that it would be in the interests of the family to make the determination

 

It is clear from the above that two conditions must exist for water deductions to be lawful:

 

1. A DWP Decision Maker (or adjudicating authority) must be convinced that there has been a failure to budget.

2. Deductions must be in the interests of the family.

 

I wish to state that there has in fact been no failure on my part to budget for water charges. The charges in question have been, and still are, in dispute. It is impossible that a correct decision to make TPDs could have been made on the basis of a failure to budget, as there was no failure to budget.

 

I am not a family: I am a single person living alone. Paragraph 7 (2) is blatantly clear about which class of benefit claimant can be subject to TPDs, and I do not fall into that category. Any deductions must be in the interests of the family, and as I am not part of a family deductions for water charges cannot lawfully be applied to my benefit.

 

Even if I was considerd to be a 'family', the deductions are certainly not in my interests. The charges are in dispute and I am trying to resolve the matter: this has nothing to do with a failure to budget. You have no legal right to make TPDs under these circumstances.

 

I will allow you fourteen days from your receipt of this letter in which to stop the deductions and repay all the money so far taken. If you choose not to do this I will have no choice but to seek a court order that requires you to stop the TPDs. Should you not comply with my wishes within the fourteen days I will, without further notice, make a Part 8 Claim in the County Court seeking an order that the deductions be stopped and that my money be repaid. I do hope this won't be necessary.

 

 

Yours Faithfully

 

 

[Your Name]

Edited by saintly_1
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Fabulous draft, Samsmoot!

My advice is based on my opinion, my experience and my education. I do not profess to be an expert in any given field. If requested, I will provide a link where possible to relevant legislation or guidance, so that advice provided can be confirmed and I do encourage others to follow those links for their own peace of mind. Sometimes my advice is not what people necesserily want to hear, but I will advise on facts as I know them - although it may not be what a person wants to hear it helps to know where you stand. Advice on the internet should never be a substitute for advice from your own legal professional with full knowledge of your individual case.

 

 

Please do not seek, offer or produce advice on a consumer issue via private message; it is against

forum rules to advise via private message, therefore pm's requesting private advice will not receive a response.

(exceptions for prior authorisation)

 

 

 

 

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Thanks samsmoot for your excellent draft letter.

 

I'd like to include some other relevant points you made in another post and probably add a few lines on liability etc., after which I'll forward it directly to you for comment.

It can then be considered for a few days before agreeing on a final submission.

Hopefully, some views on your question of court attendance will be available by then.

 

Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

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