Residents affected by the devastating flooding across Derry and Tyrone last summer have been urged to attend the Consumer Parliament in the Guildhall later this month.
Graham Smith, Head of Water at the Consumer Council urged people to phone in and register for the event on March 23 so they can discuss any outstanding issued they may have and see what assistance the Consumer Council can provide.
The Consumer Council co-ordinates a large group of stakeholder groups on issues around heating, water and flooding, and anyone with issues around water supply or sewage is also urged to attend the Parliament, which is free.
Graham sits on the Regional Community Resilience Group which comprises a collection of government and non-government bodies who work with communities directly to help them be prepared with regards what to do during flooding and how to recover afterwards.
He said: “There will be two sessions during at the Consumer Parliament on March 23, where people can come along to us to talk about flooding. The floods last August were awful, let’s hope it doesn’t happen again. We know how traumatic it is, and we can give them advice, and do some work on resilience and how prepared they are should it happen again.
“We have met people in other communities in Northern Ireland before who said they are anxious about the rain every time it comes after flooding. We can help with big things such as sandbag stores at the end of people’s streets, or it can be little things as well- we have helped certain households with what do you do when the kitchen gets flooded and your medication is in the fridge and you can’t get to it.
“We work with the household, street, community to say if this was to happen again if we got a weather warning tomorrow would you know what to do? We can work with you to put a plan in place.
“We have done this with communities across Northern Ireland and it works. It is not immensely complicated and this is not taking away from the government responsibilities, it actually complements this response, and may buy you more time in the event of flooding,and could be the difference between water getting over your front step and water not getting over your front step.”
Graham said Derry City & Strabane District Council and other agencies have done a lot of work since the flooding, but by coming along people can have their say if they are upset about problems that haven’t been addressed yet. “If the residents comes along to me to talk about flooding, I go directly to the different agencies and bodies and say, ‘we need to do something about this’. This is a way for people to get their voice heard.”
While the two sessions will look at flooding specifically, Graham said he and others will be on hand to look at a range of water issues such as smells coming out of drains, water pressure, or cloudy water. “We always say go to the company first but if you are not happy we have legal powers to investigate their complaint,” he added.
“My promise is if people tell me they are annoyed about something - it could be the amount of times the gullies get cleaned out- if they are annoyed, and they tell me I can go to the agency and say, ‘why is this only happening once a year?.’ We have got statutory powers and we have got legal powers to take on the issues that are important for consumers.”
During the day there will also be sessions on energy bills, transport, broadband and postal services, as well as an all day Consumer Clinic, while other agencies including Trading Standards will be in attendance.
The Consumer Parliament in Derry will also afford local businesses the chance to check their water bills. Graham said: “If any business owners want to come along with a copy of their water bill on the day we will have a look at it and do a Water Bill Health Check for free . We have saved businesses over £1m on water bills over the past three and a half years in Northern Ireland. A few years ago we looked at an issue for Altnagelvin Hospital and saved them a six figure sum. It’s free and the worst that people will get is an assurance that your bill is correct. Many businesses who come to us, we save them money.”
Anyone wishing to attend the Parliament is urged to register on 08001216022.