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Hi I'm new to the group and it was recommended by a Solicitor to see if anyone else has had a similar experience with United Utilities.  Its a long read and I apologise for this up front.

 

Issue 1 - United Utilities visited my property to investigate a leaking pipe on my development land within our title deeds of our house and replaced the section of pipe (approx 1 tonne).  The asbestos cement pipe was then broken up and buried on our property rather than them paying for hazardous waste disposal.   

 

This happened in June last year and since then after bringing it to their attention they have returned and carried out remedial works which have inflamed the problem by carrying out the work badly again.  The environmental health are now carrying out an investigation and we are hoping it will be cleaned under the 'polluter pays' principal. 

 

We currently have a Solicitor and will be taking action for breach of duty of care, significant delays and our costs re civil engineers, etc.  They have confirmed in writing that they breached their duty of care and have apologised and offered a settlement of £3000 in recognition of this.  This does not cover our solicitor costs, or civil engineer costs, etc and we are looking for recognition in compensation of their actions and the fact that they will now no longer reply to our correspondence.  Has anyone else suffered similar experiences with UU or have any idea of what we should be asking for from them?

 

Issue 2 - When we built our property in 1997 we were given a plan of the land showing the pipes by UU and built our house in accordance with this and their requirements regarding the distance we needed to be away from the pipes.  When we applied for planning permission for the rest of the properties on our land in 2005 we were then given a plan by UU showing the same position of the pipes but this now had a disclaimer on stating this may not be the exact position of the pipes leading to much discussion. 

 

After receiving no help from UU to locate the pipes we employed civil engineers in May 2020 and located the pipes, they were 20 metres away from the position shown on the plan and 2 metres deeper than thought (5 metres deep).   The pipes have now been found to run under our garden which we believe will have a detrimental effect on the value of our property.  This was queried with UU who advised that in 1997 they probably did not put the disclaimer on the plans but they stick by their disclaimer and are not open to discussion on the matter.   Does anyone know if we would have a claim under 'Estoppel' (or anything else?)

 

Issue 3 - Regarding the above, until October 2020 UU have always claimed that they have an easement over our property for maintenance of the pipes, however, they then confirmed that they did NOT but had full rights under the Water Authority Act 1990.  I would like to know if anyone knows if this act applies to both public and commercial pipes?  The pipes are to supply raw water from the local river to 2 factories and commercially provide an income to UU.  I have spoken to a Solicitor today who believes they may not have rights as this is not a public water supply and the Environment Health officer is also of the same opinion but after trawling the internet I have been unable to find out.   Does anyone know the answer to this?

 

Issue 4 - I have been diagnosed with Globus Pharyngeus (feeling of a lump in the throat) which I have had for more than 12 months now and the ENT specialist has advised it has been caused by stress of the ongoing stress we are encountering with UU.   This is not covered under my legal expenses cover and after contacting many solicitors they have advised that they would not take this on as Globus can be caused by other influences.  Noone has reviewed the situation we have had for the last 17 months, consisting of emails, discussions with local MP, EA, HSE, Solicitors, site meetings with contractors and UU and overseeing works and I'm sure if they did they would see why I am currently suffering from stress.   Does anyone have any experience of this ?

 

We currently have legal representation provided through our household insurance  and have a property claim against UU for issue 1, however, they are not willing to discuss the other issues, do you think it would be worth referring to other solicitors (and paying from our own funds) who would deal with all the issues in one (we personally think this is the best option) as if we have to issue lots of separate claims it would not be beneficial.

 

We really just want to bring them to task over the issues because I think as we are the 'little man' fighting the 'big company' we will go away, but I want them to realise they cannot do this to people.  In addition I also want to look after the little tradesman who lives down the road and ends up with his name in the press and a huge fine for burying asbestos!!

 

I would welcome any comments

 

Thank you

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Very interesting that we have been recommended to you by a solicitor. Which solicitor? Very enlightened of them – and very unusual.

It's a very long story – or at least the way you have told it is extremely long.

The first thing that catches my eye is that you are apparently suffering from some disease and you believe that that may have been caused by the stress of the situation and you are wondering whether there could be some compensation recoverable in respect of this.
I'm afraid I think that the answer is that it is most unlikely.
The test for relevant damage or injury is – whether that injury was recently foreseeable – either by the person who breach the contract or the person who acted negligently.
If, for instance, you could say that your disease was brought about by the presence of asbestos nearby, then you might will have a case that even then it might be tricky to establish the chain of causation.
I'm afraid the although it seems entirely reasonable to be able to claim for stress caused by somebody's negligence, it is unlikely that you would succeed and I'm not surprised that you can't find anybody to help you with this.
Don't forget that solicitors want to make a profit and they don't want to spend a lot of time on something that is particularly difficult – and I suspect that your disease is particularly difficult.
However, keep a detailed log of it and how it progresses. You never know and keeping a good diary of it and medical appointments and medical opinions et cetera might come in handy at some point.

I think for us the main thing of interest is United Utilities having buried an extremely dangerous substance on your land – and then returning to remove the danger substance after complaints and botching the job.
You've talked about the quality of their work in very general terms but you haven't really describe what has happened. Maybe you could present us with a chronology – a bullet point chronology and short form.

You've been offered £3000. Even without being thoroughly acquainted with the details of the whole case, it is risible.
I hope you don't have anybody trying to persuade you to settle in order to avoid further costs et cetera.

One thing that troubles me is that you appear to be treating this claim as a matter of principle in order to strike a blow for the small man – a small trader et cetera. This is very noble but not a good idea.
Whatever happens here, nobody will notice. Nobody cares. United Utilities will simply set it off against insurance and set off against tax and write it off after two or three years on their accounts and it will be meaningless to them. They don't care either.

The only reason to follow this through is to get all your expenses paid and then to cash in with something extra – and the more, the better.
If this sounds like a mercenary attitude – then you are probably right.

You shouldn't have had to put up with any of this and United Utilities should know better and there are top execs at United Utilities who are earning shed loads more than you or me or everybody who comes to this forum put together. They don't care either.

You refer to "estoppel" and you are asking whether you have a claim under it. I'm afraid that estoppel is purely to be used as a defence. Not for making a claim. I don't know what you've been reading, but give this up as an idea. I hope that your solicitors didn't suggest this to you.

I understand that solicitors you are using from some legal insurance service. Be careful about these people because to a great extent they simply want to be able to shift files, get a speedy settlement, get paid and move on.

There are some decent ones around but I'm afraid that it is very unusual to find a kick-arse little streetfighter. You need a backstabber and they really are thin on the ground, unfortunately.

You may find that your complaint dawdles along and I have to say that if it is all causing you stress, then simply the passage of time is likely to add to your stress and then to your element of fatigue until you just wanted to go away.

I would certainly be curious to know what they have on their files about you and the first thing I would do is I would send them an SAR. It's free and you don't need the permission of your solicitor to do it – and I would get going and send the SAR in the post tomorrow.

You never know what it might turn up and of course you can share the information which is disclosed to you with your solicitor – although only disclose a copy. Keep the originals to yourself.

You are talking about getting other solicitors. I'm afraid that I would stick with one horse. You start getting other solicitors and you will find that their advice might be contradictory – even conflicting. It will just cause you money. They all want some money upfront and they each have their different style – and none of them will be a dirty little streetfighter – which is really what you need.

I don't know how much of this helps.

Post up the chronology of events – and tell us exactly what it is you are trying to get compensation for because your narrative is really quite long and doesn't seem to get to this point.

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Just to add it was all photographed and on video, when asked what would have happened had we not been on furlough and witnessed the event I would not have been detected.   I also have a recorded conversation (with permission) where the SHEQ manager for the contractors admits all of this.

 

We obviously also want the ground clean so that the value is not affected and we can continue with our development but are hoping this is dealt with by Environmental Health.

 

Thanks

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Sorry but I have just removed your rather long blocked text.

 

Solid blocks of text are extremely difficult to read especially when people are using small screens.

 

Unlike your solicitor, we are helping you for free and I'm afraid that we rely on you to present your posts well spaced and punctuated so that they are accessible.

 

Please will you post it again.

 

 

 

Also, your post was not in the form of a chronology. We are looking for for a point-by-point résumé of what has happened.

We don't need such a detailed narrative.

 

 

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Also please will you confirm that you are sending then the SAR tomorrow

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8/6/20 work commenced on our development land (outline permission granted in 2005) by UU to remove a leaking 4mt, 21" diameter section of damaged ACM pipe resulting in an excavation approx 8m diameter and 5mt deep.

 

10/6/20 Pipe broken up into smaller sections by digger bucket (2 main sections)to remove from hole, some debris was left in the hole, no PPE, RPE or adherance to COS regs (admitted by contractors)

 

10/6/20 Damaged pipe sections placed back into excavation at depth of 3mt and then the ACM was totally smashed up by the digger into hundreds of small pieces of debris and buried under the cover of night.  Again no PPE, RPE or adherence to COA regs.

 

27/7/20 Raised concerns of burial of asbestos on development land rendering it useless and valueless as believed to now be contaminated land.

 

28/9/20 2nd excavation commenced to remediate the land, works carried out ineffectually, ie not hand picked, but soil removed with a digger bucket and shaken and only large pieces which rose to the top removed for waste removal.  The spoil in the bucket that was left was then placed on the ground unprotected from the clean ground and then all that soil was replaced in the excavated area after large pieces removed.

 

11/10/20 Found 3 pieces of asbestos debris (differing sizes) lying loose on the land intimating that the excavated area is not clean based on the sizes found. UU advised and visited site but no intention to investigate further the excavated area. Requested a 'clearance' cert from UU or weight of asbestos waste removed to compare to weight of intact section of pipe. We require this  to apply for full planning permission on the site. UU will not provide although they have provided fibre tests showing no asbestos found.  We have now found approx 12 pieces of asbestos debris (without searching for it) all differing sizes.

 

9/11/20 Referral to Environmental Health, HSE, Ofwat and CCW.  HSE, Ofwat and CCW cannot help.

 

3/8/21 Envronmental Health Manager, local authority has now taken on the case and is investigating under the Environmental Protection Act and this will hopefully result in UU clearing the land under their notice.

 

Very brief bullet points there has much discussion between all of these dates.

I have today requested an SAR from UU.

 

Question:

What are we able to claim for against UU? (assuming the land is cleared by them under notice from Environmental Health)

  • Breach of duty of care? (they have admitted to this)
  • Fixed expenses we have incurred, ie, Solicitors costs (prior to case being taken on by our insurers), Civil engineer costs in locating  the pipes and marking with GPS coordinates, damages to driveway
  • Delays to development plans? (currently we have only been to commence building one property on a site of 4 until this is rectified, the local council have advised that until we have the clearance certificate full planning permission would not be granted)
  • Compensation for negligent actions? 

Thank you

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Thank you for this. It's very helpful.

You say that they have omitted their breach of duty of care. In other words they have admitted to negligence.

The rest of your questions relate to quantum.

Once you have established that they owed you a duty and that they have breached their duty then the only question is whether the losses they have caused you are easily foreseeable.

Because they've admitted their breach of duty – and clearly it must be a duty which was owed to you, then the only question is how much are they going to pay you.

The courts are not in the business of awarding more than your losses so you have to establish the extent of your losses headed variously under
actual losses – ascertainable losses such as expenditure, loss of income and so forth. In all these are known as special damages – not because the special but because they are specific – you can specify them.

After that it becomes more nebulous and you have to start calculating your General damages and that really is where the arguments will lie. Loss of value, loss of chance, loss of reasonable expectations and so forth.

As you are already using a solicitor your solicitor will have much better access to resources for the calculation of quantum – but at the end of the day as they have already admitted negligence, it will come down to negotiation/haggle where you start it your highest and they start the lowest and you meet somewhere in between.

Of course what can bring it to ahead is if you start to become very aggressive and rapid in your actions. These people are used to doing things very slowly and also they are used to stringing you along. Because they are dealing with your solicitor, that fits very much into that sort of culture because that's what your solicitor expects.

On the other hand, there would be nothing to stop you leaping into action, sending them your demands for compensation – and then when they start to balk, you issue your letter of claim and then issue court proceedings. This would be unexpectedly assertive on your part and would put them on the back foot and false them to focus on the issue.

Your solicitor will probably not want to go along with this approach. If you came at them with a demand for compensation, then you would have to have your figures very carefully worked out and justifiable. It must look like a money grab and if it went to court, the court would be very careful about examining your claim and making sure that you won't getting a penny more than the total of your losses.
The purposes of damage in tort are to return you the position that you would have been in had the breach of duty not occurred. In other words to take you back to zero.

Have you got any figure in mind for reasonable compensation?

Another problem is that if the figure you want is more than £10,000, then if you sue for that figure you will find that your case is allocated to the Fast Track. The small claims track is where one sees for less than £10,000 and even if one loses, one does not pay the costs of the other side – the winner.
On the fast track, if you lose the case then you will pay a fairly large contribution towards the cost of the winner. This can be very offputting and also well resourced defendants often exploit this when they know they are dealing with a litigant in person and they dragged the legal procedure out so that costs are racked up and the risk factor for the litigant in person claimant becomes even more serious so that the litigant in person realises that if they do lose the case, the cost that they will have to pay to the winner will cause them serious financial problems.

What has your solicitor said about quantum? As you have engaged a solicitor then that really is the best person to be handling this although as I said, it will probably be drawn out – unless you get a Caravaggio or Christopher Marlowe -type who is prepared to go for low blows.

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Thank you for your quick reply.

 

There has been no discussion regarding quantum at all, although discussions have been very limited, we appear to be awaiting the actions of Env Health as this helps a long way in saving costs.   If we were to proceed now we would be looking to prove the land contaminated and employing specialists, etc, so the Solicitor has advised its best to use Env Health to do this and save some costs which allows more for the litigation should it be needed.

 

We have no idea with regard to a value for this and will look to the Solicitor for advice.

 

Our actual costs will I think be possibly round about the £5k mark

 

I think based on your reply the way forward is to discuss all these elements fully with the Solicitor

 

Your comments have been extremely helpful and have cleared up alot of questions I had. 

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I'm troubled that you haven't started to discuss quantum yet – at least with your solicitor.

Liability is slamdunk so the only question at large is that of quantum.

Also, I don't really understand why it is you who are trying to save costs by getting government agencies involved which don't necessarily move very quickly – when the liability is entirely with United Utilities and it is they who ultimately will bear the cost of everything.

Have you invited them to get involved with clearance?

Have you had a full survey of the site by an independent surveyor and if so have United Utilities been given an opportunity to have a look, to comment on your survey and carry out their own independent survey for comparison or corroboration?

I have to say that what you seem to be saying about United Utilities burying asbestos on your land seems to be so scandalous that one of the things I would do is I will try to expose it and I would contact your local member of Parliament. Write to them and then attend the surgery and explain what has happened and explain that a utilities company has been polluting land within their constituency and you need help to deal with it.

I can imagine that this is the kind of thing that a member of Parliament would seize upon because it's an easy kill, totally uncontroversial – and extremely popular.

Have you spoken to the local newspapers? They love that kind of story. Where are you in the country?

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In fact if you would be interested in talking to the press, please send me an email to our admin email address with your contact details – name, address, telephone. I will see this all in confidence but I will try to forward it to a press contact.

Companies like United Utilities really don't want this kind of exposure and if your MP got involved and also it was a story in the press, you would find that there would be a lot of anger and it would press them to start moving themselves rather more quickly

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Hi

 

I have a conference call with the solicitor on Friday and will raise the issue of quantum then

 

UU were advised in December of last year that our plans were to employ a specialist to look at the land and produce a report and we invited their comments. Our last correspondence via our 'employed' solicitors was back in January and UU issued a final letter saying that they were happy that there was no contamination based on the fibre reports that had been issued and they did not take responsibility for any delays that were being caused.  Our solicitor at that time followed that letter up quetsionning how there could be no contamination based on the fact that asbestos cement had been found lying on the land but UU did not respond to her even after she chased it.  They went on 'radio silence' and there has been no direct discussion since with UU.  At that time she advised that we proceed through our legal expenses cover as they were not responding to her letters and she anticipated escalating costs based on their refusal to reply.

 

We have not had a survey carried out as our Solicitors are relying on Environmental Health to produce this as mentioned earlier.

 

I have involved our MP in the matter and he got the HSE involved again but their position was that the matter had been dealt with by the contractors regarding the breaches and they described it as a one off incident so closed their file.   There were a number of disciplinary actions taken within the teams and new procedures were implemented.   He also contacted UU with our concerns and they replied with an almost carbon copy of the final letter sent to ourselves back in January.  They claim that they are acting within the Waste Framework Directive in that a decommissioned pipe may remain in 'situ', however, as the pipe was substantially damaged this does not apply but this is what they are sticking to.  Our MP has offered his assistance moving forward should we need it but we haven't asked for his involvement any further at the present time.

 

We are in Cumbria and although my husband and I have discussed it we have not contacted the press although we do openly talk about it to anyone who wants to listen.

 

At the present time we are not looking to speak to the press but if we decide to do so I have numerous videos and photographs of all the works and also a recorded conversation with the SHEQ manager of the contractors who openly admits that there were breaches.

 

Thanks

 

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Well I think it's important to speak to the press. I'm quite amazed that your MP has done nothing about it. I think if you talk to the press and raised the issue of the lack of interest by your MP, this would also spur the MP.
The press would go to the MP for comment and this might be enough to trigger it off.

As you are in Cumbria – are you in any region which is protected or some area of special beauty?

If you are going to have a call with your solicitor then I think the main question is that as liability has been established, why aren't you all discussing the extent of the damage and the value of the damage – and if they have gone silent on you then why haven't you simply sent them a letter of claim and begun proceedings.

That is the way to move them forward. The substantial delay and toleration of their lack of communication, I'm afraid is very much in tune with the kind of service that we expect from solicitors.
You should be aware that you are losing control of this and you need now to be assertive and quick firing and if you rely on your solicitor then you need to make it clear to your solicitor that this is the service you want and you're not interested in going down the usual channels of correspondence and hanging around for replies.

The solicitor works for you. You don't work for the solicitor. All too often people seem to hold these professionals in a kind of reverent awe and it's up to you to adopt a different mindset.
Your solicitor won't like being pushed around in this way but that's because they are used to having control and they are not used to clients pushing them around.

I really don't understand why you don't want to speak to the press. In my book it's a no-brainer. It's completely free – there is nothing to lose. The only thing that crosses my mind is that maybe you don't want publicity on your proposed development.

I still don't quite understand how much money you think you might be talking about here

 

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Hi thanks for the info.

 

I totally agree with your comments re Solicitors, we (the general public) do rely on their advice too much.   Based on what you have said above in all the comments I now have a number of questions to pose to the Sols tomorrow in the hope that we can now move this on.

 

Re the press I've yet to discuss this with my husband (who is unwell at the moment) but if we decide to press ahead on this would you recommend the local press first or should we be taking this more national? and is there any particular one which would be more interested?

 

We are not in an area that is protected or anything.

 

Re your last comment I'm sorry but I don't understand what you mean.

 

Thanks

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Which last comment? About the money or about your proposed development plan?

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Well when you are claiming the end somebody you need to understand what it is you are claiming for? This means in terms of value.

If you don't know how much you are claiming for then you don't know how much trouble it's worth, what risk you might be incurring and whether those risks are worthwhile, you don't know how much you might settle for if some offer was put on the table, you don't know whether an offer which was put on the table might be good value, you don't know how outraged you should be if an offer which was put on the table turned out to be inadequate, you don't even know if an offer which was on the table was inadequate anyway.

Not knowing how much you are going after is like saying to them – I'm coming after you, I don't know what I'm gonna do when I get you but I'm coming after you anyway.

Quantum.

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Ah OK     I understand now     that is most definitely something I have listed to raise tomorrow so fingers crossed I'll have a better idea then

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It should be the main focus of discussion. There is really nothing else

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